Red velvet

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After six days of trekking in the Kanchenjunga National Park, we returned to Yuksam with leaden feet and plenty of food cravings. A sleepy little village in West Sikkim, it’s the base for Dzongri and Goechala mountain pass. Come April and October, there are more trekkers milling about here than locals. The road to the park is lined with tiny stalls selling jackets, socks, shoes, poles and and other climbing gear.

When it comes to food though, there are but a handful of joints; Guptaji‘s among them. It was our vantage point to observe village life. Over the next two days, we ate plates upon plates of fried chicken, sampled Tibetan bread and drank copious amounts of black tea. The children went to school in jeeps, trekkers made their way uphill and come noon, a quietude descended. We then trudged 2 km to the Dubdi monastery, oldest in the state, and found our way to Norbugang, the coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim.

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Dubdi monastery

By the third day, we had eaten our fill of chicken and now craved desserts: brownies and cupcakes, with chocolate glaze and walnuts. But our polite inquiries took us nowhere. People told us there were no bakeries here.

We ended up walking east, to a part of the village we had not yet covered. And were just about to turn back when we saw the pamphlet. A simple black-and-white printout, with five items under the header “Mama’s Little Bakery.” Brownies, among them. We took the necessary turns and steps to what turned out to be a private home.

There were no obvious signs of a bakery, nor the aroma of baking. The girl who came out informed us that there were no brownies, but they did have a few red velvet cupcakes. Would those do?

They did wonderfully. Soft, with just the right amount of sweetness, moisture, and buttercream on top. The girl, Pema, had started the bakery just a few months back, with a little oven in the kitchen. In the almost one-sided conversation that followed, Pema told us about her days in Kolkata, her plans for the bakery, secret hideouts in Yuksam and much everything under the sun.

Her chirpiness was almost infectious, but we had little to complain as she got plates of momos (made with squash), butter tea, even rice wine. Butter tea or po cha is favoured in the Himalayan regions, owing to the cold conditions. Traditionally made with yak butter, tea leaves, water and salt, it is no doubt an acquired taste, but went along with the sweetness of the red velvet.

As the sun began to set, she brought out the raksi, a homemade rice wine. This clear distilled wine is potent, with a strong aroma. Thanks to the wine, we lingered, cementing a new friendship.

The next morning, we dropped in to say goodbye. We left with bottles of raksi, but not before Pema treated us to homemade chicken sandwiches and brownies!

An edited version of this copy was published on Roads & Kingdoms

Pema has gone on to start a homestay alongside the bakery. You can find details here. The Wanderer’s Trail doesn’t believe in paid reviews. Recommendations stem from own experience. 

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