My life seems to be determined by triangles. I currently live on one vertex of what is probably the most famous triangle in the world, well, apart from the Bermuda one, but then, if I was there I probably wouldn’t be alive, so let’s say, the most liveable triangle in the world, The Golden one. It is to my chagrin, the most popular tourist circuit in India, consisting of Delhi, the main international entry point, Agra, (yes, the bloody Taj Mahal!) and Jaipur, the first city of Rajasthan and the gateway to the rest of the state. For those reasons, it is logical that this is the most popular tour itinerary in India. I wish people had more imagination, but there you go, it won’t happen in my lifetime.
However, it dawned on me quite recently that I was born and raised in another triangle, a very different triangle to be sure, but a famous triangle non-the-less, The Rhubarb Triangle. Oh yes, I kid you not. This is very real and vitally important to anyone from this particular part of Yorkshire. Enclosed between the salubrious towns of Rothwell, Lofthouse and Wakefield (said with only mild sarcasm) is the world’s most famous destination for the production of the finest forced rhubarb, globally. Scoff ye not, ye ne’er-do-weller-s, well do, if you have a large helping of delectable rhubarb crumble and custard in front of you; BUT in 2010 Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme, giving it the same status as Stilton Cheese, Parma Ham
and………Champagne. Which is astonishing, given my childhood memories of the stuff, namely my grandfather slurping away on a bowl of pink/green stewed, slimey, stringy rhubarb.
However, it is a fact that until a train strike in 1962 put a kibosh on it, there used to be an express train, operated by Great North Eastern Railways, which ran from Ardsley to London specifically to take Yorkshire’s finest forced Rhubarb down to Spitalfields and Covent Garden Markets from where it was then sent on to grace the finest tables in London and Paris. Take that, the Maharaja’s Express!
So I guess, moving on 30 years from some less than pleasant childhood memories, it shouldn’t be such as surprise that we are up there with Champagne. But it couldn’t rest there. Yorkshire folks are nothing if not proud and protective and this led to a flurry (if three statues can be called a flurry) of sculptures being erected to celebrate.
Since then, there has been no stopping the proud folks of Yorkshire and now, such is our heightened level of sophistication, that we make such things as rhubarb jam, rhubarb creme brulee, cheesecakes with charred rhubarb compote, jellied rhubarb and vanilla soup (whoever thought that up should be shot) wine-poached rhubarb (more like it) and my particular favourite, rhubarb gin!
I had personally always thought that both triangles were better denoted by what lay beyond. The fact that most people consider having “done India” having visited the Golden Triangle drives me to distraction and I am virtually cutting of my digits here to prevent this from becoming another rant against the woeful way in which tourism to India is planned and executed, executed being a rather apt word. If you want to read more about this then I will add links to rants below. Suffice to say, there is an entire, extraordinary and diverse subcontinent out there begging to be explored.
Likewise there is a whole lot of God’s Own County which I thought warranted more merit than rhubarb; it is the land of James Herriot, contains the bulk of the Pennine chain, the Yorkshire Dales, Moors and Wolds, it has the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the Worth Valley Railway, The Mill Town of Saltaire (ahem), the wonderful city of York, and the National Coal Mining Museum, eermm, I am spotting a theme. Perhaps it is actually hardly surprising, even though it does somewhat amuse me, that the Rhubarb Triangle has, of all things, now also become a tourist attraction.
There are two main reasons for this mirth. The first being that rhubarb, is actually native to Siberia and only grows so well in Yorkshire due to the cold and wet climatic conditions comparable with the Banks of the Volga and secondly, the thought of Yorkshire farmers removing their flat caps and “shekkin’ their ‘eds” at tourists clad in footwear highly impractical for visiting muddy fields and forcing sheds, anything other than wellies being inappropriate. Sighing, and traipsing them around saying things like, “Mynst you,” and “Watch thissen,” and “Aye, t’ground’s a bit clarty ovver theer,” and bewildered tourists wondering if they heard correctly over the slurping sound as they attempt to pull their feet out of suctioned mud, and failing to keep up whilst wondering if the farmer is actually speaking English.
I do however love this inventiveness, the slightly preposterous and mildly ridiculous. It is what has been sadly missing in the tourism field in India but this is genius, I mean, why come to Yorkshire and visit The Bronte Parsonage or the Dales, or even the charming market town of Harrogate, when you can traipse around muddy fields and candle lit forcing sheds? Yet people are doing it! Perhaps it is this inventiveness by Yorkshire folk to turn something hitherto worthy of little mention into a major tourist attraction which fuels my desire, bordering on desperation to showcase India differently. I have finally found something to blame my incessant determination on, my genes.
I would like to say that that is as far as it went, but of course, Yorkshire folk, having proved that they are better at something than the rest of the world, we are fiercely competitive after all, then had to take this even one stage further. Earlier this year, we actually held a rhubarb photo exhibition at the highly acclaimed Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield (Anish Kapoor has exhibited there) by Martin Parr and I quote:
”Parr’s photographs capture all aspects of the rhubarb business, from the back-breaking work of moving the rhubarb from field to shed, the freezing cold and exhausting labour of picking the vegetable by candlelight (or occasionally by head-torch), and the consumption of the rhubarb by coach parties and food tourists.”
Now, my job involves a lot of exploring, trawling around India in order to find new experiences, not only to discover new destinations but how to showcase existing destinations differently. It looks glamourous to those following me on social media, but the tourism industry in India until very recently was stuck in the mundane, unimaginative and mediocre. We could produce lovely hotels but the overall sightseeing experience left much to be desired and so much of what should have been showcased was ignored.
However, now, finally, thank the Lord and all of India’s 300,001 + gods, there is a young, fun generation coming into the industry and shaking things up. Now all of a sudden we have cycling tours, photography tours, hot air ballooning, 4×4 Jeep safaris, zip wiring, culinary experiences, organic farming, horse riding, a focus on the extraordinary arts and crafts of the country, new fields are emerging, contemporary art, literary festivals, the list goes on. This is bringing the bog standard way India had always been sold, alive for a much younger and more fun crowd. I am constantly searching, sampling and searching some more for inventive and fun ways to showcase this country I have made my home. But I have to say, that despite our wellness tourism, medical tourism, dark tourism, culinary tourism and beyond, I haven’t found anything here, as yet, that appeals to my sense of the delightfully, charmingly ridiculous, quite like Rhubarb Tourism.
For more on Martin Parr and Rhubarb:
For rants on the Indian tourism industry: