This blog is fifth in a five-part series on exploring India. Former National Geographic staffer and guest blogger Anna Switzer shares her adventures with us from the field. Follow along with her as she journeys around and acclimates to new people and customs through her five senses of hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.
One of my favorite things about being in India is the chai tea (pronounced closer to “cha” than I’ve heard it said in the U.S.). It is available at every restaurant, and it is enjoyed at all times of day. The drink is so rich and delicious that it satisfies me almost as if I’d eaten a whole meal. Chai tastes amazingly fulfilling. Part of what makes it so rich is that the milk used in the tea is water buffalo milk. (In fact, most dairy products you find in India are sourced from water buffalo, rather than cows).
I had the opportunity to visit a farm and got to see a water buffalo up close. They seemed very worried for being such large animals. When I was near the one in the photo, it definitely kept its eye on me and would get ready to stand as I walked by. I didn’t want to bother it too much, so I tried not to get too close. I was grateful the buffalo humored me long enough for a photo. Later, at another farm, I witnessed the milking process. It was nice to see these animals being milked by hand, rather than by massive machinery. And, because most people who run the farms live in fairly close proximity to their animals, the animals’stalls are kept very clean and tidy. As a result, the farms smell of hay, fresh air and, of course, waste; but the smell of the waste is an undertone rather than a key player.
The water buffalo milk, combined with tea and spices, make chai’s taste and smell simultaneously enriching, energizing and calming anywhere you experience it. But, in my opinion, the best place to drink chai is the Golden Temple. (This is the same place I experienced seva.) Drinking chai there is not just about drinking tea; rather, it’s about the experience of being in communion with everyone else who is sitting and drinking chai. It always makes for a great opportunity to relax and be mindful of where I am and who I’m with. Some people sit together and have quiet conversations, but many people simply sit and enjoy the warmth offered through the bowl of chai. I feel the warmth in my hands, holding the metal bowl. I feel the warmth in my body, drinking the chai down. And I feel the warmth in my mind and heart, lingering just a bit to drink in the whole experience.
Written by Anna Switzer