Darjeeling Tea Tour 2015

A Once In A Lifetime Experience

April 7 – 13, 2015

Darjeeling Tour Highlights

Introduction Darjeeling Tour Highlights
Know Before You GoRequired Forms for Registrants

Reservations Close on March 1, 2015

darjeeling1Tea Estates

  • Happy Valley Tea Estate
  • Tukvar Tea Estate
  • Tumsong Tea Estate
  • Makaibari Tea Estate
  • Jungpana Tea Estate

What is Included

  • 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 2 dinners
  • 6 nights – 4-star hotels
  • Airport arrival and departure transfer on day 1 and day 7
  • Touring of Darjeeling and tea estates
  • Escorted by English-speaking Indian tour leader
  • Entrance fees to all tea estates

All relevant transfers and transportation in private vehicles

Maximum group size: 12 travelers

What Is Not Included

  • International flights and visas
  • Travel Insurance
  • Laundry, drinks, items of a personal nature
  • Tipping (an entirely personal gesture) 

bagdogra3DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 1 – April 7, 2015:  Arrive at the Bagdogra Airport , 58 miles (2.5 hours) from Darjeeling, where you will be met and transferred to Darjeeling. Lying under the shadow of mighty Mount Kanchenjunga and the rugged Himalayas and surrounded by lush tea plantations, Darjeeling is incredibly scenic and steeped in history and culture. Overnight Hotel Windamere – Darjeeling

Day 2 – April 8, 2015 (Happy Valley Tea Estate):  We will enjoy an excursion to Happy Valley Tea Estate today.  It is a tea garden in Darjeeling district in the Indian state of West Bengal. Established in 1854, it is Darjeeling’s oldest tea estate. Spread over 437-acres, it is situated at a height of 6,800 ft. (2,100 m) above sea level, just north of Darjeeling, and employs more than 1500 people.  The estate was established in 1854 making it oldest tea estate of Darjeeling, and at a height of 6,800 feet, it is also one of the highest tea factories in the world.  David Wilson, an Englishman, had named the garden Wilson Tea Estate and by 1860 had started cultivation of tea. In 1903, the estate was taken over by an Indian, Tarapada Banerjee, an aristocrat from Hooghly. In 1929, Banerjee bought the Windsor Tea Estate nearby, and merged the two estates under the name of Happy Valley Tea Estate.  G.C. Banerjee was the next owner of Happy Valley Tea Estate. He with his wife Annapurna Devi and three daughters (Nonimukhi, Monmaya and Savitri) lived there for some time.

In March 2007, after remaining nearly dormant for nearly four years as the tea industry had experienced a slump, the estate was bought by S K Bansal, of Ambotia Tea Group, which established a new factory within the premises, and started modernization process, replating and switching to organic farming.  Finally, the estate reopened to the public in 2008, with the original factory turned into a working museum. It also displayed single piston slow-speed engines, and the shaft machines and sells tea-related mementos. Today, over 1500 people work in the tea estate and processing unit.

In 2008, the hand-rolled tea produced by Happy Valley was chosen to be sold at Harrods in the U.K., with prices ranging from INR5,000 (US$81) to INR6,000 (US$97) per kg.  It is also available at Mariage Freres in France.  Overnight Hotel Windamere – Darjeeling

Day 3 – April 9, 2015 (Tukvar Tea Estate): Our next excursion will be to the Tukvar Tea Estate today and learning more about tea production. Tukvar Tea Estate is a conscientious supplier of tea and employer of over 3,000 people who live and work on the massive estate.  It is assured that all workers are provided with housing, schooling, medical and dental care. The estate has also taken an environmental and ecological stance and for many years has adopted bio-diversity techniques from growing leguminous crops, small shrubs and larger trees in fallow land, boundaries, or vacant patches of land. The estate also has a large vermicomposting plant to utilize the wasted organic matter created. They also manufacture their own liquid fertilizers from local herbs that are non-damaging to the environment.  Overnight Hotel Windamere – Darjeeling

Day 4 – April 10, 2015 (Tumsong Tea Estate): The group starts its day with a visit to the Tumsong Tea Estate.  The estate belongs to the well know Chamong group that also owns several other gardens in Darjeeling producing premium tea. It is located in the Ghoom area and 28kms from Darjeeling town center. Tumsong has been so named because of a Hindu temple located in the middle of the garden where the locals worship the goddess Tamsa Devi. This temple existed even before the tea garden was laid out in the year 1867 and has been retained.

The estate originally belonged to a German planter, JA Wernicke, who also owned the nearby Lingia estate. It was then a 200 acres garden. Over the years and after the Chamong group took over, it has grown to a sprawling estate of 186 hectares out of which 114 hectares are used for tea plantation. The rest are factory, office, and retreat areas. There are close to 500 workers involved in tea plucking and processing.

The tea estate is surrounded by the gorgeous Himalayan mountains and you get magnificent view of the Kanchenjunga massif from here. The rolling deep green tea gardens are laid on an open hill slope that has an altitude varying between 2,700 ft. to 5,500 ft. It is a bio-organic garden and has high concentration of fine China tea bushes. The flowing cool breeze helps to grow the bushes gradually and saturate slowly, thus offering a special muscatel flavor of tea.   Overnight Hotel Windamere- Darjeeling

Day 5 – April 11, 2015 (Makaibari Tea Estate): Today, we begin with a visit to the Makaibari Tea Estate, a one and a half hour drive by car from Darjeeling.  The estate is probably the most talked about and fabled tea garden in the Darjeeling area simply because it is one of the oldest tea gardens in Darjeeling and was the first to establish a factory in the year 1859. Over the past four generations, the estate has been run by the original founder’s family, the Banerjees.

Rajah Banerjee is the last single owner in the family who now manages the the estate and resides there. He is the first person in Darjeeling having introduced organic farming, thus breaking away from the prevailing local practices and harmonizing it with the nature. This was the first garden in the world that was certified by ‘Fare Trade’ and the first to appoint women in a supervisory position. It went on to become one of the finest tea gardens in the world commanding highest prices at the tea auctions for some of its brands like Silver Tip.

With the local community having grown close to 2,000 Nepalese and split up into seven villages according to the ethnic origins and cast, the Makaibari property covers an area of 750 hectares, in which 65% is natural forest area. About 274 hectares of land area is under tea plantation. The estate is at an average altitude of 4,500ft.

In June, 2014, the ownership of Makaibari Tea Estate changed. Rajah Banerjee sold off a 90% stake to the Luxmi Group owned by the Chatterjees. Rajah is aging and his descendants are not interested in tea. The tea estate was set up by Rajah’s great grand father, Girish Chandra, in 1859 and was passed down the generations to Rajah.  He remains at the helm until he retires.

When you look at the tea gardens, it looks like millions of rows of deep green tea bushes spread over miles of rolling fields on mountainous terrain. There are 700 workers chosen from the local community every day to work at the gardens for tea plucking, and 70% of them are women.

Rajah Banerjee says “This is my dreaming land. The passion for tea is to make the specific personality for Makaibari reflected in a cup anywhere you drink it in the world. Darjeeling tea is not an industry. It’s a handicraft, a very specialized art”.

Makaibari has adopted permaculture, which is an integrated approach towards managing the plantations and forests. In this system, the tea bushes co-exist with forests and other plantations. In most other gardens only one crop is cultured. Overnight Hotel Windamere – Darjeeling

Day 6 – April 12, 2015 (Jungpana Tea Estate):  The final tea estate on our tour is the  Jungpana Tea Estate, which was started by an intrepid British planter, Henry Montgomery Lennox, in 1899 who planted the first tea saplings. He was succeeded by another British planter, G.W.O’Brien, who for many formative years guided Jungpana’s growth. After World War II, O’Brien sold the tea estate to the ruling Rana family of Nepal. In 1956, the ownership changed into Indian hands with the pioneering Kejriwal family taking over. Now after five eventful decades, it continues to be in the Kejriwal fold.

During this half a century, the tea estate and its teas have been feted for consistency in high quality, winning awards, and felicitation, while continuously topping the tea auctions with record breaking prices year after year.

Until today, it has not been possible to build a paved road right into the Jungpana Tea Estate. The only approach to the tea estate had been a mule track through largely inhospitable rugged terrain. The Kejriwals’ undertook to construct the 4 kilometer long motorable road that we see today, winding its way down through the neighbouring tea gardens to the southern periphery of the Jungpana Tea Estate. From this point at the Khola (mountain stream), a small concrete bridge was constructed with a mule track leading up to the tea garden.

Unfortunately, landslides in 1993 devastated the area, completely demolishing the bridge, the entire mountainside, and with it, the mule track that led up to the tea garden. It was replaced several years later by a wooden bridge and an ambitious flight of 380 precariously perched concrete strengthened winding steps cut into the sheer rocky hillside, at an average incline of 65 degrees, to reach an elevation of 500 feet from the hurtling khola below. This is the only entry and exit point for the tea garden. Registrants must be in excellent physical condition to make the ascent.

It is a wondrous sight to see the load bearers with fully laden tea chests balanced on their backs running down the 380 steps to load lorries for dispatch, since large vehicles can come only up to the bridge point 500 feet below, with difficulty.

Jungpana prides itself in making the finest teas in the world since 1899. They generally do not export teas directly to traders except when they find the trader’s business model centers around Jungpana. Lotus Tea Company in Japan and Sloane Tea Company in North America are two such companies.

Every Sloane Tea is individually sourced. Chosen from hundreds of tea gardens, Sloane Teas are carefully processed using centuries old artisanal techniques. Their scented and blended teas are custom created by their own team of Certified Tea Sommeliers and culinary experts. To deliver on their promise of an exceptional cup of tea, all Sloane Teas are regularly cupped and assessed by independent Certified Tea Sommeliers, gourmet chefs, culinary instructors, and tea industry experts. Their knowledge and comments are passed along to you in their expert tasting reviews. Regular cupping is how they gauge new flushes (harvests) of tea to ensure an exceptional cup of tea.  Overnight Hotel Windamere – Darjeeling

Day 7 – April 13, 2015 (Free Time & Departure:  Enjoy local attractions, shopping, excursions, dining, or whatever interests you as time permits. Prepare for airport departure. Transportation will be provided by your tour operator.

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