This Spring Break we went to the Smoky Mountains -- the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the few national parks in the east coast. I am a sucker for National Parks and after our Yellowstone trip last year, my secret desire is to visit all of them. Does not seem like that will happen in this lifetime with the money and time I have at my disposal but that does not mean I won't try.
But the Great Smoky Mountains did not happen out of my love of National Parks. It happened because that was the place decided for a mini reunion of our college friends from twenty years back. It happened millions of whatsapp chats, several hangout sessions late in the night and couple of Google spreadsheets later.
Each hangout was peppered with more serious issues than the last. Luchi or eggs and bacon at breakfast? Pathar manghso on Saturday or bbq? Cookies with tea or muri-chanachur? Pasta for kids or Maggi? Yes we are very focused like that.
Finally a beautiful 8 bedroom chalet in the mountains was booked, food items from goat meat to mustard oil, maggi to maacher chop were packed, and we were all ready for the 12 hour long drive to Tennessee.
If I am honest my first impression of the Smokies as we entered Pigeon Forge was that of deep disappointment. I had Yellowstone and Grand Canyon on my mind and had not expected traffic jams and departmental stores from Wal-Mart to Macy's at the throes of a national park. The fact that we reached on a Friday which was a holiday could have contributed to the throng of crowd.
|The deck with the beautiful view|
Once we managed to cross all the traffic lights and crawl onto the mountain roads, the traffic peeled off and feel of the forest came back. The path up the mountains had several switchbacks and took scary sharp turns. The trees grew closer and the air turned crisp. My faith in national parks was restored.
It was early spring and the trees were mostly bare except for the light green haze of budding new leaves and splashes of spring flowers here and there. After going through a couple of wrong turns and several phone calls to friends who were already at the chalet, we finally reached the house with a truly "breathtaking view". The Mountains rose right across from the house, its peaks swirled in the typical bluish haze that is quintessential to Smokies.
|The kids had lot of fun on zip lines and horse back rides. We went to Jayell's Ranch where even the little ones could zip line on a shorter trail|
It was much fun meeting friends after so many years, getting to know their kids, the better halves and generally indulging in what we call in Bengali as "bhaat" -- meaningless banter. Food and adda were the focal points in the backdrop of the mountains. It was fun to see the kids bond with their new friends and have a great time of their own.
While we were discussing the menu in the days leading to the trip, and trust me it would always end up without a consensus, there was the question of how to cook the goat meat. Should we carry a Pressure cooker ? Will the kitchen have a large enough heavy bottomed pan to cook goat meat for twenty people ? Will Donald Trump be the president ? Should we move to Canada ? You know that kind of questions on which no consensus can be ever reached.
|Smokies has lots of pretty waterfalls. We did the Laurel Fall and Grotto Fall hike. Each were approx. 3 mile round trip and easy hike with kids|
At this point when everyone was arguing over chat and not really listening to anyone else, our friend from Ohio, Deepshikha said, "We will do the Panthar Mangsho(Goat Meat curry) in the oven. You don'y need anything else except for a largei-ish aluminum tray".
This was so profound that we all just stayed quiet until I mustered to courage to ask "if it tasted good". I shouldn't have. Asked that is. Deepshikha and Biplab are trailblazers in Ohio, investing a lot of time and effort in their local community, doing Durga Pujo and throwing lavish parties with tons of food. They KNOW how to cook mutton in oven and make it taste as good as kosha mangsho.