I remember sitting on the porch of the cottage where we were staying in Rishikesh. We were on the road from Delhi to the mountain town of Shimla. Looking out from the porch, it seemed like we were in the far depths of India’s wilderness. Insects the size of an adult human’s hand. The sounds of the River Ganges near the headwaters, flowing south, giving life, spirituality and a means of transit to much of the nation.
Leaving the porch, along the dirt road, the river came into view through the ancient trees. Now and then, we would pass a swami (religious teacher), bearded and dressed in orange, quietly walking barefoot along the dirt path.
While Rishikesh was much more forgiving in the oppressive summer months than Delhi, the air still hung thick on this day. We were making our way to the suspension bridge (always covered with little monkeys) to find mango lassis and to people watch in the busy part of town across the river.
Before we ever made it to the bridge, we noticed a perfectly placed little cottage, down the hill from the dirt path. It clung to the hill, with a porch jutting out just over the river’s edge. A long, wide covered porch looking out across the river, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life across the water.
Standing just outside of the well-maintained cottage was a man who wore the same clothes as the locals, but didn’t appear to have the same origin of India. He waved us over and we managed to awkwardly shimmy down the hill to the fellow who was thrilled to greet people from his home country. This man left Virginia 25 years earlier to live a life of spiritual reflection in the Himalayan foothills. The self-proclaimed swami invited us onto his masterful porch – complete with the most perfectly placed porch swing the world has ever known – where we lounged about for the next several hours, listening to his stories of India’s enchantment which led him to expatriate here to live in solitude.
He was a wonderful host to have such an interest in isolation.
Before we knew it, the sun began to set over the river, burning red beneath the steep hills and in the shadow of the bridge that has always brought up flashbacks of the battle of the Do Lung Bridge in Apocalypse Now. Despite that comparison, this was one of the most peaceful spots I’ve ever known. The sounds of the twilight creatures grew louder behind the cottage as the cool waters of the river twinkled as the city on the other shore began to light up.
After a hot, hazy afternoon, sipping homemade infused water on the peaceful porch of a very kind man’s home, we continued on our course to the bridge across the river. We said our thank-yous and good-byes and climbed the hill clumsily to explore Rishikesh by night.
I don’t recall achieving our goal for lassis on that particular day, but I do know that Rishikesh was where I had my first. Every lassi I have tasted since makes me think back to the cottage on the shore of the Ganges.
When preparing lassis at home, I love toasting the pistachios and cardamom together. Warming the pistachios brings out the natural oils so the cardamom can cling to them. After just a few minutes of toasting, the nuts and spice become enchantingly fragrant. Sprinkle them onto the prepared mango, milk and yogurt mixture and you might start dreaming of the Himalayan foothills as well.
These lassis are perfect for breakfast or for an afternoon spent lounging around on a porch with friends.