Tucked into the foothills of the Himalayas and up the bumpy and winding roads, the tea fields of Darjeeling sprawl up and down as far as the eye can see. Kissed daily by the mountain mist, tea leaves wait to be plucked by hand. A slight breeze swirls the mist to ensure every leaf is caressed and washed fresh – this is what happens naturally out there and this is just the beginning.
Known as “The Champagne of Teas,” these tea leaves are prized and revered around the world, but sipping it from a cup is nothing like seeing it firsthand. Referred to as a black tea, but almost like an oolong, this tea is definitely distinct in its flavor profile and this is what makes it highly desirable.
After spending an entire month in this area, visiting tea gardens, meeting owners and planters, touring factories, and seeing – for the first time – CTC production in full swing as well as packaging, storing, and shipping, I got to have the full Darjeeling experience.
Life in the tea garden is tranquil. One leaves the congested traffic, the pollution, and the crowds behind to find clean air, clear running streams, peace of mind, greenery, and almost absolute silence. I was blessed to spend several nights in a bungalow at the tea estates of Dam Dim and Soongachi, and even though the threat of wild elephants was present at both estates, the days and nights were a dream come true of heaven on earth.
The women tea pluckers almost appear out of nowhere and begin their days early before the heat takes its toll. Small hands become like machines as they fill the sacs held in place on their backs by a strap on the forehead – the classic and distinctive Darjeeling look. Their voices and laughter add a sense of well-being and become a gentle murmur – almost like a sound from Mother Nature herself. Babies and toddlers are tended to in outdoor nurseries, rocked to sleep in shaded hammocks as they, too, enjoy the serenity of the tea garden.
Tea is definitely a feminine beverage – with a true feminine energy to it – indeed adding to the tranquility we associate with drinking tea. The tea gardens are a sharp and welcome contrast to everyday life in India. Everyone is busy – all are going somewhere – usually all at the same time, but this simply adds to the charm of the West Bengal area of India – known as Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is a region and a town that is clearly alive and well. We all celebrated the festival of Durga with piped-in music that woke the town every morning at 7:00 AM. People from all over India and the world congregated in this small town for the weekend of Durga Puja. We stayed at the Darjeeling Planters Club – with a rich history of its own – a place where the Planters (the tea estate managers) and their wives and families came to gather and socialize.
I traveled with a British couple on this particular weekend. Kandy Smith and her husband, Brian, revisited the tea garden of ChongTong where she grew up as the daughter of British tea planter and author, David Wilson Fletcher. Returning almost 50 years later, she still found many people who had worked for her father and remembered him and her as a child, too. It was indeed a most heart-warming adventure back in time where life on the tea estate was like no other. And for the most part, it has not changed much in 50 years.
This added a whole new dimension to my Darjeeling experience – one I could never have anticipated. I was hosted by the families of Rajiv Lochan and Shiv Saria. I am most grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting Darjeeling and the never-ending hospitality and generosity of all the Indian people I met along the way. I learned a whole new appreciation for CTC teas and dust – something I would never have imagined. I believe we have been painted an incorrect picture when discussing “dust” in our American tea studies. Dust seems to be very desirable around the world – especially in the United Kingdom.
As the tea leaves of Darjeeling are kissed by the mist, a mystical element is added. With your next cup of Darjeeling tea, close your eyes, take a magical journey, and return to the land of tranquility.
Be still and know God.
Be still and know God is all there is.
I claim in quiet, peaceful tranquility that
I am one with God.
My strength and satiation come from within.
I go there often to drink of the tranquil waters.
I am refreshed, replenished and rejuvenated.
From this place of purity and perfection,
I drink of my own goodness
and know my vessel will never empty.
I sip slowly and enjoy it totally.
My needs are satisfied, my desires realized.
I am all I need to be.
I am awakened and heightened.
No more, need I be frightened.
With each sip I am enlightened.
I am all I need to be.
Here, in tranquility, free from hostility and
perceived reality, I remember my divinity.
Thank you, Tranquil One. With my breath I let it be.
In the stillness God waits for me.
I allow this peaceful Force to set me free.
And so it does, and so it is, and so I am. Amen