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HiSpice: A First Giant Step?

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Travelure

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Let us stop, take a deep breath and figure out who we are, what we can achieve, how we can get there, and who our role model should be? The last question is easily answered:  SWITZERLAND.  It is, like us, a small land-locked, mountainous, state. It makes the optimum use of its own resources and has become a role model of Independence, prosperity and efficiency. This was the ideal that Uttarakhandis set for themselves when they told their erstwhile overlords in UP, “Thanks a lot, but no thanks. We highlanders have our own ways, evolved in our own environment. We’ll do things our way!”

The highlander way, all over the world from Scotland to Nagaland, is to have its socio-economic foundations woven around the small, self-contained, villages. We called them garhs. The socio economic cycle of their lives was governed by memories, tradition and folk-wisdom clubbed together under the blanket the term itihas. The Gurkhas ruled for a while but since they, too, were a highland people, they did not, essentially, upset the existing social system. When the British took over, however, they could not tolerate independent organisations. As they had done in Scotland, they tapped proud martial traditions by forming Regiments. This also focused such staunch loyalties on their new overlords and substituted the daily grind with assured monthly salaries. Then came the hill-stations and the money-order economy was established in the villages of our state. A transient urbanisation prevailed and the inevitable happened: ghost villages.

Can this be reversed? Can living in our Himalayan villages become a viable proposition again? We believe they can if we concentrate on a new line of spices being developed by our state’s Forest Department. Spices are flavoursome substances developed in certain plants and valued by humans as far back as the discovery of cooking to break down the fibres of edible raw materials. Our interest in spices began with our regular column in the magazine of the Spices Board of India and then authoring our book, Spicestory, commissioned by the Board. But though we were familiar with tropical spices, and the milder Mediterranean Herbs, we had not heard of Himalayan spices till we began to research our columns for the Garhwal Post.

For this we must thank our state’s Forest Department and particularly, its Research Wing based in Haldwani. A few days ago they sent us a document which fascinated us, even though we have not been able to read all of it. It speaks about a unique initiative: a Himalayan Spice Garden. This is located in Souni in Ranikhet at an elevation of 1,700 meters, a little short of Mussoorie’s average height of 2,000 meters. The Spice Garden, according to the write up, contains “around 39 different spices out of which there are 12 spices from the Allium family (Onion) of the Himalayan region”.

This is a very significant work of field research and its next step is to cultivate these, seemingly, wild spice plants in a controlled environment. It is like a Geological team, in their still-dusty overalls, proclaiming to the world that they have found a local, Himalayan strata of the volcanic rock, kimberlite, and the strong likelihood that it could yield a treasure trove of Diamonds. To give an example, the field researchers of the Department have listed many types of onions, as they should. But before we can arrive at the commercial value of each type, we have to find out their distinct difference in taste: the gastronomic test. Would a Celebrity Chef, like the affable globe-trotting Gordon Ramsay, be able to use the difference in any of his dishes? This is far from the official domain of the forest team but it is certainly most relevant when assessing the commercial impact of the individual types.

Spices are, largely, plant products of the tropics. Herbs are milder-tasting vegetable products of the Mediterranean. There is no globally recognised gastronomic slot for the spices grown in the Himalayas. We suggest that these be cultivated and marketed as Uttarakhand’s unique HiSpices highlighting the facts that they have been fortified by the ultra-violet radiation of their unique environment and watered by the rain, ice and snow that flows in three of the world’s most sacred rivers. If astutely, and professionally, marketed, this could become our booming gastronomic industry and revitalise the Ghost Villages.  New resorts could be generated around them.

AMUL turned Gujarat’s hard-pressed dairy farmers into a world famous dairy giant favouring women entrepreneurs.  Can we in Uttarakhand do the same with our HiSpices?