Monday, 9 January 2012



On the road from Manali to Spiti, Rishab Saam Mehta came across a small settlement, Chhota Dara. “It is there that a shepherd runs a tea stall-cum-rest room where I got the best tea,” he says. “The stunning setting of the long winding roads, the mountains and the snow had cast a spell on me. But the tea that I had there was simply fascinating,” Mehta recalls with fondness. That and more come together in this electronic engineer-cum-travel writer’s recent book, Hot Tea Across India.

As the title suggests, tea plays an important role in the book. “It is like a binding factor. Roadside stalls, offering varied options of tea, are ubiquitous across the country, which says that we Indians love our tea. Moreover, this is one drink which can be refreshing at any season and at any place,” Mehta explains. “Tea peps up the mind, and one can always take a break for it. For me, travel and tea are always synonymous.”

But this book is not just about tea. It is about the places, the people, the experiences that were funny, invigorating and at times scary. Like when Mehta and his friends were crossing the border of Himachal Pradesh and entering into Punjab in the middle of the night in their car bearing Karnataka registration, a policeman at the check post asked for “chai paani”, a euphemism for bribe. But the guy was at his wits’ end when Mehta and his friends said that they cannot have ‘chai paani’ with the policeman at that time, because they had dinner a while back. Or when he had to escape from the clutches of a bearded man in Kargil who was hell-bent on buying Mehta’s motorbike.

The travelogue reads interesting, more so because of such incredible characters and events. At times they read like a fiction; reminding me of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. “I haven’t read that book. But I’ve been influenced by some classic writings in English language which one can use as a wonderful tool to tell tales of varied shades,” Mehta says. But, wasn’t he ever tempted to fictionalise the characters and the anecdotes? “Whatever I have written is true. There is no fiction in it. I didn’t want people to read the book, and then go to those places and see that it’s not true,” Mehta says. However, as a travel writer, one must know “how to visualise things and then add a dash of imagination here and there without compromising with the reality,” he adds.

I ask Mehta about the best way to get a reader connected to faraway places. “I prefer chatty language with bit of humour. I write in an enthusiastic manner. But I won’t give away all the details. I prefer to tempt the reader to get out of his couch and visit the places. My advice to all is, don’t follow the travel agent. Find on your own,” he replies. “I keep away the press kits when I travel. One has to experience on his own while travelling... talk to the people, ask them about the local legends and tales.”

As a travel writer, who prefers travelling by road, rather than by train, Mehta is fascinated by the unexpected in every nook corner of this country. “You never really know what will come up when you travel across India. In other countries, you know what lies ahead. In India, you are bound to be surprised any moment,” he says, recalling some of the incidents during his travels. “India is simply fantastic.”