Juhal: A Much More Than Sustainable Restaurant in Assam

How are you dear Soul-Searchers? The year is towards its closure and how! In this blogpost, I share with you a recent wonderful experience I had in a quaint place on the outskirts of the city.

As the chill of December set in gradually, I got an opportunity to take a day-off with my colleagues. We headed out of the hustle and bustle of the Guwahati city towards a nearby place called Sonapur. Nested amongst the several up-and-coming roadside restaurants and dhabas, there was Juhal. One of my senior colleagues knows the place quite well and had suggested we go there. And I am extremely grateful to him for introducing me to this wonder.

Juhal: meaning a clay fireplace in Assamese, is a venture screaming sustainability. We stepped out of our cars to be amazed to see this place does not really look like the usual uptown restaurants. In fact, one could easily miss it, for the humble bamboo entrance does not catch one’s eye quickly. However, as you climb up those bamboo stairs, ushered in by a local and happy woman, you step into another small bamboo hut. There are a very few tables set there and a reception desk. But you cannot miss the stack of books kept on one side; it is their tiny open library.

Our group was divided into two outside the entrance as a few were lured by photo sessions while a few other had already went in. I stayed back to pose for a few clicks, captured a few myself. Then I decided to follow the others inside. Not having found them inside the small hut, I happened to step out of it on the other side.

And lo and behold, there was a whole new wonderland there. Alice had fallen the concrete rabbit hole and stepped into a green, fresh-smelling world!

Once you step down the stairs, you can see there are vegetable and flower gardens. A cloud of smoke swirls around a big, open kitchen with bigger clay fireplaces — the Juhal. You can hear happy, satisfied laughs of a few local women preparing and cooking dishes there. And the smell; well, you can only comprehend it once it tingles your taste-buds. There are more wonders there than what meets the eye at the first glance: a Turkey running around her baby, a turtle nestled in a tiny man-made pond, a dheki (Assamese for an agricultural tool to thresh grains) standing elegantly in a corner beside the stairs.

We walked further into a large structure which looked like a greenhouse. As we took our chairs and were sighing at the place’s beauty, a few women came up with warm bel (Assamese for Bengal quince) tea served with gur (Assamese for jaggery) at the side: a decaff drink with several health benefits and it tasted so earthy and comforting. The sumptuous food kept flowing. What caught all our attention is how the appetising food was local and organically produced. Most of the food were grown by the local villagers.

Then it strikes you, how this place is much more than just a quaint place to eat out.

Mukul Dutta: a man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s walks in. Humbly clothed, he has a distinct spark in his eyes that perhaps resembles a parent proud of his child. He is proud and rightly so, of his venture; yet, he is an epitome of modesty. I was taken into a different world altogether as he sat down with us and narrated his journey and the story behind Juhal. He talked of his job which he was once in. I did not ask him more about it. He simply told us how his job took him to different villages of Assam, how he got the opportunity to experience various sustainable and traditional lifestyles. He bought a plot of land in Sonapur and started growing vegetables there. Eventually, he left his job and settled with his family in the farm at Sonapur. He recruited local villagers in his work. By and by, his well-wishers suggested he open a restaurant there. Although, he was skeptical in the beginning about it, he finally did start Juhal.

What most caught my attention is how this man recruited the local women who not only cook the earthy cuisine but also help grow the food they prepare. He has recently started inviting the village kids to read from the library and also organises local theatre workshops for them there. Mr. Dutta is now helped in his venture by his family: his wife and his two sons, the younger of them left the tech city Bangalore to be with his father. Now, he plays with soil.

With the mellow evening sun upon us, we realised our trip was about to be over soon. As we were leaving, Mr. Dutta handed me a card of his venture. I kept it safely in my pockets as I wanted to share his story with many others. The women smiled happily at us; we were contented with the experience, they were pleased that we loved their food. We bade Juhal adieu, promising we would return.

That night, I slept peacefully, knowing there are people like Mukul Dutta in the world who looks out for the earth and humanity.

Happy Soul-Searching!

Author: The SoulSearcher

The writer is a research scholar in English literature, an avid reader and sucker for life philosophies

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