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Engineer Trio Opens Café In Kashmir To Promote Local Dogra Heritage

Three friends adopt a unique initiative to promote the region’s local heritage and food.

UDHAMPUR — Three engineers from Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur have adopted a unique initiative to promote the region’s local heritage and food, setting an example for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s famous mantras, ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘.

The trio has created employment opportunities for over 20 people, both directly and indirectly.

After the first wave of Covid-19 in September 2020, the trio quit their well-paying jobs with multinational companies and opened a café called ‘The Kalari Factory‘ to promote the local Dogra culture.

Among the fare offered at the café is Kalari, a traditionally ripened Himalayan cheese indigenous to Udhampur. Made of cow milk, the cheese with a mild mozzarella-like flavor and of stretchy and dense texture is among one of the authentic food items of the area.

Map of Udhampur

This traditional Dogra cheese is often made part of various cheeses.

Earlier, the café served Kalari without any bread, but gradually, as the business grew, the cafe started selling ‘Kalari sandwiches’, consisting of Kalari placed between two slices of bakery bread and shallow fried in the pan containing leftover fat from frying the Kalari. Tamarind chutney, along with red chili powder and salt, is also added to this loved sandwich.

“We three are childhood friends and wanted to try something new and unique; hence the joint-venture,” Shubam Sharma, one of the café owners, said.

“We are all civil engineers and were working outside Jammu and Kashmir earlier. We always wanted to start a business of our own and to give employment to others.”

“We even had many ideas for the same. Gradually, when we shared our ideas, we mutually decided to promote our local Dogra heritage and food; the Kalari,” Sharma said.

Kalari is a part of the tradition of several districts, including ChenaniRamnagar, Panchari, and Udhampur.

We started our joint-venture when the first wave of Covid-19 was about to end, and the government had eased the lockdown restrictions, he said.

Talking of how their café is unique, Sandeep Arora, a partner in the venture, said, “The locals generally ate Kalari separately and sometimes used it in sandwiches.”

“We wanted to do something different. We introduced more than 20 dishes of Kalari, and Udhampur welcomed all of it warmly.”

Explaining the design of the café’s interiors, Arora said the walls are full of paintings from local artists and demonstrate the Dogra heritage.

“We wanted to promote and help the local artists too, so we give their painting space on our walls free of cost, and even share their contact with our customers who are willing to buy their painting(s).”

“This way, these artists get a platform to display their art and generate income, too,” Arora said.

Presently, they have six employees working at the café, and they have also adopted a village of 20 houses that prepare Kalari exclusively for them.

“Directly and indirectly, we provide employment to 22 persons altogether. Each of them earns handsomely and had income during the pandemic, too,” Arora said.

“Our mission is to promote the local heritage, local artists, and local food in tune with Prime Minister  Narendra Modi’s mantras ‘Vocal for Local’ and ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat.”

Jenny Poser, a local of Udhampur and a regular customer at the café, appreciated the ambiance and hospitality of the cafe.

“The hospitality of the place is very nice, and so is the ambiance,” Poser said.

“It is a nice place to come with friends and family. They also follow all Covid protocols, so it is safe to come here.”

“The Kalari is native to Jammu and Kashmir, and the tradition was getting extinct since the youth was not promoting it.”

“Their initiative will not only promote the local but will also generate employment, just like our Prime Minister wished.”

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra. Map by Urvashi Makwana)

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