Carbs facilitate devotional duties. Lack of food frustrates. But food costs a lot, especially at high altitude. For example, cost of 75-gram Maggi noodles went from INR 10 in plains to INR 40 in Pathar Nachauniya and INR 50 in Bhaguwasa during Nanda Raj Jaat 2014. Similarly price of tea increased from INR 10 for a small cup in Vedni to INR 15 in Pathar and INR 20 in Bhaguwasa. The two- to five-fold increase is ascribed to porterage, extra effort required for water collection from the mountain streams, and fuel charges. The increase was reasonable, I thought, but it was overcharging, according to some pilgrims.
Let’s look at three food choices:
Food at Dhabas
Local people created temporary shops from stones and thick plastic sheets at Vedni, Pathar, and Bhaguwasa.
In Vedni, one of such dhabas, proudly named Roopkund Restaurant, served the widest variety of food after Wan. All items were prepared on wood fire. The menu featured eight dishes:
- Tea (INR 10 per serving)
- Black coffee (INR 30 per serving)
- Milk coffee (INR 40 per serving)
- Maggi (INR 40 per serving)
- Chole (INR 20 per serving)
- Lunch pack consisting of 8 puris and sabji (INR 80 per pack)
- Thali-Sadi (INR 100 per person)
- Thali-Special (INR 150 per person)
In Wan, GMVN served affordable simple food. A breakfast featuring aloo puri and tea cost INR 60. A basic meal of dal chawal (rice and lentil) cost INR 50 per plate. Wan had a few private eateries.
Nandkesari had a number of dhabas and these establishments made a killing on August 26. But all village-night halts did not have dhabas.
Menu at Bhandaras Serving Free Food
Both private parties and SDRF operated these bhandaras (makeshift kitchens serving free food). From Nauti to Wan, night stopovers were in villages or next to villages. These kitchens were set up near entry points, night cultural program venues and/or temples. However, the menu was common: puri, halwa, chawal, white channa, and / or aloo ki sabji. A few kitchens also served dalia, roti, and a few other items. The villagers welcomed all pilgrims with free snacks including colorful juices (red-rhododendron, orange, and blue green), halwa and kala chana, bananas, tea, and water.
Beyond Wan, SDRF served khichadi and Nutrela wadi rice. Before leaving for Homkund on September 3, SDRF served free ready to eat snacks at Shila Samundra: biscuits, savories, and quarter liter water bottles.
Issues about Free Food
Some pilgrims who reached late at the nigh halt grumbled about inadequate food and / or half cooked food that was prepared in second round in a hurry.
Pilgrims’ Personal Food stock
I saw people eating uncooked white paper rice flakes, roasted grams, puffed rice, sweet phulia, biscuits, and jaggery (unrefined sugar made from sugarcane juice). A group of young boys cooked Maggi daily. The boys supplemented the noodles with ready to eat savories, Bhujia, potato chips… But these shortcuts do not meet energy requirements of the demanding trek.
A few pilgrims came with complete camping gear and supplies and cooked proper meals daily. It was the best bet.
Do not depend on free food. If you want to make the most of free access to one of the beautiful Himalayan areas, come prepared. If you go in group it would be cheap but for a single pilgrim it would be definitely expensive.
Nutritious ration would reassure you.