GUJAR KHAN: There is little contest on sights and sounds between Motorway (M2) and historic Grand Trunk Road. The latter wins it hands down! While the M2 has all-season standard fizzy soft drinks and chemically preserved fruit juices, the old-style GT Road offers these and countless other seasonal beverages. All you need is to just pull up when you see a humble stall set up in a traditional wedding tent (shamiana).
Come mid-April, such makeshift refreshment centres crop up along the highway. Mohsin Raza, 27, runs such a shop near Kalyam Sharif, offering Multan or say South Punjab’s signature beverages, sarda’yi and rubbery doodh (condensed, supple milk). Hailing from Muzzafargarh district, 50 kilometers from historic Multan region, he perfects the art of extracting a beverage signature to humid and sweltering heat of south Punjab. Locally called sarda’yi, this refreshing brew is a compact mixture of almonds, poppy seeds (khaskhash), and sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, water melon seeds, cantaloupe seeds (all locally named as chahar maghaz), cardamom, basil (tukhmalanga) and fennel (saunf) seeds.
After grinding them manually on the spot, Mohsin adds sugar and pours freezing water with precision of a pharmacist. He then strains it for smooth, refreshing sips. “I never taste it. I just smell it to know if it’s ready to serve,” he explains. There’s neither a hidden recipe like Coca Cola nor a sachet of ingredient on the super market. “It’s not anybody’s business!” he proudly exclaims. Like scores others dotting the Gernali Road, Mohsin’s nameless shop supports a banner inviting the customers for almond sarda’yi and concentrated milk flavored with herbs.
Without any advertisement budget, he makes Rs 15,000 on any average day while during the peak summer season, the sales soar over Rs 35,000. “I could not have dreamed of making this much money had I been selling sarda’yi in Multan or Dera Ghazi Khan.” Mohsin needs for good quality milk are attached with the mercury. “I consume 20 kilogram on the lower side to an upper limit of 80 kg in scorching June or humid July. However, there’s no match here for the milk one can get in Muzaffargarh.”
Against high priced softy drinks, a pint (450 ml) of sarda’yi is priced at Rs 40 while rubbery doodh sells for Rs 60. Leading a team of six, this father of three is not yet part of formal economy. He has no bank account yet and relies on old-fashioned money orders to send profits to the family in Khangarh. Thanks to impressive business so far, he plans to bring his family here as well. Yet there remain hygiene concerns amongst many travelers. Asma Iqbal, a mother of four, won’t ‘risk’ her family’s health just to sip a traditional drink.
“I doubt if these temporary vendors really care about our hygiene expectations. Then, there is no oversight by the government,” she explains. A mid-ranking Highways & Motorway Police official, however, gives sarda’yi sellers a clean chit. “In my seven years of service, I haven’t come across a single known case of hepatitis or gastroenteritis resulting from their drinks.” Whatever health concern many may have, sarda’yi beverages is recording soaring sales and high-profile fans. If it can beat the heat in south Punjab or Sindh, Potohar take a chill pill. It’s time for sarda’yi when you next venture on the GT Road in a private car.
“Sarda’yi is not only an ideal drink to beat the heat but also good for stomach and nerves. Its ingredients are organic, with authentic coolant effects,” says Hakim Suleman Mahir. He believes that the centuries’ old recopies of traditional beverages can’t be beaten by standardized, western drinks in health benefits and price alike.
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