Tuesday, April 13, 2010


We were driving back by car from Rishikesh to Delhi on 11 Apr 10. Short of Haridwar, the traffic was diverted to avoid the ingress routes to Haridwar because of the Kumbh mela, and the huge crowd of devotees that had congregated there. We travelled across the Ganga on to the opposite bank - through the wild life sanctuary on the foothills of the Himalayas, and finally made our way through the lesser travelled roads to intercept the Haridwar - Delhi highway at Bijnore.

A view of the Ganga; Haridwar on the other bank and the Vaishno Devi temple on top of the hill. (Click on the image to get a larger view).

This journey had its own charm, although it did increase our travel time. I call these older roads as roads with some history and character; away from the modern four lane highways being built with all effort to avoid humans and nature. Interesting sights included flora, fauna and signboards warning you "Elephant crossing path" and "Lookout for animals".

We drove on the sugarcane belt of Uttar Pradesh and I witnessed a lot of bullock carts, tractors (some covering both lanes of the road), trucks loaded with sugarcane driving past. I thought they were heading to some sugar factory and dismissed them for a while until I saw a jaggery making unit on the roadside. It reminded me of the time when as a little boy in the early 60s I had spent 6 months in Dinanagar - a village in Punjab on the Pathankot - Amritsar highway.

We had finished our schools (ICSE) in December and were to join CBSE starting in July and were thus spending six months with my maternal grand parents. Having lived in the cities, our excitement was to bathe in the stream or under the pump in the fields; gorge sugarcanes; fly kites on rooftops; drink milk boiled on cowdung cakes from the 'kade' wala glass; and many such typically rural Punjabi activities - I am not sure if these still exist in present day rural Punjab.

On a few occasions we city kids were invited to the 'gur' (jaggery) making 'kolhus' (crushers) to partake of the hot 'gur' being made. It always tasted very good - and this taste stayed with me, I guess. And so I stopped at the next one and bought some hot 'gur'. While there I interacted with the people there; took some photographs of what goes into making 'gur'. It was interesting to watch that nothing much had changed in the procedure for making 'gur' except for the fact that the bullocks that used to drive the 'kohlu' had been replaced with a diesel operated crusher - everything else remains the same, even after nearly 50 years. These units are really small scale and service a small segment of the sugarcane sector.

The procedure is pretty simple and captured in photographs. 'Gur' I believe has many health benefits over the white sugar that we consume. More on that

Sugarcane growing in the field.

Transportation of cut sugarcane by a tractor trailer to the 'gur-making' unit.

Another mode of transportation; off loading at the 'gur-making' unit.

Weighing of the sugarcane - payment to the farmer is by weight.

Diesel operated crushing unit. The juice is stored in cans for sedimentation purposes; sieved and put in the first pan and the leftover solid material after crushing the sugarcane, called bagasse, is dried in the sun and used as fuel to heat the pans.

Stirring the pan filled with sieved sugarcane juice.

'Bagasse' is used to light the fire under the large pans.

The juice is moved from the right to the left pan - colder to hotter pans. In the left most pan the juice boils; vegetable clarifiers are added that help bring the impurities to the top and can be skimmed off. Organic process; No chemicals are used unlike in the making of crystal white sugar.

At a certain consistency, known through experience, the semi solid, hot, 'gur' is given its shape either by hand or through the use of containers. As it cools down it solidifies. Eating raw hot 'gur' is a treat and worth trying for those who have not done it yet. It also helps bring us Indians closer to our countrymen that live in Bharat.


Indyeah said...

Very interesting and informative post SIr.
I love gur:)specially the dark chewy kind...its more elastic in its consistency:)

We have gur and ghee in winters ..atleast dadi sued to ensure we always would have it:)

Saw it being made long back when I was a kid and was roaming around in the village:)

Isn't there also an Amitabh Bachchan movie where he plays the role of guy who makes gur?

Balvinder Singh said...

Very informative post , particularly for the today's young urban generation who have never been to a village. Luckily one can catch sight of such processes on the highways.

Though i was brought up at shimla but every winters we used to visit my naani's village. It was there that i came across the process of making gur. My cousins used to throw radish, carrots or potatoes in the boiling syrup. Then take out and eat them hot.

Please keep making good use of your photography skills and keep sharing such informative posts for the benefit of younger generation :-))

Usha Pisharody said...

Informative, and interesting. Esp since I love jaggery. We dont get that kind of jaggery here. Used to have them when we were in Delhi, and I used to stock up on this particular soft variety.

The pictures too, made it an experience for us as well.

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: Thank you. Hot gur, like the one this guy in the photograph is moulding is really good, and tastes yummy. I too had had it in my childhood and my mind remembered the taste. This is what forced me to stop and buy it while on our way. While interacting with these people, I took some photographs and decided to do a post on this old Indian art. This post is for kids/ adults who have never seen gur being made - unfortunately my own kids fall in this bracket.

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Thank you. Yes this post is for people who have never seen it being made; also for those who think that milk comes from grocery stores; and for those like me who did not know the process of making gur, although I had tasted it many decades ago.

J P Joshi said...

Usha Pisharody: Welcome back after a really long absence, and thank you. Yes, the softer variety is the one in which they add various dry fruits and other ingredients. The North has many varieties of this 'value added' gur, and is consumed extensively in traditional families in winters - the old 'kiryana' stores carry it.

Anrosh said...


The rishikesh voyage sounds wonderful to me - In which month are the rapids high? And I will have to dine their every meal from break fast to dinner - so I can taste all their thalis. Do they serve thalis for breakfast ?

Anrosh said...

in kerala they also have a kind of gur - which is syrupy with ayurvedic herbs and stuff. very tasty.- don't know its name

So does in Bengal - they have gurs depending on the season. I have had it - Cannot recall the names. In fact that is what i ask of friends coming from bengal. 250 gms of the kinds of gur that they have. i use it in coffee, chai, kheer, sheera, cookies and where ever i have to subsitute sugar. but mostly i just eat it

J P Joshi said...

Anrosh: The rapids are the strongest immediately after the monsoons, August/ September.. the Ganga is a little muddy then.. during this time it is very clear and cold upto Rishikesh. There are two chotiwala restaurants like I said .. the cousins have split. We had gone to the one owned by Shailesh Agarwal. For breakfast they have other stuff like dosa, puri aloo, chana bhatura, etc. I did not taste the thali but have heard that it is like home food.

J P Joshi said...

Anrosh: Like you mention, every state of India has its own type of jaggery. Jaggery can also be made from other products too. In the North they add lots of dry fruit for the value added jaggery... the cost goes up substantially then. This plain hot gur that I bought from this place was only Rs 30 a kg.