Recipe: Kieran Creevy // Photography: Cat Vinton
Lines of pale gold dust lie in folds of cloth, stiff with cold. The rivers and lakes flow and ripple in the breeze once again but this high in the Himalaya, night-time temperatures still regularly drop well below zero. The stove in our riverboat is an essential part of our temporary home.
We’ve come here to spend time on the high peaks, following the trails that wind through the ridges of this surreal landscape. The colours and flow of the rock strata don’t seem real, as though we’ve stepped into a Salvador Dali painting.
For those used to mountain ranges on a European scale, the high ridges and fathomless valleys can become disorienting. Spend a few days here however and suddenly, what seemed surreal, snaps into focus. The scale begins to make sense. No longer jarring, it’s enlightening.
It’s what has drawn me here before and will draw me back again – the endless horizons and potential to explore yet one more fold in the landscape. More than simply a short trip into the mountains, here there is a real sense of journeying on a grand scale.
Losing yourself to this vastness can be frightening or invigorating. I choose to feel the latter.
Darkness and temperature descend together, the sun playing out a losing battle against a stark and unforgiving geology, rallying at the last moment with glorious displays of colour – streaks of rose pink, fuchsia and violet writ large on giant canvases of granite, ice and snow.
With the darkness comes an inexorable call to sleep. Lethargic with the effects of altitude, we drop into oblivion as though poleaxed. Waking to gentle rocking, our location is brought back into sharp focus. We’re enchanted, mesmerised by our position, floating on a glacial river, surrounded by soaring peaks and the most incredible high-altitude desert landscape we’ve ever encountered.
Amidst this seemingly desiccated land, hot fish fresh from the river arrives on plates to break our fast, the disparity jarring. And though we remain in the Indian Himalaya, the faces, clothes, language and rituals all speak of Tibet. Our food too is distinctly Tibetan – thukpa made with hand rolled noodles, the boat’s cook rolling long ribbons of dough on a board, pinching lumps off at random to throw into a pot fragrant with spiced herbs and wild greens.
Soon we’ll be climbing, cooking and sleeping on the side of the mountains, melting snow for water, swaddled in layers of wool and down outside a home of nylon and aluminium no bigger than a double bed.
For now, we revel in the comfort of good company, light, heat, chai and laughter.
Thukpa with wild amaranth and pan-fried river trout
Oil or ghee
Udon or similar noodles (150-200g)
Dried bonito flakes
1 red chilli, sliced
4 or 5 spring onions, sliced lengthways
1 carrot, sliced into ribbons
½ onion, diced
Sea salt or Himalayan rock salt
2 wild trout fillets, boned
Large handful purple amaranth
Toast the spices in a dry pan until fragrant and then grind. Now add oil to the pan and add the ground spices, warming gently before adding the diced onion. Cook on a medium heat until the onion becomes translucent. Heat a kettle of water while the onion is cooking. Once the onion is cooked, add the sliced spring onions, red chilli, carrot and noodles.
Cook for one minute before adding the hot water and a few bonito flakes. Simmer for 5 minutes, taste and season to taste.
While the thukpa is cooking add a little oil to another pan, heat and cook the two trout fillets. Ladle the thukpa into bowls, add the amaranth and top with the trout.
Serve with warm paratha, naan or other flatbread.