Fig and jaggery tarte tatin : Of a walk through a village and the shadow of war..

I think I could get used to living in a tent, this kind of rather cute, modcon laid on tents! We are reminded again and again of how tough life is here – hot water only from 6 to 8 in the morning..there is no electricity…yes, simply no power supply!

So with diesel generators, wood fired heaters …life has to be managed, cooking, heating bathwater, homes, water for washing anything and everything…you do not want just melted ice from a Himalayan stream to wash after business, let me assure you, no matter how romantic it sounds!

But…I talk to people along the way, always willing to wish you a namaste or a salaam aleikum and a smile….they are happy. I ask one of the guides, Ibrahim, who takes us for a walk in the village…people are happy and do not want to leave these villages to go work in the big city. The schools are good, he says and the kids get a good education…they grow up and want to stay…well, that is quite unlike a lot of villages we have seen elsewhere in India.

A very friendly couple of young women from Mumbai, holidaying with their three teenage daughters and quite happy to leave husbands behind in the sweltering city chat with us. They are ebullient, full of sheer animal joy, wanting to share their energy with the world…lovely families, different stage in life.

Lunch and then we go for a walk up to the village…through some of the most amazing convoluted, covered tiny streets with the doorways set a foot or more below the street level! Most of the doors are locked. The inhabitants are building better, more modern houses and using these old ones for storing winter feed and livestock. Plenty of new construction, a few being built as new hotels, most are homes. In the midst of all this prosperity, signs of war will not allow you to forget that this region has seen more war than almost any other in the history of mankind…there are bunkers built into the hillside everywhere…

We pass a bunch of tiny kids playing in the fields, absolutely glorying in the sun and the grass, faces smeared with mud as they fall face down in the furrows…laughter echoing from the mountains surrounding us. We kid back and forth. I ask one particularly naughty little face what his name is and he yells back, Shahrukh Khan! Then he informs me I am Shahrukh Khan’s daughter and the whole bunch literally fall over themselves with laughter. It’s obviously the best joke they’ve heard all week!

The fields are beautiful, emerald green with wheat and jowar. I do a double take when Ibrahim reminds me that we are at over 9000 feet height! Ibrahim, unlike our pal Ali who wants to please, does know more about flora and fauna and teaches me to identify peach, apple and apricot trees, all in full bloom….magpies zip about everywhere. I am surprised at how large they are, somehow had been under the impression that they were little, sparrow sized birds! Ah, sparrows – they are much in evidence…am happy to connect with the friends of my childhood. I have a vivid memory of self at about three years of age being very offended because I thought a sparrow had stuck its tongue out at me and complaining to my mother about it!

The houses are all made of rock plastered roughly together. Rocks are everywhere and people pretty much just pick them up…almost everything here has to be done by sheer physical power…with no power and barely any roads up in these remote villages, no machines can be operated…diesel too for the generators also to be hauled up thousands of feet over incredibly rough terrain..

 We walk on and reach what Ibrahim tells me is a polo ground…a historical one at that, dating back to the British era! A long, narrow strip of land, completely inaccessible by road! You have to park your car, cross a rope bridge on foot, holding on for dear life as it sways gently, climb through fields, uneven rock cut steps, muddy paths, jump across tiny mountain streams and then…a polo ground! Three little girls in brightly coloured, spangled salwar kameezes, heads covered with hijabs,  are kicking a deflated football around. A bunch of little boys plays cricket a little further down.

As we ramble, we catch tantalising glimpses of K2 – the second highest peak in the world…between two other towering peaks, dwarfed by the giant behind them. As the golden sun filters through the leaves, Ibrahim points out two little black spots on top of two faraway peaks. These are the outposts of the Indian and Pakistani armies respectively, keeping guard over the most coveted piece of land on earth!

We walk back as the sun slopes will take a couple of hours more before darkness falls but the hours between are lovely and golden. Twilight has never been my favourite part of the day with the spirits sinking a bit as the sun sets but here, high in the mountains, twilight is rather heart warming.

I come back rather tired with a bit of a cold and go straight to bed after dinner…food here is simple, usually phulkas straight off the fire, some aloo curry, a dal and rice with maybe a kheer or a custard to follow. You don’t crave anything more either. Or maybe you do….this…


 For pastry base:

1.5 cups plain flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
100 gm butter
2 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
1 egg1 or 2 tbsp ice water

Whizz everything together except the last two items. Take out, gently mix these in – water as needed  be careful – you don’t need it too soft. Wrap tight or if you are trying to go the no-plastic way (as you should!!), just place in an airtight tin. Refrigerate half an hour at least.

For filling:

12 to 16 fresh figs – halved
Salted butter – 2 tbsp
Jaggery or honey – 3-4 tbsp

Heat the butter in a baking pan – i used a cast iron pan. Place the figs face up (cut side up, that is) and drizzle the honey or sprinkle the jaggery over. Bake in a preheated oven – 180 C – for ten minutes till figs are soft.

Roll out chilled pastry base into a circle larger than the pan. Cover pan with it. Press down. Trim off excess and make designs on top 🙂 Bake at 180 for 35 to 40 mins till golden brown.

Serve with fresh cream.

For a more interesting tart, add dollops of goats cheese over the figs before you cover with the pastry base!

Forgot to take pics of the finished product – have only the halfway stage – sorry!