Shot over 45 days, chef and host Ranveer Brar’s latest show Himalayas – The Offbeat Adventure explores Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand gives a peek into the regions’ topography, culture, food, ingredients, native practices and, of course, the people — from Pashmina rearers who never use pashmina as it is a source of their livelihood, to the Aryan community in Malana.
As the show premiered on LF (previously known as LivingFoodz) channel this week, indianexpress.com caught up with Brar who describes his experience on its 12 episodes as ‘life-changing’!
Why did you decide to go on a journey across the Himalayas?
I’ve driven up the mountains when I was younger and the pull to revisit them kept coming back. Moreover, I would typically pass through the hills but never really stay. Finally, when the opportunity to make this show came up, it was a long-cherished desire translating into action.
What prompted you to pick Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh as places to explore on the show?
These places were chosen purely because of their communities, which have social, anthropological and culinary relevance. As a chef and explorer, I like to trace the cultural and etymological maps of dishes and ingredients. Mountain cuisine is something that has been luring me for a while and I am happy to have finally checked that box.
The Himalayas and its various facets have often been explored in various shows — what’s different about your show?
We have tried to connect a lot of dots between history, culture, cuisine and adventure, with an element of intrigue and discovery. I wouldn’t reveal much at this stage, but let the episodes speak for themselves.
What is the most interesting thing you discovered while working on it?
We discovered the Cordyceps Sinensis or the ‘keeda jadi’ or ‘yarsagumba’ as it is locally known. It is also called caterpillar fungus or ‘yartsa gungu’ (in Tibet). It’s an interesting phenomenon, where a fungus takes over the larva of a particular species of caterpillar. It basically mummifies the caterpillar and sprouts when it rains in the meadows. The resulting mushroom-like formation is foraged by locals and sold for a fortune in the markets.
Where did you travel and who did you meet in the course of shooting?
We did extensive research before starting the show. We covered places and spaces that one previously only read about or knew little of. We took a two-day trek to Turtuk in Nubra Valley, where you get amazing yak cheese. Next on the list was the Pashmina trail and meeting people from the Changpa tribe. We’ve also covered hills in the Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh regions. Everyone we met taught us a lesson in resilience and humility. The importance of community-living, villages as institutions and the fact that the less you have the more you have to give are lessons that I will carry with me from the show.
Can you tell us about the recipes you prepared using local ingredients? Which one is your favourite?
The best part about cooking for Himalayas – The Offbeat Adventure, which was a great learning experience for me, was the simplicity — both in terms of ingredients and flavours. The creativity of the locals, who cook using limited resources, is just amazing. I particularly liked the Tsemik, a yogurt dip made with mountain mint of the same name that’s typically served with Kissir or buckwheat pancakes. My other favourite is the Tibetan pasta that resembles donkey’s ears. Viewers will see more as the show unravels.
A lot of travel show hosts and chefs are exploring lesser-known cuisines of various cultures. Do you feel this takes away their charm as they are at risk of being contemporised?
I strongly believe that gone are the days when these places needed us. Today, we need these places more, to stay grounded and keep an honest and real perspective, and to connect with oneself. The idea is to let them know that we appreciate and look up to them. For this reason and more, explorations of such places and interactions with the people help.
The most important thing you learnt on the show?
Mountains teach us humility. A mountaineer I travelled with told me that if ever one feels big, stand in front of a mountain and it will give you a perspective like no other. When you stand in front of a phenomenon that took centuries to form and withstood the vagaries of time, it inspires a strength that is indescribable.
Can you sum up the experience in one word?
I’ll use two words — ‘life-changing’!
The show airs every Tuesday at 8 pm on LF.