Whenever we travel to a new place, whatever time of the day it is, we first like to walk around the area of the hostel or hotel we are staying in, to get a feel of where we are. To peel off that layer of absolute newness and find something familiar and relatable. So that even though we may be aliens here, we always find something that makes us feel that we never really are. The ‘chai walk’, let’s call it. We have come to learn that the soul of any place, be it a dingy little town or a busy city, lies in the way people drink their tea, or even coffee for that matter. Do they like hanging out outside those tea stalls to finish those tiny glasses of hot beverages and be on their way? Or do they settle down in an all too familiar cafe with its familiar people and have as many familiar conversations as each big cup of familiar chai brings with it. Walking around the chaotic market area of Governorpet in Vijayawada, we saw all kinds of establishments, shiny new ones, ‘With AC’, local tiffin centres that smelt of masala dosas and more. But what caught our eye was this brightly-lit shop called ‘Chai Coffee’. Considering that’s exactly what we were looking for, the name couldn’t be more inviting. We walked in to find it very all shiny and new, yet something about it was styled like the old-school Irani cafes of Hyderabad. Maybe it was the counter selling everything from the puffs (patties) and cookies to what we call the ‘Nice biscuits’ (a flaky pastry sprinkled with sugar crystals). Maybe it was the friendly bearded man brewing the tea in those ubiquitous aluminium vessels we see in the cafes. The white saucers may have been missing, but the first sip of the tea from one of those wide rimmed glasses confirmed that I was indeed having some fine Irani chai, an unexpected treat in Vijayawada. And we asked for more. When I told him, “Irani chai badiya hai bhai”, he instantly broke into a grin and asked us where are from. When we said Hyderabad, he seemed all too happy to tell us that you get this kind of Irani chai only in Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Mumbai. While we didn’t get into the authenticity of his facts, we did inquire if he was from Hyderabad too. He wasn’t. He was from Karwar, which lies on the Goa-Karnataka border. He said there were many like him from Karwar, selling chai on the same street in Vijaywada. After the small talk over cups of chai, we were on our way. We had found our tiny bubble of familiarity in a new place. We know where to come back tomorrow.[hr] Earlier that evening.