My life seems to be determined by triangles. I spent years living 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 the most popular tourist circuit in India, consisting of Delhi, the main international entry point, Agra, (with it’s 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.
However, it only dawned on me relatively 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 is the world’s most famous destination for the production of the finest forced rhubarb, globally. Indeed, 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. Now as someone who’s main childhood memories of the stuff were of her grandfather slurping away on a bowl of pink/green stewed, slimey, stringy and needless , rhubarb, I found this quite hard to believe, but others have more faith and set out to put Yorkshire’s finest on the map, rather successfully one might add as, 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, wait for it, yes, Champagne.
Since then, there has been no stopping the proud folks of Yorkshire, not only did this lead to a flurry (if three statues can be called a flurry) of sculptures being erected to celebrate, it transpires that our level of inventiveness in the kitchen knew no bounds, and whilst that old favourite, rhubarb and crumble remains the top desert to round off most folks’ Sunday dinners, we now 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) Rhucello (a rhubarb liqueur) and my particular favourite, rhubarb gin!
Now, 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 when 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 former textile mill town (and World Heritge Site) of Saltaire, the wonderful city of York, and the National Coal Mining Museum and yet, despite all this, the Rhubarb Triangle has, which I find somewhat amusing, 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, 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! We even held a photo exhibition about it at the highly acclaimed Hepworth Art Gallery (Anish Kapoor has exhibited there), yes, photographer Martin Parr held a rhubarb photo exhibition at the highly acclaimed Hepworth Gallery, in Wakefield, ”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.”
Yorkshire has taken a slighltly sour, stringy plant which either grows in muddy fields or in dark candle lit sheds and has turned it into a global phenomenon (okay, perhaps that is a step too far) but it does even have it’s own festival! Perhaps it is this quite frankly genius 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.
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. India has extraordinary monuments and temples and wildlife and mountains and adventure and yes, incredible food and textiles and, it has really lovely hotels but the overall sightseeing experience, in spite of having so much that is extraordinary has left much to be desired and so much of what should have been showcased was ignored. Whereas Yorkshire has turned mud, sheds and a plant into something worth visiting.
Fortunately for India, recently 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 way India had always been sold, alive for a much younger and more fun crowd. But I have to say that I haven’t found anything, as yet, that appeals to my sense of the delightfully, charmingly slightly bonkers, quite like Rhubarb Tourism.
Click here to find out more about a rhubarb forcing shed tour.
Click here to find out more about the annual rhubarb festival 17-19 Feb 2023
And here for more on Martin Parr and his rhubarb photography:
Oh, and with over 25 years of experience in selling truly tailored tours to these destinations, if you fancy a trip to the extraordinary subcontinent, I would be delighted to help.
Philippa Kaye founder Indian Experiences and author of Escape to India
JungleSutraNovember 15, 2016 at 5:22 am
An important message for the Indian Travel Trade. Great blog! and a wonderful way to articulate the somewhat sensitive issue to most in the travel fraternity!
marinamarangosNovember 15, 2016 at 6:16 am
As always PK said with Panache and Yorkshire Wit and you will shake them up if that is the last thing you do. I hope to be alongside you for the ride. x m
GwenNovember 16, 2016 at 2:23 am
Nowt wrong with stewed rhubarb!
Alok SinghNovember 24, 2016 at 9:56 am
Excellent story PK, the GTI to GTY!
Yorkshire for me until now was just Boycs (Geoffery Boycott) and his accent. You add another dimension 🙂