On May 30th, I found Paradise on Earth and its name is Glenburn Tea Estate.
But first, we saw wild monkeys! We were driving along yet another winding Darjeeling road when we turned a corner and were greeted by a bunch of monkeys, including two tiny babies, swinging in the trees and feasting on corn. Some of them came very close to our car. Looking out into the trees we could see a dozen more, hanging out in the forest.
Continuing along, the road to Glenburn was insanely rough. So steep is was practically vertical in some places and I swear the potholes had their own potholes. It was so rough that we had to abandon our little bus at the top of the descent and get into much tougher SUVs. At one point we got stuck going around a really tight corner going down the hill when two other vehicles were trying to take the same corner going up the hill. This kind of thing happens a lot in Darjeeling, but this was pretty bad. We were stuck for about ten minutes while everyone tried to rearrange their vehicles like a real-life game of Tetris, being played on a nearly vertical road.
It was such an absurd drive that we kept bursting out laughing because it seemed that around every corner the road got rougher and bumpier and more vertical. More than once we looked at each other incredulously and wondered where on earth we could be going and whether it would be worth the way the road rattled our bones. But after almost an hour of rough driving, we arrived at Glenburn and it was all worth it. It is a truly beautiful place. A gorgeous colonial bungalow overlooking the hills in all directions. On a clear day you can see a perfect view of the Himalayan mountains, but alas it was not a clear day. Even with the mist it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
The manager, Parveez Hussain, is a delight. He's a bit of a mad scientist in the best possible way. He told us stories of some wild and creative experiments he had done with tea, just to see what would happen. He told us a great story about singing to his plants, just to see if it would do anything. "I'm always learning," he told us, and that passion was evident through the entire estate.
We met lots of Parveez's tea workers, who were absolutely wonderful. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. We met the group of women who hand sort the tea, separating the stems and other imperfections from the tea leaves. This takes incredible attention to detail and it was amazing watching these ladies work. They tried to teach us how to do their job, but I admit I was pretty hopeless at it. My hats off to these incredible women who help make the tea at Glenburn great.
Once we left the factory, we also got to meet some of the ladies who pick the tea leaves in the field.
Glenburn is also a functioning hotel that accepts guests into its stunning Paradise on Earth. When we asked we found out that it was fully booked for the next year and a half! I'd love to go back during a less misty time of year, but it will take some serious planning ahead.
After a delicious lunch, we had to be nearly dragged away from Glenburn. We didn't want to leave. We piled back into the SUVs and bumped back up the crazy rough hill and back into our little bus for another rough drive to Castleton Tea Estate. I hit a wall of exhaustion on the way there and kept drifting in and out of sleep, waking up when my head kept smacking off the window as we went over the potholes. We arrived at Castleton near sunset in some of the thickest mist we had seen.
Even though it was late and the weather was bad, Castleton let us look around and served us a cupping of some really beautiful teas, including one of the best Darjeeling 2nd flushes I've ever had. A good cup of tea can make any journey worth it.
Then it was back into the bus for a long, dark, bumpy road back to Darjeeling for some well needed rest.