Story: Amrita Banerjee, Photography: Saugata Banerjee
Happy roasting and brewing
The other day I expressed the desire to enjoy the world’s top tea or what Bengalis lovingly call “Chaa”, with an ecstatic aroma and a Himalayan backdrop. So, why not visit the queen of hill stations with its rich tea estates! Happy Valley Tea Garden nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas, Darjeeling, with its lofty mountains, dense forests and cascading rivers makes it easily the most loved locale in the region. Tea tourism is relatively a new concept in the world and Darjeeling is taking a lead in this area. Darjeeling is popularly known as the ‘Mecca of Tea’ and the estates here produce what we know as the ‘Champagne of teas’ to the delight of the world.
We chose to visit Darjeeling in the freezing month of January. The wicked chill in the breeze was pretty pleasurable. Though Darjeeling is dotted with several places of tourist interest but the Darjeeling-Ranjit valley ropeway is a major attraction for tea tourists. Being the longest ropeway ride in Asia it offers spectacular sights of innumerable tea gardens in and around Darjeeling. One such tea estate is, The Happy Valley Tea Garden , the oldest in Darjeeling district. Established in 1854, this garden is spread over 437 acres of land and is situated at a height of 6800ft, around 3 km north of town, below Hill Cart Road, accessible via Lochnager Road from Chowk Bazaar, this tea estate is the closest tea estate to Darjeeling town, and tourists do visit the garden for their favorite flavor of the popular “Darjeeling Tea”.
The best quality teas in Happy Valley Tea Garden are all harvested by hand to guarantee that the leaf is whole, undamaged, and that only the top two leaves and a bud are picked. On every quality tea estate there are hundreds or even thousands of tea harvesters, known as “Pluckers”. The “Pluckers” here are mostly women. They generally work at harvesting tea six days a week, eight hours a day. They carry large wicker baskets that strap across their foreheads with the baskets hanging down their backs.
The process of harvesting is simple: they slip your fingers under the new growth, twist and pull up the two leaves and a bud, and throw it into the basket on their back — and immediately reach for the next bud. The pluckers have a goal each day — and they are awarded a bonus if they exceed it — so there are performance appraisals as well.
The Happy Tea-Station
A stop at the Happy Tea Station is mandatory for all who visit the Tea Estate. It’s mainly an array of shops where one can get the magical and mesmerizing “Happy-Tea” in colorful packaging and a taste that will last in your tongue for centuries.
The woman at stall number 10 is easily the best “Tea-maker” I have encountered. She wears an apron around her waist that discriminates her from the other stall owners. Humming a native tune and making the best tea out of the best leaves available, she provides you with a taste of what you will be taking home with you, free of charge. The taste-assurance comes with the guarantee of a sale, nice marketing strategy!
Romanticism is in the veins of the tea sellers, which is apparent by the nomenclature of the stalls especially stall number 16, which is lovingly called “Sweet 16”.
We have all heard of the “Bartender”, the best friend of men, but have you ever heard of the “Tea-Tender”?
Well if you ever visit this Happy Valley Tea Garden , then you will come across a “Tea-Bar” or the “Tea-Boutique”. Here you will find the best blend of tea and the so called “Tea-Tender” will provide you with a mix of the different teas. He will then make sure it will pamper your taste buds making you a “chataal” or “Tea-o-holic”.
A mere sip of this amazing Tea, inhibits a feeling of pure love.
Oh Dar-jee-ling, you have Happy valley within you, who in turn gifts us with happiness.
Amrita and Saugata Banerjee, are a husband and wife duo whose common passion run into the world of food exploration. Amrita is a Special Educator by profession and a foodie by passion. Her cooking call came with her marriage two years back and she hasn’t stopped since. Saugata is a ‘Dream Chaser’ and an amazing photographer by profession. Cooking and experimenting with vegetables has become his hobby as well.