A Visit to Makaibari Tea Estate DarjeelingAs we set off on our Darjeeling trip just before the monsoons of 2013, little did we know about the surprises that awaited us? We were 5 friends all fresh pass outs from a well known management institute of the country and this was one last trip for us before we set off on our respective jobs in different parts of India. Being a restless traveler by nature, I was always on the lookout for experiences which could not be categorized as “normal tourist activity”.
So when one of my friends suggested the idea of staying in a home stay in Makaibari (one of the most famous tea estates in India) I was instantly game for it mentally bracing myself for a pleasant albeit a slightly uncomfortable experience. How I wrong I was in judging this, as the Makaibari experience remained as one of the finest hospitality experience we had witnessed in our limited experience.
The Journey to the GreensMakaibari is a tiny village which falls in the lush green Darjeeling district. We took the Darjeeling Mail, got off at Siliguri and then began looking for a car which would take us to Darjeeling. Another route is to take a flight to the Bagdogra Airport and then take a car from there. However trains are definitely cheaper and provide an excellent opportunity to look at the beautiful landscape. It took us 1.5 hours to reach the scenic district of Darjeeling from Siliguri.
When the tea estate loomed in front of us we could see nothing but miles and miles of undulating green bushes. Tea when brewed and processed gives off a fine aroma but the smell of Makaibari tea bushes gave off their own wild yet enthralling aroma. The entire landscape breathed of tea and one could just sit for hours breathing in the deliciousness of the air. Women in traditional tea estate attire dotted the landscape as their fingers kept on working constantly plucking, selecting and categorizing nimble tea leaves. The bushes are so well maintained that not one shoot disturbs the clean straight symmetry of the rows in the garden.
Permaculture is practiced at Makaibari i.e. the tree bushes exist in perfect symmetry with forest ecosystem of Makaibari. There are exotic varieties of birds, deer, snakes, rabbits and even a couple of leopards in the forest. Perhaps the 100% natural setting is what gives Makaibari Tea that extra edge and full rich flavor.
Makaibari Home Stay SystemsThe Makaibari Home stay system was specifically designed to help the economically challenged tea workers earn some extra cash and let tourists experience the unique culture of the tea garden first hand. There are at present 24 families who have done home renovation and now offer pretty good accommodation options to tourists.
We chose to stay at the home stay of Dilip Bhujel who is incidentally the cook of Mr. Rajah Banerjee. This Nepali guy was warm and friendly and a cook par excellence. The traditional Nepali fare which we sampled at his place comprised of items like Gundruk, Sinki, Chatmari and sweet Kasar. The Momos which we ate with the unique sesame and red garlic sauce still remain as one of the best Momos I sampled.
The Home stay exuded warmth and coziness with its quaint bamboo furniture, antique wrought iron fittings and an abundance of soft white pillows. One could just lie around looking at the splendid emerald greens of the tea estate with some Nepali instrumental music being played in the background. We spent our time exploring the estate, talking to the workers and romancing the Makaibari jungle which had an exotic collection of flora and fauna. In the evening we sipped on local Nepali toddy with spicy duck fry.
Form Makaibari we took a ride to Kurseong where we visited the Deer Park, forest national museum, Kurseong temple etc . We even asked the Makaibari locals to organize a dance and music extravaganza for us at the borders of the estate.
The Home stay provisions were so far removed from the perfectly antiseptic service meted out by luxury hotels. Sitting at the same dining table to have food and gossiping with Dilip Bhujel and his family we totally forgot about the fact that we were guests paying for our stay in Makaibari. The experience still remains in my mind as the most heartfelt expression of Indian hospitality with its true spirit that I witnessed.
Unique Features of MakaibariThe entire estate gives off an air of heritage and a rich history of tea making as everything was neatly organized and ran with clockwork precision. Rajah Banerjee is a fourth generation owner of the MakaiBari estate as the tea estate was first formalized by the great grandfather Girish Chandra way back in 1859. The helm was then passed to Tarapada and then Pashupatinath before Rajah Banerjee finally got possession of the estate.
However, the dignified Mr. Rajah Banerjee pensively informed us that none of his descendants are interested in tea business. Being a septuagenarian, Mr. Banerjee laments that he had to sell of his beloved Makaibari to the Chatterjee family who owns the Luxmi group. The Luxmi Group now retains 80% stake of the Tea Estate while Mr. Rajah Banerjee owns 20% share though officially he is still at the helm of matters in Makaibari.
“I will remain here till my last breath” were the words spoken by Rajah Banerjee as he took us on his special tea tasting tour.
A Pricy Cuppa at MakaibariDuring the home stay at Makaibari tea estate we delighted out palette every morning and evening with the delicate aroma of the Makaibari tea. It’s thrilling to know that now Makaibari Tea is one of the most expensive tea in the world as it was sold at a whooping 1.2 Lakh INR per kg at an auction abroad. This was the first time that an Indian brand of tea was sold at such a phenomenal price. It seems that the change of ownership has brought in even greater fortune to the Makaibari Tea Estate.
Well, finally after all this lovely time, it was time for us to leave this charming city and enter our professional lives again. But, this became a beautiful time we would all want to live again. Thank you Darjeeling!