Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mohan's Cafe - An Inspiring Tale of Entrepreneurship

Mohan's Cafe (+91-9412162816), Kasar Devi, on Almora-Binsar-Bageshwar Road, bears the testimony of an incredible tale of entrepreneurship of a very ordinary person with very limited means but big dreams and the tenacity to make the dreams successful.

I bumped on Mohan's Cafe while returning from Almora to our resort in Binsar. It was already late evening and I had a tiring day. I'd visited the 8th century temples at Jageshwar, some 35km from Almora, took a stroll on the Light End Corner, which gives an awesome panoramic view of the far stretching Himalayas and the entire horse-shoe shaped city of Almora, visited the beautiful Ramakrishna Mission campus located perhaps in the most scenic spot of Almora and then getting back to Binsar. I wanted to pack some Kumayuni food, which I used to always prefer more than the conventional food at our luxurious and comfortable resort, for dinner. Little after Almora, at a place called Kasar Devi, on the Almora-Bageshwar road going via Binsar, I asked my driver to stop in front of what seemed to be a restaurant. That's when I saw the board "Mohan's Cafe". To my surprise I found flocks of western visitors sitting idly in open air. It was windy and the dark vast expanse in the front, which, it was clear even in the night, couldn't have been anything else than a valley. The atmosphere was just perfect for a vacation - relaxed people relishing their food, talking casually among themselves or reading books or browsing Internet - something not a very common thing in those hills of Uttarakhand - or taking collect calls at phone booths. To go to the sit out I'd to pass through the cyber cafe, phone booths and also a library well stocked with books, surprisingly, in mostly non English European languages. As I was looking for local Kumayoni food, which I figured out was not available at the Cafe, I went to a neighboring road-side food joint, but decided to come back to Mohan's the very next morning.

Next morning, on the way to Ranikhet, we decided to have our breakfast at Mohan's Cafe. If you're coming from Binsar and proceeding towards Almora, Mohan's Cafe is located little before Kasar Devi, which is a wonderful small hillock covered with deodar trees and with a two thousand year old temple at the top. The previous day I'd strolled up the winding path to the top of the hillock through the deodar forest and saw the temple which is supposed to be mentioned in Skanda Purana and several historical and ancient literature since the past two thousand years. Before taking the Uttarakhand trip I studied a bit about the local history and geography and very surprisingly I found that Kasar Devi and the temple was among the many places frequented by Swami Vivekananda during his visits to Almora. No doubt, Vivekananda had a fantastic sense of beauty that he chose Kasar Devi for his meditation. Looks like Kasar Devi has been quite famous a place for meditation and worship since historical times and it's no wonder that during the seventies it attracted the Hippies. That's when, I learnt from a French couple enjoying their English breakfast at Mohan's, the westerners located Kasar Devi as one of their rustic destinations on the Himalayas. In the past thirty years Kasar Devi became quite a popular spot for the budget western travellers who wanted to stay in Himalayas for months. Very logically most of the local houses were converted into home stays for the westerners, who got everything they wanted - peace, isolation, drugs and adventure - except for good food of their choice. That's when a tea stall owner Mohan got the idea to pitch in.

Mohan had befriended quite a few westerners, mostly people from Israel, and managed to learn their cuisine, all by himself. His customers - whom he used to serve only tea to start with - wholeheartedly taught him all they would like to eat. In due course he became an expert in preparing Indian, English and Israeli breakfast. To be very frank, till date even I don't know what's the difference between an English and Israeli breakfast. He learnt how to make good sandwiches, porridge, grilled toast, pasta and many other things meticulously. His customers were also very pleased to get homely food of their own choice alongside everything else that they already enjoying to the brim.

That's when he tapped another area - that's Internet access and provisions for phone calls. Again he got help from his customers because it's a luxury to access mails in that place. Like a savvy businessman he didn't just think about his profits but also about the fullest customer satisfaction. Otherwise why would he create a phone booth specially for only receiving calls? He had a small piece of ancestral land overlooking a wonderful valley with breath taking views of layers of mountains. He wanted to expand his business. By 2008 he had saved quite some money to invest in a little bit of infrastructure. With his own planning, in his own land, he created a small setup for a cafe with a pleasant sit out, a small covered area , Cyber Cafe, phone booths, grocery store and also a well stocked library mainly of the books left over by his customers. Recently he has also added a few rooms for staying. Mohan told me that his rooms mostly go full throughout the year. The sit out provides one of the best views of the Himalayas and his food is comparable to the best ones you might get in some theme restaurants in cities. It's just awesome to have a grilled toast and Mohan's special sandwich sitting in front of a deep valley surrounded by near and far stretching hills in all directions. Mohan's very simple designing of the entire space, manicured lawns and ethnic decorations are no less than anything designed by a trained interior decorator. Above all is his understanding of the needs of his customers. Each and every on I met at Mohan's are his highly satisfied customers.

It's so fascinating to see someone from no where to take small steps and finally setting up his own enterprise that has created employment not only for him but also for 10-15 other people in a place where sustenance of life is itself a very hard thing. Had Mohan not been an entrepreneur he would have been one of the million tea stall owners who struggle through out their lives to meet their ends. His simple ideas and great dreams made him go ahead of his peers. His conviction and satisfaction show in his face. It was a great humbling experience for me.

Anyone making a trip to Almora-Ranikhet-Kausani side should take some time off to visit Mohan's Cafe, just 6km from downtown Almora.The hill of Kasar Devi and the enchanting surroundings are just bonus!!

Library at Mohan's Cafe - available are books in several European languages

Menu Card of Mohan's Cafe: Complete with Indian, English & Israeli Breakfast, Muesli & Porridge, Pasta, Pancakes, Grilled Toast, Sandwiches & Salad

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