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Payu Cha – The blood that runs through Balti Life

As Baltis outside of Baltistan, we are all nostalgic about Baltistan. We all miss the leafy winds, the snow-white cold, the dazzlingly sun and the starry nights. Yet apart from all these natural blessings devoid in the city life, we all miss Payu Cha, Balti tea, that fiery alchemy which used to recharge our bodies, animate our conversations and satiate our hunger.

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Payu Cha - Baltistan diet

In Baltistan, no greeting is complete without its offer. No hospitality is warm without its presence. It is a perfect companion of all our breads-chapati, roti and azoq etc. Yet with the roasted barley flour along with a sprinkle of sugar and a spooning of oil,  its taste is heavenly with no equals at all.

Payu Cha feels like our little secret of a whole culture. We all enjoy it to the point of addiction. We all can’t live without it, and we all can’t get enough of it. And yet we all can’t explain anyone outside about such an intense craving for something that is only a tea after all.

If we offer this tea to anyone else, they would puke, literally. Its aroma, according to Mr. Greg Mortenson in the Three Cups of Tea, is stinkier than the most frightening cheese the French ever invented. Yet we take it all the time, eagerly and voraciously.

Irreplaceable for the breakfast, it has no reserves to take the place of lunch or even the dinner sometimes in Baltistan. While taking it in between these three meals is the most normal part of a Balti day. Especially for the mandatory Balti supper, it is absolutely indispensable.

The conversation gets its flow from the sips of the tea. Anecdotes come out of it, and so do smiles, giggles, and guffaws.  It unites the family at the meals table, lowers a guest’s reserves and connects a perfect stranger with everyone.

Every rich household offers it without hesitation, but so can every poor household as well without much sacrifice on their pockets. It even provides the topics of conversation- what is the secret of its color, where to get such a tea from the market, how to get the perfect color for the tea etc.

Seeing the importance of tea in Balti life, Mortenson has wisely chosen the title Three Cups of Tea for a book that is largely about Baltis. The integration of an outsider fully into Balti life starts with tea- first cup for a stranger, the second for an honored guest and the last for a family member.

That’s why a constant complaint among all the city-dwelling Baltis is the absence of Payu Cha from their lives. Some make it even here, but most lack the proper facility to do that. I am one of the former ones who will make it even during the chaotic student life in a hostel with an electric kettle.

Mohsin has recently graduated from NUST with a major in Communication Studies. He is passionate about writing and reading. He has written both for his college and university magazines.

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