With Everest looking down on us and the fresh taste of yak butter tea still in our mouths we explore the Darjeeling estate. Of the 87 estates in Darjeeling Suki Tea sources from Bannockburn, one of the best Darjeeling tea estates which holds triple certified status.
Day 4 – Tuesday 30th October 2013.
SUPRABAD (Nepalese for good morning)
I set my alarm and was up at 5.30am as that is when the morning sunlight hits the peaks of Kangchenjunga (I did that every day). (link to photo’s) At every part of the Darjeeling trip we could see the highest peak of Everest.
8am. Quick factory visit but there was no production today. An amazingly clean and efficient place. Tiled floor, clear instruction everywhere – we look forward to seeing the production in the morning. At this time of the year the tea plants are slowing down their yield and a e about to lay dormant for the winter so there wasn’t enough tea to start up the production line today. The tea being produced all over Darjeeling at this time is called autumnal flush. It offers a coppery gold brew with real Darjeeling muscatel flavour and mellow mature taste.
A bumpy jeep ride down the mountainside into the depths of the garden where I met one of the husbands of a picker. PSRAI, he gave me his number for some reason. He worked in the accounts side of the estate and was chilling for lunch. We travelled on and met some pickers. Their nimble hands glided over the bush and made light work of tipping the new shoots. A chorus of giggles and chatter, the days picking is predetermined from the ganger who is the bloke who looks after the pickers, usually 40 per team, and directs them to their picking site. The ganger will have a pick sheet from 7 days previous which will tell him that a certain area or zone needs picking again. We tried and as Annie and I have both worked outdoors in the past we loved it but would need much more time to learn the skill that is handed down from generation to generation of families in the area.
We visited the nursery and checked out the difference of taking a cutting, or cloning from the motherbush and planting seed. The difference was apparent on site, the seed’s had a 70% chance of survival and grew very slow. The cuttings we’re already half way there so looked uniform and much taller and had a much higher survival rate.
About 4.30pm we saw the pickers, also referred to as tippers or pluckers returning from their afternoon shift. They have a 7am start, break at 10.30am to drop off picked tea and have a break for an half an hour. Break at 12.30pm for an hour. Stop work at 4.30pm and do the weigh in.
Day 5 – Wednesday 31st October.
Factory visit. We did the necessary Fairtrade, Organic and rainforest Alliance checks while we we’re their – all certification up to date.
Day 6 – Thursday 1st November. Darjeeling town visit. We had a couple of hours here where we did a bit of souvenir shopping and tried some Tibetan butter tea, I’ll not be going there again but everything once eh. We bought a few traditional dishes. Actually thinking they might be small reflecting the price we saw we ordered 8 dishes. Granted we got to taste them all but it was enough for the entire restaurant. Bit embarrassing. We did box it up and give it to someone outside. Ginger rice was a simple but lovely dish. Next time I must get an invite into the Planters club. We then drove to Tumsong tea estate where we we’re welcomed and put up for the night in the guest house. Next morning we met with Mr Rajiv Gupta. He gave us a tour and took us to neighbouring Lingia TE and Marybong TE. We sampled their fine teas and bought some samples back with us. We met with many folk here including all the TE managers, planters and tasters as well as one of the Rainforest Alliance auditors Mr T C Sharma doing his rounds.
Cultural development of the plantation workers has not been neglected at Chamong. Emphasis has been laid on elevating their socio-economic standards through education and social security measures for the workers and their families.
Statutory benefits have been well looked upon. The workers have privileges like free housing, ration, medical and maternity benefits. Chamong ensures availability of fully equipped hospitals, primary schools for workers’ children and even places of worship for all communities.
Chamong Group is committed to the workers’ welfare, better remuneration and decent working condition for them with a view to making its operations locally sustainable.