Bits from the Royal Kitchen.
In our venture across Hunza- a tranquil land veiled so elegantly behind tall mountains- I was fortunate enough to savour foods of all flavour and texture belonging to varying periods in history. This is a story of when I discovered a cup of tea some centuries old. (To my horror, a person had downed my drink hundreds of years before I set foot on Hunza’s soil.)
Lucky for me, the cup was one utensil among many others. Though none of them carried their delicious food any longer, all of them were alluring enough to mesmerize me and capture so perfectly their glorious past. Most were pots made of stone, ranging from simple cups to larger vessels designed for cooking.These ‘stone bowls’ had to be heated for two hours and would retain heat for usually another three hours after being used. It was particularly interesting to note that till the eighteenth century, Hunza did not have access to metal and hence, its utensils too were mostly made of stone.
Alongside bowls and pots carved out of stone and shaped of metal, there were vessels made of hollowed pumpkins; a special kind of pumpkin was hollowed and dried till its shell hardened permanently- it was then used as a vessel for both serving food, as well as for temporary storage purposes.
But Hunza is, and always has been, far too advanced in most dimensions. Naturally, their storage system some hundreds of years ago too, was more complex than most contemporary ones. In the kitchen of Fort Baltit, was a fridge I found like no other; it was chilled by the mighty glaciers that ran through the area. A medium sized window in the walls of the royal kitchen lead to a storage chamber- a small compartment made of stone walls, larger than a shelf. Immediately behind the chamber, was a glacier that cooled the chamber to below freezing temperatures. With global warming, the chamber has now melted.
The victors of the past-surviving utensils, suits and artefacts- are displayed openly around Gilgit Baltistan: from small stores at the Rakaposhi Viewpoint, to the two mighty forts of Altit and Baltit, and at times, are found at small business set ups and restaurants run by local people.
Feeling the cracks and fissures in centuries old bowls that still breathe, I do wonder- what a cup of tea with the king would be like? Perhaps someday, if fate helps discover surviving tea leaves by luck….well, who knows?