Sounds of a guitar interrupt my walking reverie in the dusty town of Bundi in Rajasthan. Its been two days of lazy ‘sightseeing’ here and it is now time to walk the streets of Bundi and savour its culinary delights. It is evening and there is no rush, we have no check list and we aren’t looking to tick-off places. We are the kind of people who went out without seeing the Taj Mahal when we found it was too crowded; to return the next day and the next and more and have it all to ourselves!
Isn’t that the best part about travelling on your own? You are not trying to be pretentious, no necessities of uploading selfies on social media, you can choose to not do things in the book and instead let the locals take you around. There could be a slow tonga ride to nowhere and a random hike could bring you to a pretty waterfall!
I spot a placard ‘Best Chai in Bundi’. I’ve seen many tourist traps coming from Jaipur and experienced them in Delhi, Agra and other popular destinations. Immediately that piques my interest, Bundi hasn’t come across as a touristy place. Someone is making a video of the genteel and smiling owner, Krishna while he makes his expert chai. Do I really want to go in? I know he will charge me quite a lot more for my normal 5-10 Rupee cup of chai, but it is evening and I would really like some good masala tea. The decision is made.
Backpackers chat in a miniscule space filled with an array of graffiti and caricatures made by people from more than fifty countries. A young lady has somehow found space on the wall to paint something. This is a place for conversations. There is no hurry. Krishna smiles more than he breathes. It is quite a stress buster, this Krishna Chai Shop. Its a simple, small and humble place, not more than 10 people can sit at one point of time but that is precisely what gives it the warmth. Everyone removes their footwear before entering the shop, perhaps that increases the bonding too.
Foreigners sit diligently to learn the art of making perfect tea from the genteel Krishna. He loves the attention and can’t quite stop smiling. The inconsistent graffiti and paintings imparts a unique character to Krishna Chai Shop, I wasn’t really expecting anything like this in little known Bundi anyway!
Krishna is a crowd gatherer and a master in the art of storytelling; he clearly despises multitasking and has only six options on the tea menu. Our evening cup of chai arrives well in darkness, we don’t mind it because the tea is really ‘the best tea in India’. He says his secret is that he procures the ingredients himself and makes every cup fresh and uses the masala then and there, not to keep any leftovers.
Travellers have been coming here for eight years and have recorded their experiences in five quirky journals, calling it ‘the best chai café in India.’ He thrusts them into my hands to have a peek, perhaps to praise him! He really likes this attention business. Krishna really has his share of admirers, there are people who have been coming to Bundi again and again, and have penned down their experiences in the diary.
Two young women are being guided into spiritual awakening by a bearded and braided middle aged hippie, I listen with one ear and laugh at the suggestion to meet in the evening under the stars. Krishna smirks, he knows everything that goes on here. His limited spoken english ensures his charm is undiminished with the foreigners, because whenever someone tries to speak to him – he smiles!
An aged lady is furious when Krishna gives her milk tea instead of lemon tea. He smiles alright and quickly makes a fresh lemon tea with typical Krishna finesse. All is well. When we ask him what does the last item ‘Krishna Power Cold Tea’ on the menu means, he winks and tells us to come during the day! And that, is the stuff of dreams.
Our authentic Rajasthani dinner of dal, baati, choorma, gatta sabzi and much more is waiting for us at lunch. The lure of finding the secret of ‘Krishna Power Cold Tea’ stays with us and we end up at Krishna’s at noon, this being on the way. We are asked to sit, he says that with a grin.
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He crushes some black pepper with a stone, then cardamom. Krishna says that he makes ice from boiled water to cater to foreigner’s cleanliness demands. Dry fruits are finely powdered and finely cut. He mixes them with his special ‘power herbs’ and lassi style pours them in two lotas and mixes it even more vigorously.
It is delicious, we take our time to finish the big glass. Krishna winks and asks me if we are headed to the hotel. We are already delirious and mumble ‘for lunch.’
Once in the palatial haveli room that was scored for only 900 with some intense bargaining, it is bizarre to hear music and sounds from far far away. Clear conversations happening on the street ring in the ears. Everything is so intense and yet chilled out that I feel energetic like a young kid. Everyone should try Krishna Power Cold Tea once!
Krishna’s Chai : Best in Bundi, Best in Rajasthan, Best in India!