The Kulhad Chai Experience: A Tale of Tea and Travel

The Kulhad Chai Experience: A Tale of Tea and Travel

Imagine sipping a cup of steaming chai on a bustling railway platform, the earthy aroma of clay mingling with the fresh scent of spices, as you chuckle and share stories with fellow travellers. There is a feeling of serenity and warmth as you soak in the view of everyday hustle and find contentment in the moment, holding the moist clay cup. 

This is the magic of the Kulhad- a small unglazed clay cup that not only cradles your favourite tea but also a piece of India’s history and culture. 

In our latest blog post, we decided to dive into the rich tradition of Kulhad chai- how this unique beverage came into existence, its evolution in the Indian Railways, and its undeniable connection to the art of travel. So, scroll down further to enjoy this riveting piece where we share some of the most fascinating facts about the history and significance of Kulhads in India.

The Origin of Kulhads 

From cooking to storing to serving, earthen pots have been an essential part of Indian households for centuries. Evidence of their use can be found in the archaeological sites dating back to 3300 BC which means as far back as the Indus Valley Civilization. It is said that Kulhads were popular in Buddhist cultures too. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of Kulhads, their continued relevance is a testament to their versatility and durability. 

The clay for these Kulhads is extracted from the riverbed and afterwards shaped into a cup and baked in a kiln (a sort of oven with a specified temperature). Serving chai in kulhads has been an enduring tradition, particularly in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal, and Mumbai. Some of the fancy tea joints like Chaayos, have kept special Kulhad Chai in their menu. However, for most of us who have grown up around the Northern region of India, Kulhad Chai has been a regular part of our road trips- producing those lip-smacking and gratifying moments. 

Kulhad Chai on Trains

The British may have built the Indian Railways, but it was tea that made the journey truly magical. As we sat on our sleeper seats, the intoxicating aroma of chai in Kulhads wafted from every station, and we knew we were on a feast for the senses. 

The Kulhads became a beloved companion to travellers on the Indian Railways in the early 20th century. It was a cheap and easy way to serve tea to the large number of passengers who passed through each day, and it was also seen as a more hygienic option than traditional metal cups. But the kulhad was more than just a practical vessel. Its porous texture allowed it to absorb the flavours of the tea, resulting in a richer and more complex taste.

Moreover, sharing a Kulhad tea with fellow travelers became a cherished experience, fostering a unique bond among strangers. This practice added a distinctive touch to train travel in India, creating memories that passengers still cherish today which makes us wonder why this tradition got replaced by boring paper cups after a few years. 

Tea in Paper Cups 

The replacement of Kulhads with paper cups can be attributed to a combination of factors, primarily driven by convenience, cost-effectiveness, and changing consumer preferences.

Paper cups are mostly seen as the more hygienic and convenient option, especially in our fast-paced world where on-the-go solutions are fancied. After all, disposable paper cups eliminate the need for washing and sterilizing. They are also quite economical and readily available in the market. The downside being the poverty of dumping zones for these massive heaps of disposable clutter. While Kulhads just melt away in the passing rains and mix back in to the mud.

Recent Resurgence of Kulhads

It's ironic that we once embraced the paper cup as a symbol of modernity, but now keep looking back at the time when everybody caressed the humble kulhad. Perhaps, that’s why when we find ourselves in rural areas and at traditional tea stalls, we can’t help but quickly dive into the taste of Kulhad chai. 

In recent years, the Kulhads have made a remarkable comeback, thanks to brands like Chaayos and Abhinav Dubey’s Chai Sutta Bar which sells everything in Kulhads. These brands are leading a renaissance of this timeless vessel, recognizing its cultural and environmental significance. Even the Indian Railways rekindled its connection with Kulhads by reintroducing them in 2020 paving the way for a giant leap forward in environmental responsibility. 

It’s important to note that the resurgence of Kulhads is not just limited to upscale businesses and railways. It has also found its way to local tea sellers and vendors, choosing an eco-friendly alternative to disposable cups. 

The Kulhad Experience and Travel

Beyond the railways, kulhads are also a quintessential companion on road trips across India. As you wind your way through the highways and byways, stopping at a roadside tea stall to savor a hot cup of tea in a kulhad is a cherished ritual. The simplicity and authenticity of this experience make it an integral part of any travel adventure.

In a sense, the Kulhad is a symbol of both the journey and the destination. It serves as a poignant memento of life's uncomplicated joys like relishing your favourite chai with your friends at a tea joint or enjoying a meal at a dhaba while sipping through a Kulhad of either lassi or chai. Moreover, it serves as a tangible reminder of India's opulent culture and history and encourages the tremendous craft of Indian potters. 

In an ever-evolving world, the Kulhad experience persists. It stands as a reminder of the importance of reawakening our precious traditions while embracing practices for a brighter and greener future. So, the next time you hold a Kulhad filled with aromatic chai, remember that you're not just savoring a beverage; you're supporting the artisans who continue to mold a piece of India's heritage, one cup at a time.

Back to blog

Leave a comment