As Shantanu Moitra reached Drass, the second coldest inhabited place on earth, during his 100 days journey in the Himalayas, he met Aslam Bhai – the biriyani man who dishes out biryani and tea to anyone seeking respite from the deathly cold.
Drass, the region that’s associated with war, and is the second coldest inhabited place in the world, is totally an insane experience when the land is covered with a snow carpet. The harsh temperatures make it difficult for most form of life to survive and one mostly sees abandoned settlements.
As musician Shantanu Moitra, on his 100 days mountain journey, headed to Drass, he happened to meet Aslam Bhai, the ‘biriyani man’ of Drass.
As Shantanu made his way along with eminent photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee in this cold landscape the subtle aroma of biryani in the air happened to surprise them. It was wafting in from a small tea shop. Led by their noses they found themselves drifting towards the stall. In sharp contrast to the cold weather, a very warm welcome from Aslam Bhai awaited them. As they made themselves cozy with tea and some amazing biryani, Aslam chatted with them on why he cooks biriyani at such a high altitude.
“The temperature in Drass reaches -30°C and it’s very important to consume protein… it helps fight the nail biting cold waves. That’s why Aslam Bhai serves meat for breakfast in the form of biriyani.
“It was a beautiful story of survival,” shares Shantanu: “ Faced with adversity human beings adapt and find their own unique way to survive. “Aslam Bhai, travelled all the way to Drass from Bihar, looking for a peaceful place more importantly minus insects, as he detests them! Sounds unbelievable right? This is what travel does, makes you meet many incredible people.
Since settling here Aslam Bhai has experienced the Kargil War. He told Shantanu that “life in Drass went on even as the war happened around us. People came for biryani and tea despite the deafening roar of bombshells”.
Faith was the biggest takeaway for Shantanu. Their faith is not restricted to God, but also extends to a fellow human and nature. Faith that makes you love and live in these harsh mountains.