A sweet nirvana

A sweet nirvana

The busy four-lane National Highway 5 connecting Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, the new and old capitals of Orissa respectively, is notorious for road accidents. Many people in both the cities often describe the highway as a death trap because of the number of people killed every year. Interestingly, the National Highway 5, which links Chennai and Kolkata, has a ‘sweeter’ side to it. This refers to a cluster of eateries located on the highway, known as Pahala, which exclusively sell rasgoolas.

 These eateries, popularly known as rasgoola dhabas have been around for more than half a century now. And their demand continues to grow.  “You cannot find such rasgoola dhabas anywhere else in the country. I have visited these eateries since my school days. And I am sure they would continue to be in business for many more years. When my grandson would be a senior citizen he perhaps would still eat these rasgoolas,” said 67-year-old PK Jena, a retired government employee. According to old timers, the Pahala Rasgoola shops came up during the late 1950s and early 1960s when the capital of Orissa was shifted from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar. At that time many government employees continued to reside in Cuttack and commuted every day to Bhubaneswar to attend their offices. Two sweet vendors from a village near Pahala, named Kalu Behera and Utsab Behera, who were related to each other in an uncle and nephew relationship, realized the business potential and started two rasgoola shops on the highway to target government employees.

Their plans clicked and both of  them had superb success in their business ventures as the demand for their rasgoolas skyrocketed not only among the government employees but many others who used the national highway to travel to other places within the state and beyond. The success of the uncle-nephew duo encouraged many other vendors to set up their rasgoola shops along that patch of the National Highway and now there are almost 300 eateries.

Senior residents of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar recall how the large sized Pahala rasgoolas were available for only 50 paisa a piece. Over the years prices rose and now the same rasgoola is priced at Rs 10.

 In fact, the one rupees rasgoolas have almost vanished from the vendors’ rate chart. Now small size rasgoolas are available for Rs 2.50 and Rs 5 per piece. In addition to rasgoolas, all sweet vendors in Pahala have also added chena poda, to their menus which is a typical Oriya sweet made from chena or cottage cheese. The rasgoola story also has a sad side to it. A few years ago there was an accident in which a DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) scientist suffered a tragic end while shopping for the mouth watering sweets.  He was on his way back to Bhubaneswar to catch a flight back home after finishing his work at the DRDO’s  Interim Test Range in Balasore district. After getting down from his vehicle to cross the highway to visit a rasgoola shop he was hit by a speeding vehicle. Similarly, there have been many more such sad stories associated with the rasagoola bazaar at Pahala.

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