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NEPAL

What better way to celebrate 12 years in business than with a return trip to our first ever shared source trip. Not only were Annie & I revisiting familiar tea estates in beautiful Assam, spending time tasting new teas with our amazing tea partners and the famous auction-house in Kolkata but also managed to squeeze in 2 days in stunning Sandakphu Tea region of Nepal. Annie and I made our crossing into Nepal from India at the Panitanki border bridge, a junction of brightly painted noisy trucks, rickshaws and last minute currency exchange booths (doubling up as dried lentil snack vendors). Once through we took a 4 hour jeep drive first passing through the lowland plains with the mighty Kanchenjunga mountain range peaks poking above clouds across the skyline we then started the climb up to 6500ft eventually arriving in Ilam , in the heart of the Sandakphu Tea region late night. It wasn’t until the next mornig when I opened the window the guesthouse that we we’re hit with the full impact of where we had travelled to. Directly outside my window was the oldest tea garden in Nepal. Mind Blown. A delicious breakfast out the way we made the jeep climb to the factory. Chandra Bushan , somewhat of a legend in the Nepalese tea industry (although possibly a bit of a rebel too!) was introduced to us by Jane Pettigrew when she knew we we’re avoiding the ruckus in Darjeeling but still wanted to get into the hills. “SAN – DAK – PHU” is a name reputedly recognized as a place for the monks to meditate. It is the highest habitable point in the district of Ilam. Ilam district is located in the far eastern part of Nepal adjoining Sikkim and Darjeeling hills of India. Sandakphu is a place also claimed by Darjeeling in India because the eastern slope of Sandakphu peak falls in India. In order to view Sandakphu peak, it is best viewed from India as the peak falls in Nepal. Sandakphu Tea Plantation and production unit is located at the foothills of Sandakphu Peak at a place known as Jasbirey Village. There is a famous high mountain Pond called Maipokhari near Jasbirey Village World wide, this place is famous for Maipokhari ramsar Site: A World Heritage site for Mountain Wetlands. Nationally this place is famous for Maipokhari Holy Shrine. This biodiversity is known for its bio diversity and natural reserve of herbs and highest quality tea. Tea Plantation at Sandakphu was initiated somewhere in the year 1990 with the plants derived from high quality tea varieties planted locally by ancient farmers migrating from other villages of Ilam district. The plantation is young and fresh nearing maturity and therefore, the quality of tea is considered very high as compared to many other tea areas of Nepal (Note: Young plants have highest level of aroma and character builds up as the plants age). Unlike many tea plantations where large plantations are carried out by large corporate business houses, where workers work as wage earners. The ownership of land and property in such case reside at corporate level, tea Plantation at Sandakphu has been carried out by the local farmers in their own land and therefore, Sandakphu Tea is an entirely farmer based production with the ownership of the plantation remaining at farmers level. Self employed farmers and producers at Sandakphu believe that quality can be achieved only by those who have the sense of ownership of the garden because tea quality is defined from the green leaf that is fed to the factory for processing. Since ownership of the garden is at farmers level, the farmers can therefore grow and harvest only the finest leaf for processing. Sandakphu Tea Processers Ltd is probably the only company headed by women tea entrepreneur in the country. Flanked by Tea experts from within and outside the country Sandakphu produces and crafts only the rarest of teas found in the country. Character and flavor profile of Sandakphu is unique to its bio-diversity and unique location found only in such high elevations. Sandakphu tea production unit is located at 6500 feet while the farmers plantations are as high as 8000 feet and plus. Tea crafted at such elevations falling within 26 degree North Latitude provides flavours and character which can be compared to none in the world. The tasting carried out was lengthy as we wanted to savour the experience. We we’re lucky to try some Himalayan Hand Rolled tea as well as meeting Mr. Kwan (Lotus) who farmed, picked and rolled this himself. This is true Microlot and a magical experience. Microlot sourcing is something we have been working towards for years for being able to truly link the farmer to the buyer. We also tasted some Ruby Vine which is another very special tea manufactured in the factory. You’ll be hearing about this down the line if we can get to a stage of bringing in Microlot teas over and above what we can fit into our bags. Oscar Woolley, Co-Founder Suki Tea