India - Part 7 - The Power of Kindness

This is part 7 of my Indian tea adventure. You can read the rest here.

There are some people you meet who you know are changing their part of the world and Suparna Bagchi of Harishpur Estates is one of these people. She is a force to be reckoned with and our whole group adored her immediately. Suparna invited us to spend the night at Harishpur and she showed us what she's doing with her estate that goes beyond just tea.

While we met many wonderful people in India, most of the tea estates are owned by men, so it was very exciting to me when Suparna turned to me and said "What do you think of my estate?" and I realized that she's the one running the show. Of course she's got lots of other people doing important work here, including her brother Sumit, but Suparna takes ownership of this estate and she's clearly immensely proud of it. She's a take-change kind of woman, driving her jeep around her land, showing us everything she's got going on. She's very connected to this land and the people who work for it and it shows.

Suparna Bagchi of Harishpur Tea Estate. Photo credit: Shabnam Weber (www.theteaemporium.com)

Suparna Bagchi of Harishpur Tea Estate.

Photo credit: Shabnam Weber (www.theteaemporium.com)

If I had to use one word to describe Harishpur it would be "joyful". Everything there is wrapped up in a happiness that is contagious. We arrived quite late in the day, but Suparna welcomed us warmly and invited us into her bungalow. We settled in with a nice cup of tea and headed out for a quick drive around the estate. Suparna showed us her community centre where they have set up a crafting area for the local women to earn extra income. Here they hand weave beautiful cotton fabric on looms, dye silks, weave jute products, and many other crafts. These women are creating gorgeous and unique products. You can see some of their goods here: KEYA Bagchi Foundation. Suparna genuinely cares about the community around her tea estate and is interested in seeing it prosper in ways beyond just tea.

When we arrived back at the bungalow we were greeted by a group of beautiful dancers. They invited us to join them, and even though I'm a terrible dancer they taught me how to join in anyway.

Dancers and the drummer.

Dancers and the drummer.

Louise, Suparna, and the dancers.

Louise, Suparna, and the dancers.

At night we slept with mosquito nets around our beds. I'd never done this before and I actually quite liked it. It's like having a little fort. There were lots of friendly lizards around and although they were cute I didn't really want to share a bed with them, so the net was appreciated.

Cozy bed with mosquito net.

Cozy bed with mosquito net.

Excellent chai made with Harishpur tea.

Excellent chai made with Harishpur tea.

In the morning we woke to Suparna's beautiful garden. She keeps a massive area for rabbits and guinea pigs that they have rescued from the surrounding area. They also have cows, ducks, swans, and two lovebirds. She also said they have leopards, but we were not lucky (unlucky?) enough to see one. We were desperate to see wild elephants, but alas they are fairly rare in the area.

We had a cup of excellent spicy chai and the most amazing mangoes from Suparna's garden. The estate grows the majority of its own food and everything was delicious and fresh.

We headed out to the fields to meet the pluckers who all seemed very happy and willing to teach us how to pluck tea. You can tell the tea is ready to be plucked when you see bright green leaves at the top of the bush. This is fresh, new growth of the plant and when these vibrant leaves are at the right point it is known as a "flush." The flushes only happen a few times a year, depending on the weather, the plants, and the climate where the bush is being grown and when it's flush time, the estates are a flurry of activity. While we were in India it was a time known as "second flush" meaning it's the second time the plants were being harvested in 2015. When plucking, it's important to only pick a particular part of the plant: two leaves and a bud. Certain types of tea will require plucking different parts of the plant, but for good black tea, this is the rule. The ladies pluck the leaves with a twisting motion and put them into the bags or baskets on their backs. The rest of the plant is left alone and gathers nutrients and acts as the base for the next flush to grow.

New bright green leaves ready to be plucked.

New bright green leaves ready to be plucked.

Field full of busy pluckers.

Field full of busy pluckers.

The plucker takes only the bud and the top two leaves of the plant.

The plucker takes only the bud and the top two leaves of the plant.

Katherine trying to learn how to pluck.

Katherine trying to learn how to pluck.

I tried my hardest to find a leopard. There was a watchtower that overlooked the forest where they were said to be and Gabriella and I climbed it, but it was sadly not meant to be. No leopards for me.

We visited the nursery and saw new tea plant seedlings, ready to be planted. They won't be ready to be harvested for years, but tea estates always have to be preparing for the future. Tea plants technically can be harvested forever, but that's not how most places do things. If left to its own devices, some types of tea bushes will grow into a full sized tree. However, it isn't exactly convenient to go tree climbing every time you want the get tea leaves, so the bushes are pruned to stay at a convenient waist height for easy plucking. The plants are also replaced every 50-75 years or so, so the estates are always planting new bushes to replaced the ones it has to retire.

Atop the watchtower, sadly leopard-free.

Atop the watchtower, sadly leopard-free.

Tea plant seedling.

Tea plant seedling.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and we had to say our goodbyes to Harishpur.

Thank you, Suparna for your hospitality and thank you for showing us what kindness, compassion and determination can do for a business and a community.

Our group saying goodbye to Harishpur. Photo credit: Katherine Burnett (www.ladybakersteatrolley.com)

Our group saying goodbye to Harishpur.

Photo credit: Katherine Burnett (www.ladybakersteatrolley.com)