IS IT TEA YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?
WORDS ALISHA WADIA
PHOTOGRAPHS VAIBHAV MEHTA
GREAT FROM Kolkata, Guwahati, New Delhi, Darjeeling, Kalimpong
GREAT FOR Long walks and pots of tea
Cloaked in green, the mountains are all around you, the sky a cheerful blue, the air cool and still, and you’re knee-deep in a bowl of chow mein and freshly- brewed, hand-rolled organic black chai, with the whole day before you to while away. Sounds good? High on a hillside and a world of calm away from Darjeeling, Tathagata Farm, started by brothers Pravin and Navin Tamang, is a working around crackling bonfires, a makeshift tin pot of coal over which to toast your toes, friendly staff on a mission to feed you, friendlier doggies on a mission to eat every morsel of all that food, and cockerels that believe dawn is at 3am.
As it’s a working farm, you can lend a hand or simply poke around with Basant, one of the local staff. Find potato roots peeking out, rows of beans, fresh spices and greens, and tempting orange trees gleaming with tangy baby oranges, which Basant will mischievously egg you on to try. Mornings are perfect for a spot of exploring; take off on an unhurried village trek with Junior Navin from the farm. Catch up on local gossip and stop for lunch, at one of the villagers’ homes. Dotting the slopes, they’re painted in whimsical bright pinks and purples, dressed up with rows of pretty potted plants.
As you’re close to a gurgling river, it’s impossible to resist the temptation to make your way down to it, possibly with some snacks in tow, for an afternoon of well-deserved langour. Flaky, Sindhu, Kayla and Dally, Tathagata’s sprightly dogs, are just as excited (if not more) at the prospect of a picnic by the river. Barking, tails-a-wagging, they scamper downhill, making for the most adorable chaperones as you make your way past towering trees. A vigorous 10 minutes later, you come upon breathtaking scenery by the river’s icy green waters, roaring quietly past giant grey boulders bathed in sunlight. Kick off your shoes for a quick dip, try a spot of fishing and tuck into a light picnic lunch served up by one of the enthusiastic lads from Tathagata.
Days in the mountains have a way of making you constantly hungry. They also tend to be shorter, so wake up bright and early for the Majitar trek, ideal for working up an appetite. A bracing five-hour walk takes you to the Sikkim border, through blooming tea gardens, idyllic mountain paths tapering around corners and deep forests of sal and oak soaring to the skies. Cross the bridge and go over to tiny Majitar village in Sikkim, where Wai Wai noodles and a scrumptious local meal await you. When you return, as a special treat (you must beseech them with your best puppy eyes), the boys at Tathagata will ply you with heaps of momos stuffed with squash, deliciously sweet and gooey, and tongba, a local, sour millet beer (made with wheat when millet is out of season) – a first-rate end to a day spent scrambling about mountain slopes.
Of course, days in the mountains can be absolutely lazy too, where you can curl up with a book on your porch, soak in those beautiful views, or just fall asleep daydreaming over a warm cup of the farm’s tea. Yes, that sounds infinitely good, too.