A bulky man trudges along the winding path traversing 45 degree slopes. The first of these trails was constructed in 1828 when Capt. Lloyd first visited a parcel of land wedged between the kingdoms of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan; a time of unmarked boundaries. From the centre of the crater at Bungkulung forest, these pathways led to and linked the towns of Mirik, Kurseong and Darjeeling over the years. Some routes took the shape of roads, from Tituliya to Pankhabari. And, to Darjeeling, a road to destiny.
This man was aptly described as a Darjeeling tea planter over the years – much to the chagrin of Beijing. A multi-stemmed shrub, introduced from Wuyishan along these paths by Dr. Campbell in 1845, blossomed into tea gardens on the slopes of Singalila ranges which are the foothills of Kanchenjunga – the third highest mountain in the world. Cool air from these valleys led to some unique aromatic compounds which made Darjeeling tea most famous.
But the task of this Darjeeling tea man was not so easy – coming from all the castes and creeds – be they English, Scottish, Welsh, German, Nepali, Lepcha, Bhutia, Bengoli, Bihari or Marwari – he cleared the slopes of forest between 600 and 6000 feet above sea level, hired labour from nearby areas, constructed roads, planted tea, built factories, brought machineries, generated electricity, erected bungalows, established villages and towns, and later brought in railways to advance the trade.
Between 1828 and today – soon to be 200 years – these paths heard the clinging sounds of horses’ shoes and singing women, both toiling to bring the steaming cup of Darjeeling tea to the world. Let us salute them for our cup of tea!
Waking up at five in the morning, riding his pony, making tea and keeping accounts, distanced our traveler from the outside world, and gave him a club life to keep him sane. With the help of a swig of alcohol, we have a full portrait of a great warrior to keep us healthy with his potion of Darjeeling tea.
Robert Fortune and Robert Bruce could not attach their names with Darjeeling but Sir Edmond Hillary did, for an entirely different reason. With the help of these same winding paths, Hillary reached the summit of Mount Everest. The highest mountain in the world is at par with Darjeeling tea – the best tea in the world.
Images courtesy of the author.
Editor’s note: This is the first of five posts on the unique tea world of Darjeeling. Rajiv Lochan is the recognized and respected expert.