A Roadside Masala Tea-stop

Stopping for a roadside masala tea in Daunne, Nepal.
Stopping for a roadside masala tea in Daunne, Nepal.

I disembark from my creaky, old bus. Trucks and
bikes groan past, lumbering the steep incline into Daunne. Brakes and horns
pump away wildly. Dust clouds around my head.

My bus driver has been tearing around hairpin
turns along his highway, ferrying travellers through the jungle terrain of
Chitwan in an attempt to deliver us safely to Lumbini. Now, the small town of
Daunne has hailed us down for a roadside masala tea.

Shabby dogs wander by, unperturbed by the
traffic edging closer to roadside stalls. Chickens peck and scratch while women
dressed in saris pace and chat. A shanty stall hugs a bend on the outskirts of
town. Its metal flat roof is suspended above by crooked boughs. Behind a cabinet
filled with chips, chocolate and spirits stands the shopkeeper who takes our
tea order. I pass over a crushed 20 rupee note and she grasps it while shining
a stained, toothy smile. Her head subtly wobbles from side to side as she
floats over to her wood-fired oven, chiselled from rock and rendered with a
bumpy mud mix. An ash-smeared crevice is stuffed with kindling. Each branch
cracks and contorts through the smoke and flames.

The shopkeeper’s old, beaten up saucepan
balances above the crevice, see-sawing from the weight of water, tea and milk
that she generously pours into it. She pokes and prods at the kindling to fuel
the intensity of its heat. Her murky and milky mix bubbles. Steam hovers above
the simmer. She then pulls out a large metal spoon with quick hands to stir her
brew. With a sudden flick of the wrist, she scoops up a spoonful of tea and
holds it high above the pot before pouring it back. The masala tea cascades
into the pot, siphoned into its vessel with precision and control. Time

The shopkeeper spoons her tea through a
strainer and into chipped china mugs before sitting them onto a tarnished
silver tray. A candied aroma snakes from my cup and wafts through the
dirt-crusted air. Sweet, creamy tea blankets my taste-buds as I take that first
piping-hot sip. A rush of ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon fills my mouth
and nose, tickling my throat as I swallow.

Buses and bikes grumble by. Horns and
accelerators are ablaze as dirt kicks up from the highway. As I sit hunched on
my rickety stool and sip my tea, I too become unperturbed by the traffic. Just
like many locals around me and before me, I’m preoccupied. I’m taking in my cup
of roadside masala tea.

This story has been entered into the  World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship 2013.


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