It was my birthdaaaaaaaaay. It was my birthday and the lovely H organised a stay at a tea plantation in West Bengal, near Darjeeling.
This is tea plantation visit number three. Visit one was in Kerala (for my birthday last year) and visit two was in Sri Lanka. The place was amazing, even after 2 flights and a 3.5hr car journey up a wiggly mountain road. There’s been a lot of travelling so far this year which has included A LOT of car time. The 2 week trip to Sri Lanka over Christmas was basically a driving holiday. The trip to Cornwall was a 5hr drive from London to Mevagissey. The journey back from the UK to Pune was a flight then a 5hr drive. But of all the trips to test the mettle of my stomach and pyloric sphincter…it was this one.
There is a moment on a car journey when I am afraid to speak in case opening my mouth is actually removing the last line of defence. I haven’t reached that point in a long time…but I did on this trip. Luckily we had to stop at a level crossing and that brief respite, with a bit of fresh air, meant that I didn’t disgrace myself in the car. I’d been looking round for a suitable receptacle in case the need arose… I’d settled on the tissue box cosy, the closest thing to a bag within reach. In an effort to keep my breakfast down, I’d been thinking of ‘nice things’ as my Mum used to say. Imagine travelling with 3 young children, all with weak stomachs and the capacity to retch from the moment we left the house till we reached our destination. And on special occasions, the day after too. I imagine the ‘nice things’ she though of involved a large gin and the removal and top to toe disinfection of her 3 smelly daughters.
Bizarrely, as a distraction I was thinking about baking bread. I woke up this morning still thinking about baking bread, so I have. At 30+ degrees C it’s possibly a little warm to have the oven on and I have a suspicion that one/or more of the ingredients may not have been super fresh but I have made bread…and baked it in a cast iron pot in the oven. The bread has a great crust but is rather flat. Oh well, the crust is my favourite bit anyway.
One of the best things about the trip was the tea obviously! Great tea. Tea brought to you in bed. Tea with breakfast. Tea after lunch. Tea at teatime. Tea after dinner. I did ask for coffee once and I spilt it. I’m sure that was a sign.
The house is surrounded by the tea garden and the processing factory is a few minutes walk down the road. Tea is processed here in a very traditional way. None of this crushing and bashing the tea leaves which creates tea granules; no. Here the tea is gently rolled to release the enzymes and to create a proper leaf tea. Some of the sorting is still done by hand. It looks so idyllic but it’s bloody hard work. Imagine carrying a basket, with 30kgs of tea leaves, up and down a slope that would challenge even a mountain goat. Then do it during the monsoon.
To give you an idea of how much 30kgs is, it’s the weight of a dalmatian or 3 dachshunds…because we all measure weight by dog breed, no?
Apparently a lot of the youngsters from the tea picking villages don’t want to work in the plantations any more. Those parents who can afford to give their children a better education and the means to get a better job will probably be the last generation of their family to work with the tea.
Here are some photos. It was such a special place. The people were so warm and friendly. It was such a lovely spot just to sit and watch the clouds go by and drink tea of course.
A beautiful cup of First Flush tea
Some of the tea bushes near the house
The sun setting over the tea plantation
This is the place we stayed.