Eating Uttarakhand with Bhuli

Tanya Kotnala and Tanya Singh have more than a name in common.

Having both grown up in Uttarakhand, the two friends found they shared a deep interest in reviving the Northern state’s dying culture. An illustrator and a nutritionist respectively, last year they put their heads together and launched Bhuli, meaning little sister, a social media initiative that seeks to revive and promote the local textiles, food, culture and heritage of the state of Uttarakhand. (They're currently exploring the traditional folk art, Aipan)

Last month, for National Nutrition Week they picked out and showcased seven locally grown crops and illustrated recipes around them. We asked them to share a few.

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Take me to the very beginning. How did you two meet?

Our parents are old friends, we have known each other a long time. Both of us moved back to Dehradun a year ago. We have been together since then.

We also met professionally while working on a project with the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Development, Uttarakhand on a Breastfeeding awareness campaign. Tanya Kotnala was the illustrator and Tanya Singh was the nutrition consultant.

What led you to launch Bhuli?

The issue of migration, i.e. palayan has been a major challenge for the state of Uttarakhand. People move to the cities for better opportunities thus abandoning their homes in the villages which causes degradation of land, turns them into unliveable ghost villages and further fuels migration. 

Tanya Kotnala was working with weavers in Northeast India under the Ministry of Textiles and Tanya Singh had just finished a project in collaboration with UNICEF in rural Bihar. Both of us came back to Dehradun and felt that Uttarakhand was nowhere on the map in terms of art, textiles or food, and the history associated with the state is dying every day.

It occurred to us that if we can combine our areas of specialisation (design and nutrition) we could create newer opportunities and employment locally and overcome these problems. This is what led to Bhuli, meaning little sister in the Garhwali dialect.

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Your social media is quite varied - touching everything from local fauna to folk art. What aspects of Uttarakhand’s culture interest you both the most?

We want to share our fascination for the local arts and crafts and food culture of the state with the world. Our focus area remains nutrition and textiles; while we have strongly started with our nutrition segment, textiles is something that we are planning to get into from early 2018 onwards.

We also want to continue working towards women’s empowerment and child development issues. Awareness about the importance of breastfeeding has been our most appreciated project thus far. Importance of early education, nutrition, health and hygiene are topics we are slowly trying to cover.   

What’s it like behind the scenes with the two of you while working on each post? How do you come up with what you do?

Sadly, not much content is available about Uttarakhand’s art and craft forms and culinary practices. What our audience see on the social media pages is an outcome of intensive research and brainstorming sessions. We try to travel as much as possible and interact with the locals. 

Both of us are based out of Dun now and work together. We travel every month to different places in Uttarakhand, sometimes together and sometimes individually. We keep on jotting down whatever we find interesting - both in words and through illustrations. Tanya Kotnala maintains a travel diary where she keeps illustrating anything she finds appealing in terms of costumes, textiles, folk art, etc, and Tanya Singh maintains a food journal where she jots down the local crops and recipes of the area.

After every trip we sit together, brainstorm and try to find meaningful ways to bring forward our experiences, through illustrations. At times, we try coming up with products such as wall art or postcards.

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For National Nutrition Week, why did u pick these seven crops in particular?

We had memories associated to each and every one of them. For example, we remember seeing the magenta fields of amaranth plants in Chakrata when we were young. As children, we never imagined that something magenta in colour could be edible! Pomelo is still our favourite fruit in the winters. We recall women sitting in groups and chit-chatting over servings of tangy and spicy chakotra chaat!

Each crop has a distinctive nutritive value and health benefits associated with them. The crops covered in the series are locally available, and we tried introducing the concept of variety. Buckwheat, amaranth, barnyard millet fall under the category of millets and cereals, glycine max [better known as soybean] is a pulse, fiddlehead fern is a vegetable while pomelo and rhododendron fall under the category of fruits.

Why should people eat locally grown produce?

Eating local helps in many ways - 

1.        Benefits the local economy: Provides an important opportunity for the local farmers and distributors to earn money.

2.        Promotes food safety: Local produce is fresher, healthier and tastes better as it spends less time being transported and therefore loses less nutrients and vitamins. There is also less chance of spoilage.

3.        Help us keep in touch with the seasons: When we eat seasonal food we automatically eat food which is most abundant, least expensive and newly harvested. We also protect our plates from artificially ripened foodstuffs.

4.        More variety to choose from.

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What are the different outcomes you hope to achieve with this project?

Tanya Singh - Unfortunately, the natives have shifted their eating habits from the local food to fast food. Maggi and momos have become the face of the food culture of Uttarakhand. We are trying to make people (both natives and visitors) aware about the diversified, simple and highly nutritious cuisine of the state.

We are also in the process of identifying local farmers and restaurants who are trying to promote local food of Uttarakhand so that the travelers can have a taste.

Tanya Kotnala - Through Bhuli we are trying to understand ways to evolve arts and crafts of the state in order to cater the current market. The condition of handloom and weavers in the state (especially Garhwal) is way more miserable than everyone assumes. The weavers are forced to give up their professions (due to lack of revenue) and take up farming or eventually leave their homes and migrate. It's sad to see culture dying.

We want to put in all our skills, experiences and efforts into action to undo this, as most men of the family move to bigger cities in order to support family's livelihood, we are trying to generate employment and support women empowerment & welfare in the state.



Lastly, if our readers wanted to visit Uttarakhand, where should their journey begin and why?

Tanya Singh - Almora is my favorite till date!  It is a town in the Kumaon division of the state well known for views of the Himalayas, cultural heritage, handicrafts and cuisine. It's famous for the special copper vessels, Kumaoni nath or the nose ring worn by Kumaoni women and wood carvings on the façade of the houses. One can enjoy the delicious cuisine of the region like aloo ke gutke, thechwani, bhaang chutney and bal mithai.

Tanya Kotnala - Lansdowne, my hometown is so clean and the air is so fresh, that your lungs might take a while to adjust. It's a small cantonment settlement in Pauri Garhwal, that's completely free of stress where you can go to relax to the max!. There's a famous samosewala shop in the market, that serves the most delicious hot samosas ever! It's always a bit chilly there so you enjoy everything served hot.

A few kms away, hidden in thick dense forests, there's the temple of Taadkeshwar. That place is magical, thick old trees, echoes of birds chirping, leaves swaying and temple bells ringing, sweet smell of agarbatti, flower, and fruits, under faint warm sunshine. Ahhhh! It's so quiet that a person can hear the forest talking!


Thank you Bhuli for your hospitality. Follow them on facebook or instagram.