Darjeeling is located at the northern tip of West Bengal, India. It stands 6,700ft above sea level and sits at the foothills of towering, milky white Eastern Himalayan Mountain range. In the 1800s, Darjeeling was the summer capital of the British, and it is where the British first
started growing tea for trade. Here’s a tour itinerary that highlights all things tea against a Himalayan backdrop.
Day 1: Highway tea and Heritage Tea
The closest airport to Darjeeling is in Bagdogra. Your tea journey starts almost as soon as you drive out of the airport towards the hill station. With miles of lush green, undulating tea estates dotted with their roadside tea shops, you can start your tea tasting right away. Stop for a cup of Darjeeling Green tea. Its light and refreshing, and its pale green hue blends so well with the view.
Upon arrival in Darjeeling, check into the prestigious Windermere heritage Hotel. In the 19th century, this hotel served as a boarding house for British and Scottish tea planters.
For a true taste of yore, lounge in the salon and order for some Darjeeling Second Flush tea, famous for its unique muscatel flavour. And you will be served in silverware et al, at the very place that saw the first tea planters of the country.
Day 2: No Train, No Tea
In the late 1800s, as tea plantations started to flourish, there was an increasing need to better transport people and tea from the hills to the plains. Thus the DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) was commissioned by the British, to serve as a passenger and a cargo train.
Today, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s worth taking a two-hour round trip on the DHR to fully appreciate its value. Darjeeling tea may have simply remained a tea for Darjeeling dwellers had it not been for the DHR and its connectivity.
Takeaways: On a cultural note, visit the fascinating monasteries and try the oily butter tea popular with the monks.
For tea enthusiasts, go crazy at the cafés in Chowrasta (town square), and taste the increasingly popular Darjeeling Oolong, and White tea. The Oolong is grown at the highest altitudes and has a beautifully aromatic and slightly spicy taste. While the Darjeeling White tea is pale golden in colour, its light flavour with a hint of sweetness has earned itself the highest prices amongst White teas of the world.
Day 3: Gardens Galore
There are tea gardens and then there are tea gardens, and Darjeeling prides itself in being home to the latter. Some of the most prestigious, oldest and highest tea gardens are found in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling tea originates from the Chinese plant called Camellia sinensis. Something about the Himalayan dew, the mountain rivers that feed the soil, the altitude and the seasons, makes Darjeeling tea so versatile in taste and varied in choice, excelling in Black, White, Oolong and Green tea exports.
Its uniqueness also comes from the tea leaves, which are smaller in size and with more silver tips than any other tea, allowing it to be superior in terms of quality and taste.
The Darjeeling Tourism Board offers useful information about Darjeeling’s tea estates and tea tours. Choose from one of them; it’s a unique opportunity to see how tea is grown, methods used for plucking, quality controlled production technology, and finally how tea is tasted and graded for excellence.
Day 4: Seasons in the Sun
Located 11 kilometers from Darjeeling, at an altitude of 8,482ft, is Tiger Hill. A trek to its summit gives you a front row seat to the Himalayas. At dawn, breaking through total darkness, the first rays of a pale golden sun come streaming through to reveal an unforgettable view of the snow-topped Kanchenjunga Mountain, the Mount Everest, and the Eastern Himalayan range.
As the sun rises, the mountainside blushes in its warm rays as the sun gently kisses the tea gardens with pure, golden gloriousness.
Though the best time to visit is between November and April, you can enjoy the teas from all the four harvest seasons, at any time in Darjeeling.
The First Flush is in spring, and the harvest produces a light coloured, floral tasting tea. It’s the choice for tea connoisseurs and has been labelled the “Champagne of teas”.
The Second Flush is in summer and yields larger leaves giving it a more full-bodied muscatel flavour, and purple hue.
The Monsoon Flush is darker in colour and stronger in flavour and is often used in tea bags.
Finally the Autumn Flush Darjeeling tea has a copper hue and a nutty flavour, and is very popular for a late afternoon indulgence.
Darjeeling is often said to be the abode of the Gods, and it’s no wonder why its beauty and its tea are filled with such heavenly goodness.