Go off the beaten track and filmi photo ops for some quaint tea garden time in this Himalayan town.
When a destination has been done to death and its highlights have become to resemble cliché, then it’s time to revisit it and seek newer delights. Its best done in summer in the Himalayan town of Darjeeling, known as the tea capital of India, whose teas are world famous.
For Indians this quaint tea town is a quick and easy holiday and honeymoon destination, and its hills, a convenient cool place to flee the heat of the plains in summer. With attractions for the kids such as the zoo and the eponymous toy train on the Darjeeling Himalayan train track, that is immortalized by Hollywood songs and Raj era bakers and confectioners, this place is more for those who want their holidays straitlaced.
Go off the beaten path and enjoy Darjeeling for what it really is – its tea gardens and estates, the vintage tea manors and bungalows, and aromatic tea factories that offer just the right spots for enjoying leisure. Though tea garden estate stays are yet to take off, some of them offer homestays (check at Makaibari Estate for a rustic homestay is available).
Darjeeling has about 80 tea gardens that produce 90 million kg of tea annually. Tea tourism is best done at some of these select places. You may spend the morning on a tour of their factories where the process of tea making is explained or check into a homestay or enjoy a mini stay at a tea garden bungalow. And yes, you can indulge in tea tasting as well, at any one of these gardens where the traditional orthodox tea is giving way to organic teas.
Happy Valley Tea Estate: This is the oldest garden in Darjeeling, established in 1854. From March to November it’s a fun place to visit to observe the plucking and processing of leaves.
Chamong: This family-owned garden, famous for its Assam tea gardens, has over ten estates in Darjeeling and is a good for a day trip.
Ambootia: Most of Darjeeling’s tea gardens are turning organic with a vengeance and this sprawling garden by the Himalayas is one such place, priding itself on its organic and bio dynamic processes. Don’t forget to take home Ambootia’s famous Darjeeling black tea.
Tumsong: Located in Ghoom, this sprawling estate of over 100 metres, is famous for its premium teas. A small temple for goddess Tamsa Devi located in its midst adds to its charm. The highlight of this tea estate’s picturesqueness is fantastic views of Kanchenjunga. The estate offers colonial style suites for stay, though it’s best to book in advance.
Pussimbing: Famed for its China bushes, this organic farm retains it British Planters style of functioning. It is located near Balason River and is known for organic teas.
This article was first published in 2014 and has been updated.