Mistress of Malaya

When driving through Bandhavgarh, make sure you make a stopover at Malaya, a craft shop in the Tiger town, and have a satvik breakfast with its owner, Neelam Verma

The nip in the air just got a little stronger but we hold steadily on to our binoculars. Our eyes trained to the treetops where winged beauties preen for all imaginary and real cameras. They are on a vacation and look happy. October to January are great months for migratory bird sightings in Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh.

These, however, are not great months for tiger sightings, as the big cat prefers to go into a huddle to escape the cold. We also miss the intoxicating aroma of Mahua that we reeled heavily under on our last visit in May. But the forest is as much beautiful, if not more

With no hopes pinned on spotting a tiger, we prefer to chase birds in this quiet yet beautiful jungle town of Bandhavgarh, called Tala village. In the tiny village market we spot a signboard — Malaya. It leads us toa quaint craft shop that resembles a garden home. The creaky gate jingles with the sound of metal bells hanging from it. These are the kind you find tied around the necks of the cattle when they are left to graze the jungles.

The shop is nothing short of wonderland for a shopaholic. Heaps of fabric crafted into all types of cushions, throws, stoles and dresses; tribal toys made with unusual materials; metal bells and figurines hanging from the windows; dried gourds fashioned into art pieces vying for attention… and there is so much more.

Silver-haired Neelam Verma greets us warmly and shows us around. She has a treasure trove of art and crafts collected from all over India. A collector herself, Neelam shares that it was at whim that she decided to settle down in Bandhavgarh and start this craft shop. While the shop keeps her busy most of the year,Gond art on the walls of Malaya lend it a local touch

DID YOU KNOW

Bandhavgarh derives its name from the most prominent hillock of the area, which was said to be given by Lord Ram to his brother Lakshman to keep a watch on Lanka

Green mung chilla Green mung chilla recipe

INGREDIENTS

Green mung beans ,2 cups
White rice ,1 cup Lime juice,2 tbsp Salt to taste Ghee or oil to pan fry the chilla

METHOD

Soak the green mung (lentils) and rice separately over night. Drain in the morning and grind into a smooth batter in a blender along with lime juice and salt. Do not add water while grinding. Heat a griddle or flat base shallow pan, grease it with ghee and pour a ladle full of the batter onto it. Spread in circular movements to make a thick pancake. Drizzle a little oil if required and let the pancake cook completely on one side, it comes out of the griddle easily once cooked. Flip and cook on the other side and serve hot with chutney, kachumber or raita. To make the kachumber, chop cucumber, tomatoes, cabbage and onions in small bits, toss with lime juice, salt, hint of sugar and fresh herbs and chopped green chillies.

Bandhavgarh Tiger she has kept aside four months to drive around India and collect artefacts. She even remembers each craftsman from small villages that she came across. For instance, she tells me that the carved dry gourds and bamboo rain maker instruments are made by Jagatram Devangan of Chattisgarh. Vaigraj Singh from Bijnor makes wooden raja-rani combs and Trilok Thakur of Ujjain is the only craftsman who makes toys from a mix of wood powder, cow dung and so on.

I also notice a story from Mahabharat painted onto wooden plates and assembled into a book that looks like a home with multiple doors. Come to think of it, every little thing has a story and Neelam never gets tired of filling you in with the details.
And as they say shopping makes you hungry. Neelam tells us that she serves satvik breakfast for the travellers on request and prior booking. We promptly book ourselves for one and promise to get back the next day. For today we have enough shopping haul to lug back to the hotel.

Text and photos: Sangeeta Khanna

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