Hidden Fermented Himalayan Treasures

published on 04 December 2023

Piece of advice. You should not drink alcohol on a trek. I'm sure you have a friend who believes that a few pegs of rum or brandy is ok to keeps you warm but there are better ways.

I avoid alcohol before and during a trek. Post-trek, that's a different story.

Every mountain region uses local ingredients along with traditional methods of fermentation to make alcohol. Most alcohol comes from rotting things, you know.

Here's a guide to what locals drink at high altitudes. I wanted to write 'this guide will help you get high at high altitudes' but that would have been cheesy.

Old Monk and mountains are synonymous. The Indian dark rum with hint of vanilla has been a favourite of adventure lovers and the armed forces for years. 

With almost 43% alcohol in it, it still manages to have a smooth taste. Each of the iconic bottles are handmade and hence a little different from each other. They never advertise, they don't need to. Crazy loyal fans like me carry bottles as gifts whenever we travel. Word of mouth is as strong as their liquor. Just the other day, my boy Abhishek said 'old monk le ke aana hyderabad. nahi toh mat aana.'

My uncle who served in the army tells me that he infuses 6 bottles of rum each year with different spices - cardamom, saffron etc and adds a chili to one. Let's them sit for months and opens the bottle during winters - spiced rum. 

Old Monk has a cult following. Like Apple, Harley and Royal Enfield, people swear by it.

The creator was impressed by the serene and content life of Benedictine monks who brewed their own drinks and lived in the mountains. The name derives from there.

Post our Island Peak expedition, we got our hands on Nepalese dark rum - Khukri. Equally strong but not as good as our Budda Baba. 

Unlike Old Monk, there are local drinks that you don't find everywhere. Unko wahi peenay ka maza hai. I fondly remember finishing Goechala trek and returning to Yuksom. Later that night the entire team went to Gupta Restaurant where I had Tongba for the very first time. 

When in the mountains, I recommend venturing out and finding what the locals are drinking. Drink with them to really soak in the culture. 

I'm sure a few of you would suggest that one doesn't need to drink to soak in the culture. I agree. But one cannot deny that it does go a long way to break the ice and keep the stories rolling. 

The high-altitude geographical regions of India are well-known for the rich diversity of ethno-medicinal plants. The tribal communities residing on the higher planes utilizes a variety of these ethnomedicinal plants for the preparation of ethnic fermented drinks which in turn augments the therapeutic value of the drinks.


No social activity is complete without Chhang in Ladakh.

Made from barley, Chhang represents more than just an alcoholic beverage.
Marriage proposal involves offering of chhang by the maternal uncle of the to be groom to the family members of the suitable match. Acceptance of the chhang signifies consent for the proposal. On the day of marriage ceremony, family members and marriage party are welcome by the villagers and family of the to be bride with earthen pot or chapskan, traditional brass container, filled with chhang. The guests are served the beverage and chhanglu, special song on chhang, are being sung during the ceremony.

On birth of child, relatives and neighbours brings chhang to the family along with barley flour, butter and a scarf tied to a stick in a basket known as tsi-lu. This signifies good wishes and blessing to the newborn. Chhang also signify a gesture of welcome. Ladies in traditional dresses with flower decorated chapskan filled with chhang in their hand, stands in row to welcome Rinpochey (head lamas), king and important guests.

If Chhang is distilled further, you get a more unsweetened, rough and fiery note alcoholic beverage called Arak. 
Himachal Pradesh

Lugdi is made by soaking rice grains for 24 hours and then fermenting them in a warm room for two to three weeks. Locals prepare this in summers as it is a good time for fermentation and is consumed undistilled to cope with the harsh cold winter weather later.

Chulli is a famous alcoholic liquid made with apples and apricots. Its sweet and fruity flavor is what draws many travelers to try this iconic Himalayan drink.


Soor also known as Ghenti locally. Prepared from fruit pulp along with rice, barley or finger millet. 


Tongba is prepared from fermenting millets and has low alcohol content. Technically, the bamboo container the drink is served in is called Tongba. It can take almost 6 months to prepare the drink and is served by adding hot water into the container.


Zutho - rice beer is a traditional alcoholic beverage prepared by the Angami tribe of Nagaland. Infact, each Naga tribe has their own slightly different recipe and name.

Assam , Arunachal Pradesh

Apo, apong or poka is an alcohol drink commonly found among the tribes in the Northeast India states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It is prepared by fermentation of rice. 


Chu or Kiad is Meghalaya’s version of rice beer served in bamboo tumbler. What makes it unique is the use of charcoal piece by the locals, in order to balance the desired flavour of alcohol with the tarty and sweetness of the drink. The drink holds quite a cultural significance in the region as no celebration or festivity is complete without it.  


Mizoram is famous for its traditional beer known as Zu. It is prepared by fermenting rice, millet or maize. Zu also has an integral connection with the traditional dance form of Mizoram. 


The Meitei community prepares a traditional alcoholic beverage known as Yu. Its preparation requires chakngan, or cooked rice, and hamei, for giving a unique flavour and aroma to the drink.

Drink responsibly!

Jai Hind.

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