My Golden Beverage (TEA) Tours

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Chai (tea) has always been the maiden choice of people across the world to reduce stress and fatigue. At present India is one of the largest producers of tea globally and has it’s own tea story as one can see a wide range of flavors and varieties of tea here. More than 60 % of people in India would prefer Tea to a coffee and it’s the common man’s drink. Tea tours in India have gained popularity in the recent times and became an important part of the travel itineraries. Here comes mine 😉

Kerala:

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My first tea tour is of Munnar, an important tea region of Kerala. This region is dotted with lush green tea plantations. The tea journey must start with a visit to the country’s first Tea museum at Nallathanni estate to have a look at the history of tea production in the region. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation established a Tea County wherein which we can stay and soak in the aroma of the fresh tea leaves. The entire trip of Munnar is in midst of the huge tea plantations spread over several hills. The best time to visit this place is from August to May.

West Bengal:

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One of the most popular hill stations in the state, Darjeeling is surrounded by tea gardens that produce the famous Darjeeling Tea (called the Champagne of Teas). Around 25% of India’s total tea outcome is from Darjeeling. There are few famous tea estates in Darjeeling and some of the large estates like Thurbo and Gopaladhara owns tea mountains on the way to Mirik (check my post on Mirik) from Darjeeling. Best time to visit would be from March to November.

The Happy valley Tea Estate is a well-known estate located at 3 km north of Darjeeling and is one of the highest tea gardens in the world. In fact, this is the place, where I came across a tea tour. The estate organizes tea tours to give the tea-lovers and travellers a closer understanding and the concept of tea-making. We can have a tour around it’s factory, pluck some tea leaves and have a complementary brew from the wide range of Darjeeling tea of different flushes and with distinct flavors like Orange and Tulsi.

Looking forward to brew some more from the other two important tea regions – Tamil Nadu and Assam…

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The Tonglu Tumling Trek

DSC_0920 All set and ready to go. We headed to our major base camp to gain a set of instructions with some food packages to carry along. We received nice gift packs filled with toffees, peanuts and sesame bars. Post waving to the next batch, we boarded the vehicle to Maane Bhanjayang, the place where our trek starts.   I came to know from Neetha that Ruthwik was suffering with back aches owing to bad spine and that he was not going to join us with the trek. Hence a trek with just me and Neetha where we could spend more time to understand each other better and strengthen our friendship. It’s a three hour travel from Darjeeling which took us through the beautiful valleys and mountains. Apart from the serene that I was relishing, I was listening through the talks that Neetha was engaged into.

We reached Maane Bhanjayang and procured a food pack to keep ourselves energized on our way to Tumling. Tumling was our base camp. It was an 11 km trek from Maane Bhanjayang to Tumling. The first day was spent with the gang of friends that I already knew from the time we started when Neetha was getting new acquaintances. I was silent watching Neetha as she indulged well in group discussions when it came to exchanging views and socializing. A chord struck hard – even though I was with my batch and Neetha with hers – I was constantly, unconsciously, watching and noticing her! It might seem silly, but a healthy watch!

It was dusk when we stepped Tumling. Through the uphill I started feeling cramps and sprain on my left knee and consulted the camp leader who suggested a pain killer and stated it should be fine. We had a camp fire that night and kick started with our favorite Antakshari (music game) and slipped into the mime game of Dumb Charades. Neetha knew a vast majority of the old songs and would sing at least a line of it which I owe her credits for.

Back in the tent I let her know of my knee sprain and was uncertain of the next day trek when she pitched in with an inspiring note of “everything would be fine and that I would certainly be able to trek” the trek was from Tumlong to Kalapokhri which is roughly about 10 kms. I started the journey the next day on a positive note and throughout the trek she kept checking on me if everything was alright with my knee. That was one of the first experiences for me, not with the trek, but with someone interested in my well being on a constant note.

My pain started to overtake me than the destination and somehow I managed to push Neetha to go with others since I knew I could be the reason for her delay if she hangs out with me owing to my pain. It got darker and my eyes felt the pinch of the knee. I managed to reach the base camp at Kalapokhri and the camp leader was kind enough to wait for me outside of our accommodation. When the camp leader was asking me of my injury, walked in Neetha to console and comfort me. Every other camp member gathered for the night’s campfire. We headed for dinner and the camp leader asked me to join him in order to learn massage for the knee with an ointment and wrap with a cloth around. Neetha took it as her responsibility that helped me realize – a friend in need is a friend indeed! I did fall asleep in comfort.

Neetha had constantly done the massaging when I fell asleep and I have no clue of how long that continued for which am really thankful, as I am to my own MOM for all the love and affection. Compassion and Empathy filled in Neetha…

 

Mirik – A nest in the hills of West Bengal

Located at a distance of 49 kms from Darjeeling, Mirik is a perfect day-out. We set out at 8 AM in the morning on our cab from Darjeeling enroute Ghoom-Sukhiapokhri-Simana-Pashupati Fatak-Bhanjang-Hilay-Mirik. It’s a wonderful ride on the scenic roads. The first viewpoint to wave a hello to us would be the Simana viewpoint. Simana in hindi means border. This is the Indo-Nepal border, the road itself belongs to India and the viewing area falls in Nepal. 🙂

Most of the localites say that it is a No-Man’s land. From the Simana view-point one can see the narrow winding road leading to Sandakphu on the other side of the valley. Also, one can get a great view of the dazzling Kanchenjunga peak. Just sit, relax and enjoy the breath-taking view.

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From here, the roads look more scenic with lush green tea gardens on the mountain slopes on either side of the road, and the Nepalese women working in the tea gardens and we too can pluck some twigs of tea. The famous tea estates like Thurbo and Gopaldhara owns few mountains of tea here . Thubro has got its factory here on the way to Mirik and one can have a visit to it by taking permission from the manager.

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Our next stoppage is the beautiful Mirik. It’s a small beautiful town, at an altitude of 5000 ft. The top attraction of Mirik is the Sumendu lake, with a garden on one side of its bank and woods on the other. Both the banks are connected by a arching footbridge. Sit along the bank of the lake and relax or just walk over the bridge to the other side of the lake to take a walk through the woods and there is a small temple (Devi Sthan) in the forest. Boating is also available here.

Other attractions of Mirik are the Monastery and the Orange Orchids. Got a chance to see the Monastery but not the Orange Orchids. Will plan it the next time 🙂

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On our way back to Darjeeling from Mirik, we stopped at the Pashupati Market, which happened to be at the India-Nepal border. It is actually located in Nepal. The formalities to enter the market are quite simple. They just require your Photo ID cards. Though Cameras are not allowed, we can very well use our mobiles. Lol!! The market is a 1 km walk from the border post and is full of imported electronic gadgets, jackets, perfumes, cosmetics and clothes. But, be careful as there are good numbers of fakes too.

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On further down, one can visit the place Jorpohri, which is located at an altitude of 7400 ft. The main feature is its twin lakes. This place is located in the midst of the pines and has a beautiful garden and a Shiv Mandir. A calm and serene place. The best part of this trip would be the drive to Jorpokhri from the main road.

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What else would be a perfect day out!! It will be more perfect, if you get a joy ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways from Ghoom to Dajeeling on our way back. And am lucky enough as I got one 🙂

Thanks to the most sweetest person of my life for joining me in this trip 🙂 🙂

Neetha & Co.

There was a pause to the evil smile but the chirruping continued. She did make me feel that she was friendly enough and that did not put a full stop to the discussion in the room which was about Neetha and her boyfriend, who we assumed was one since they both seemed very close during their entry to the Induction Session. As night sprang upon us and the next early mornings assemble, we retired for the day.

As everyone was getting ready hit their first morning jog, I just then woke up with a lazy smile since it was too cold. Oh Yes, Darjeeling! Tightly packed with a 3 layered dressing including a monkey cap and a pair of gloves I exited towards the road when I couldn’t get a sight of Neetha as she kick started the regime even before me. We did get a chance to meet during our jogging and the warm up sessions which is when the beauty of the mighty hills caught our sight from the rays of the emerging sun. We also saw the Japanese Peace Pagoda, St. Paul’s Secondary School (post Main Hoon Na fame) and headed for a long walk in the streets of Darjeeling. When we were back to the base camp we sent off with a cheer to a group that was headed for a 6-day trek to Sandakphu. We were back in our rooms post breakfast for some rest and then to pack our luggage just for the fact to restrict the burden to essential items and carry on. We were leaving to trek to the same place the very next day!

It was dinner time when Neetha and I met, and relished Thepla with desi mango pickle shared by a friend from Gujarat, Shristi. Neetha was very interested in posing questions to Shristi especially about her marriage to a Kannada guy when we knew of the fact that Neetha was married off when she was 23 and that the assumed boyfriend happened to be her husband 😀

Though I remained a silent spectator to that conversation, it was a shocking surprise on Neetha being married. We all retired to bed as the next day was alarming with the trek in schedule. When we woke up the next day, we witnessed Ruthwik (Neetha’s husband) heading towards our room with a sigh of hot water being available in his room which is when Neetha decided to take a head shower when we went into a serious argument since our instructors had advised us not to.

Everyone busily buried with their routine chores and the packing, I was thinking of Neetha and her character (nothing to judge) but still something to ponder upon. I started looking at her differently from the time she ignored my comments on the shower and when she did what was best to her without much worrying about what people felt or spoke and circumstances threw on her. Yes, she looked and seemed to possess a unique character – simple, yet to her own self with a way of getting things done the way she has planned or wanted them to be. Nothing seemed to bother her happiness.  One another feature that kept me starring at her was that of an early marriage that too by a tech-savvy Bangalorian girl!

Gazing at my friend in a way that’s as neat as possible, I learnt that one can stay happy if they would want to, irrespective of the surroundings and people that paint them through. Stay with me as I answer the questions that struck me hard of my friends…

Neetha – A cool introduction

One of the coldest months across all seasons being December sprinkled the idea (though not a weird one amongst a group of like-minded active sprouts) of Trekking. Oh yes, it’s not the thought of trekking that struck a chord of weirdness but the place of trekking in the coldest month – The Himalayan Terrain (Sandakphu) in the year 2013. Six friends set their foot and respective steps to the base camp and reporting place Darjeeling. A few started from Nagpur and I did from Rajahmundry and the plan was to meet at Kolkata and travel together from there to the base camp.

The date arrived when we realized the entire batch of this trekking effort comprised of 40 enthusiast participants out of which were 10 brave women! The management had allotted a single room for the women fraternity of this trek and it took us by a shock, of course not with any intention of breaking any of the mental manacles thinking of the irony of all of us getting ready at a specified time! As any other pillar to post running Day-1, ours were no lesser as we were asked to procure the medical certificates from Doctors at Darjeeling if we did not take them with us from our homes and also to assemble at 05:30 pm for an induction session.

Base camp Leader’s instructions were ringing deep in our ears that evening along with the list of DO’s and DON’T’s as we trek along. As we hissed through the chiming list that was unrolled, there walked in a young couple, quite delayed to the gathering when the strike was the girl that was so joyful and elated without a slightest of worry evading her for the delay in joining the session. Yes, you have been correct in your guessing that it is my MoIN (Mother India, if you would have ready her introductory article) alias Neetha.

The sparkle caught my eyes and ears once again while we were dining at the ground floor. Yes the same girl that was constantly talking to Ruthwik, her husband, who tried to focus munching, a little too silently in the gang of two! While we were back in our room with the hot chit-chat of the day of a girl and her boyfriend who had stepped in from Bangalore, there was a wave of air when the same girl bubbled in introducing herself and reaching out for ours!

While I had to slip away for a while to chirrup about our new companions to my mom in regional language – Telugu, with an assured heart that none around me shared the same language. Laughing my way out with my mom with Neetha besides and the topic was her! I had an attack between my jaws when I heard Neetha attend one of her calls once I was done in Telugu! I had to admit that there was nothing wrong that was conversed, though with a polite question reached out to Neetha, which received an evil smile in return – evil?..wicked?..cunning?..or just a pretention ?

Watch out!!