More Than Just Tea

Uttaran Das Gupta

Poet, actor, journalist, and senior sub-editor at Calcutta's Telegraph newspaper.

Poet, actor, journalist, and senior sub-editor at Calcutta’s Telegraph newspaper. A man of many talents, Uttaran let us in on a chai wallah who keeps something extra at his stall.

As I have lived and grown up in Calcutta, I have met and interacted with numerous chaiwallahs

The most interesting one, however, is Mahadev, who has a kiosk right outside the sprawling office of Anandabazaar Patrika on 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street. I have worked at this office for the past three years.

Besides serving tea to the employees of ABP and The Telegraph he also serves as a keeper of their liquor. The employees of ABP are not allowed to carry liquor into the office, even if they are not consuming it. So, many of them deposit their bottles at Mahadev’s kiosk and collect it after work.

He also plays host to acquaintances who have enough money for a bottle but not to go to a bar. So they often drink at the kiosk on the footpath. Mahadev also often joins them for a drink.

Chai cups ready to be filled - but with what?

Chai cups ready to be filled – but with what?

Camel Milk Chai: A Desert Delight


Camel herding is in Durga Singh Rathore’s blood. “We have been here in Rajasthan working with camels for hundreds, probably thousands of years,” Mr. Rathore said. “Camels are our cars when we have to go somewhere. They are our trucks when we have to move our things. They are our tractors in the fields. We use them for everything.” So it is no surprise that Mr. Rathore’s family uses camel milk for their morning cups of chai.




We found ourselves in Pushkar for its annual camel mela, a weeklong festival during which this small Rajasthan town swells with tourists, camel traders, and Hindu pilgrims visiting the Brahma temple and taking a dip in the holy lake during the Kartik Purnima full moon. Herders from around Rajasthan bring their camels to the mela ground just outside the city where a sea of camels – some 50,000 of them – stretches across the sand as far as the eye can see.

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Chai Wallahs: The Gateway to India, from English to Bengali

Cha tins

In India chai is consumed by people who speak so many different languages that it feels inadequate to write about the subject only in English. Fortunately we have friends to help us bridge the language gap.

Tanmoy Sarkar, an editor at Ei Samay, a Bengali language newspaper affiliate of the Times of India, encouraged us to write about our experience at chai stands in Kolkata. He then translated it and enhanced it, adding poetic flourishes in the tradition of Bengali laureates Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Matir bhNare ananda biliye cha-bikretarai Kolkatar jadukar,” he titled our post, which translates roughly to: “The tea-vendors of Kolkata are the ultimate magicians by selling joy in earthen cups.”

Bengali blog post

Click here to see the post in Bengali at Ei Samay.  

If you can’t read Bengali, good luck with Google Translate. Or read our version in English below.

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Chai: The Secret to Navigating India’s Bureaucracy

Originally posted on A Couple Travelers, Dave and Vicky’s blog about their ongoing trip around the world.


When strung together, these four letters strike fear into every foreigner who enters India. Dengue and diarrhea have nothing on the Foreigners Regional Registration Office.

FRRO sign

Within 14 days of entering India, all foreigners staying in India longer than six months must crawl through the bureaucratic bowels of the Ministry of Home Affairs to have their passports inked with a string of characters.

While you wait for your number to be called, civil servants sit at their desks, palms clasped, elbows on tables, looking at you with frustration. Their eyes say, “Why have you made me come here? Hurry up and get over with this.” Those were our thoughts exactly, but now we’ve been forced into an identity crisis and we begin to wonder, “Is it our fault we’re all waiting here?”

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Holy Monk Chai: Fuel for Meditation

About 2700 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama sat under a pipal tree – now known as the Bodhi tree – in Bodh Gaya, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. Today, under another pipal a hundred yards from the Bodhi tree, Buddhist monks sit cross-legged. They are not meditating; they have all day for that. They are here to sip tea at Manesh’s chai stand.

It was in Buddhist monasteries in China that tea first became a popular drink. For centuries, monks have consumed tea to help them concentrate on their meditation and stave off sleep. So it is no surprise that today monks throughout India flock to chai stands.

Kunga Thukjay sips chai

“We’re only supposed to eat two times a day, so tea really helps sustain me,” said Kunga Thukjay, a Tibetan monk raised in India. “I love the Indian tea with all the ginger and cardamom,” he said as he sipped Manesh’s milky brew – much better in his opinion than the traditional Tibetan tea served with salted yak butter.

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