Your cup of chai can tell a lot of stories – of the early British Raj, the Sahib and Memsahib, the Bada bungalow dinner parties, and more. And you’ll find that many of these tales of the bygone era will take you to one cool, green destination: Darjeeling.
Even if you weren’t aware of tea and Darjeeling’s famous love affair, once you’re landing at the Bagdogra Airport, the view makes things pretty clear. A trip here is all about misty mornings in verandahs with lush green views, and of course, a cup of crisp Darjeeling tea.
Tea was first brought to the Himalayan city in West Bengal in the mid 19th century by the British, and the sprawling tea estates, clubs and bungalows are just examples of a grand lifestyle still enjoyed by some. The good news is, you too can have a piece of the pie and be a part of Darjeeling’s rich archival tea heritage. If an authentic “chai bagaan” (tea estate) experience is what you are after, then here are some great options.
Makaibari Tea Estate
The eco diversity of Makaibari is astonishing. There are numerous species of flora and fauna in the dense forests of the estate. There is even a fossil with the impression of an elephant’s foot that dates back to 1000s of years ago! Makaibari is the nature lover’s haven; replete with monkeys, rabbits, leopards, goats and snakes, seven natural springs of pure water originate in Makaibari and provide water for the entire community. There are tours through the estate where visitors can partake in various tea-related activities like plucking from the tea bushes, tasting or scaling the slopes where the tea grows. Makaibari also has a “home stay” option where visitors can live with local families who also work at the estate.
For a slice of the colonial era and its grand heritage, head to Glenburn, which accommodates visitors in two of its bungalows, each with four suites, gorgeous gardens and verandahs with beautiful views. Most bedrooms open up to the mountains, and there is a cozy living room with a fireplace. The furniture is antique and the bathrooms have free-standing bathtubs and once again … with spectacular views. Other than the informative tea tour around the estate, there are numerous activities guaranteed to keep you occupied. Visitors can go for the numerous hiking trails, village walks and day trips to nearby towns. There are also cookery classes, rafting trips and fishing jaunts on offer. The landscape alone, with its sloping hills, surrounding mountains, flowing rivers and rock pools, is reason enough to get there. All of this beauty and luxury is delivered to the visitor with a service that is warm and friendly.
Goomtee Tea Resort
Lesser known than its famous colleagues Makaibari and Glenburn, visitors at Goomtee get to stay in a 100-year-old heritage bungalow at a height of about 4000 feet. While it may not have the opulence of Glenburn or the eco diversity of Makaibari, the interiors of Goomtee are made up of old wooden floors and ceilings, and has four furnished bedrooms. Ideal for an intimate, secluded getaway amidst nature, Goomtee is slowly coming into its own.
If variety is the spice of your life, then head to Keventers in Darjeeling town which offers over 22 types of tea. They also have rooftop seating where you can drink your cup of chai basking in the pleasant warmth of the mountain sun. Lastly, if you’re all done with Darjeeling but your tea quota is still unfulfilled, catch the train to Kurseong. There you’ll find Cochrane Place , and its unique little café is a must visit. Named Chai country, the café is themed after tea and trains. The café entrance is shaped like an engine and the windows have spouts. Cochrane Place offers tea baths, tea facials and dinner where every dish is tea based!
The tea experiences in Darjeeling and its surrounding areas are numerous. Go there before the rest of the world catches on and lose yourself in the timelessness of a heritage that’s gone by but not forgotten.