April 1, 2011
By conservative estimates, I drank nearly one thousand cups of chai during my 5-month bike journey in India. Every chai seller (like the one in the photo above) has his or her own recipe, but the basics are tea, milk, spices and as much sugar as will hold in solution.
I love the taste. I love the smell (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom). I love the sound of the stoves hissing and the pots banging around in tight quarters. I even love the loud cries of the chai sellers on train platforms ... "Chai. Chai. Chai."
It is a welcomed hot beverage when the air is cold, and a good source of liquid and calories when it's so hot outside you think your head is about to explode.
I believe my record was eleven cups of chai in one sitting. There was a small group of old men who watched and laughed at my seemingly insatiable thirst. Before I left the chai stall, I took the chai seller aside and paid for a round for all the old men. They lifted their small clay cups in a salute as I pedaled away.
So why the love/hate relationship? Chai is cheap by the glass (or cup), but extremely expensive over the long haul. Ask my dentist. It took two long appointments to fill all six cavities.
Photo by Willie Weir
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His books, Travels with Willie and Spokesongs, will inspire you to hit the road, and might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at http://yellowtentadventures.com.