In January we spent a long weekend in the Darjeeling area, with villagers in Makaibari. This tea estate boasts the oldest tea factory in the region, and we took a tour that included a tea tasting. My wife and I are serious tea drinkers—and we bought an extra bag just to bring home our stash.
The estate has been owned by the same family for four generations, but is gradually being transferred by Rajah Banerjee, its very passionate, likable owner, to a community organization, giving ownership, development and management responsibilities to the villagers themselves.
One aspect of this was the home stays, an income producing opportunity for villagers the plantation owner says has an agenda—putting money in the pockets of women who will invest it in the education of their children. Our host family says it spends 60% of their household income on private school for their two children.
Here, in the clean air, among industrious and enterprising mountain folk, we were encouraged and refreshed. Some of our students didn’t want to leave, to go back down the mountain and travel by train to the busy, noisy city of Calcutta. We attended a Christian house church and a Buddhist wedding party. On a day trip we saw the Himalayas, visited the Tibetan refugee center, and saw a red panda at the zoological park.
And there was tea. The taste of their finest leaves on Saturday morning still evokes the memories of the mountains and their magic.