Monday, February 22, 2010

Sugar Sugar....

I have been making bi-annual research trips to Kolhapur for the last two years and it has been a fascinating experience. The fact that I was born and brought up in Maharashtra (Mumbai) and am familiar with the culture and know the language, definitely helps. My brother also studied in Warana and I distinctly remember the hostel exploits he used to regale me with - seemed daring for my naive 12 year old self then, but actually quite tame as compared to the standards today's youth are setting.

Kolhapur is a town whose history can be traced back to the 9th century (and there have been excavations found which date to as far back as the First century BC). It is now quite prosperous - it reportedly is one of the towns with the highest sales of Mercedes cars in the country and we saw showrooms selling top end bikes costing more than a lakh of rupees (USD 2000) as also these "buggies" which are apparently bought for kids to drive around the "farmhouse" - price? another lakh of rupees. The wealth is mostly fuelled by the sugarcane industry - a co-operative industry (if you can call it that)which provides the cashflow as well as votes to many a successful politician from this region.

But other than the material wealth, there is also the richness of culture which this corner of south-west Maharashtra is steeped in. The Mahalakshmi temple is one of the famous landmarks - the legend goes that the Goddess vanquished the demon king Kolasur - and as his dying wish, the city was named after him. More than the temple, I love poking around those small shops around its periphery - the ones where you get those typical green bangles, the lovely vermillion powder (kumkum), small religious knick knacks -silver crowns for idols, tiny silk "sarees" in red, green and gold for the goddess in your home - , flowers and what not.

The people are warm and hospitable to a fault. Apart from the Kolhapuri chappals (hand stitched leather thongs) and Kolhapuri mirchi (chillies) which everyone usually hears of - Kolhapuri cuisine is quite distinct. Their tambda rassa (red curry with goat meat) and pandhra rassa (white mutton stock soup) are signature dishes of Kolhapur along with the sukka mutton (stir fried goat meat). Not being a fan of red meat (I find it far too difficult to digest) what I really enjoy in this part of the country is the simple Maharashtrian vegetarian fare - moogachi usal (whole green gram sauted with spices and coconut), amti, varan bhaat, bhakri (sorghum flour flat bread) and sol kadi (a tangy,mildly spiced drink made from coconut milk and kokum fruit extract). Then there's the snacks which beckon - wada pav, misal...


But what intrigued me most this trip is coming across huge green houses - 57 acres of horticultural operations run right next to a sugar mill by the second generation scion. They grow flowers for the export market as well as the domestic market and with huge investments and lot of technology have managed to make this a lucrative business while diversifying from the cyclical sugar industry. It also provides employment to the local population of women (who were traditonally restricted to ancilliary jobs in the sugar industry) who tend to the flowers with the requisite care and diligence. There were rows and rows of multi coloured gerberas, delicatedly shaded roses and the most exquisite orchids - the profusion of flowers dazzled our senses.

















I marvelled at the sense of enterprise which fuels this part of the country - even the farmers here seem to be so much better informed than their counterparts in the North. While the cane production deficit is fuelling a steep rise in prices, it makes sense that the farmer should think of shifting to alternatives which will provide a better income to him - this is indeed a different way of thinking from the traditional mindset of cane being a "lazy" crop which requires hardly any tending and no need for marketing the produce which is all bought up by the co-operative at pre -fixed prices.

I will leave you with this picture of some wonderful strawberries which I found on the lane outside the Mahalakshmi temple while buying kandi peda (milk based sweet), bhadang (spiced puffed rice) and pohe chivda(spiced beaten rice) - sweets and snacks which are some of my childhood favourites!

18 comments:

sra said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Miri! Lucky you, getting to travel to all these places - this is where you get to see more of India beyond its cities.

Arch said...

Nice post, very informative, i had no idea it was such a prosperous place ! vada pav...yummmm...

Asha said...

Chak de vada! I like to be there! Great post Miri.

aquadaze said...

Oh I loved reading this post. Been ages since I've been to Kolhapur, it stirred up some lovely memories and the mention of all that delicious Kolhapuri food has tingled my tastebuds!

indosungod said...

A lovely post.Other than the slippers I had no idea what Kolhapur was all about.

Cham said...

Beautifully written, I only know about Kolaphuri chappal!
Soil is wealth! Cannot believe Mercedes around the green field...

The knife said...

Very nice post Miri.

As a market researcher my first connection with K is that of a small town in Maharashtra. And then the odious dish called Kolhapuri mutton served in Mumbai and Kolhapuri chappals.

This gives a lovely insight on the place. I plan to share it on FB, Twiiter and Linkedin

Nupur said...

This is such a great post, Miri! I enjoyed reading it very much.

Miri said...

Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments :)

Thanks K for sharing the link!

Nupur - knowing that you are much more familiar than I am,its so good to read your comment!

rajani@eatwritethink said...

loved the post! how about doing a photoblog for us about this Maharashtra trip?

Miri said...

Oh I would love to Rajani - but my pics arent that great because I didnt take my camera along and just used my mobile :(

rajani@eatwritethink said...

camera pics bhi chalega - the idea is just to share images and experiences - drop me a line at veginme[at]gmail[dot]com

Sig said...

Great post Miri,really enjoyed reading it. I have friends from Kolhapur and have tasted all the authentic dishes like the mutton rasas from their place when the parents come to visit. It sounds like an amazing town, wish I could go once.

Bong Mom said...

Loved this, since didn't know much about Kolhapur except that Nupur is from there :)

What is your research subject ?

The knife said...

Hi linked your post on my post on Purepur Kolhapur, a new restaurant here http://finelychopped-k.blogspot.com/2010/03/beyond-kolhapuri-mutton-celebrating.html

Mints! said...

Loved reading your visit to Kolhapur. Its a very laid back town with friendly people. The city is very much in my heart as I spend many of my childhood years buzzing through that city with my grandma.

Thank you so much for bringing back my memories.

Miri said...

Thanks Sig.

Thanks knife - that was a wonderful post - will definitely try out the place when I'm in Mumbai next

nina said...

what a great read raji! lovely!