Tea Town by the Himalayas
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a little toy train that chugs up the mountain at about 13 kilometres an hour. It’s an ideal pace to wind through thick forests of oak, maple, chestnut, walnut, pear, cherry and cardamom plants. The rolling slopes are carpeted with tea plantations, interspersed with rhodendrons, magnolias and orchids, and Tibetan flags flutter on the Hussel Khola stream. There is a steady, perceptible drop in atmospheric temperature as you putter along, especially as the train reaches Ghoom, the highest point of its journey at 7,407 feet. From here, it descends 1,000 feet through an incredible 5-kilometre loop to arrive at Darjeeling. As you get off the train, you notice how cold it is compared to when you boarded the train at Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri.
Darjeeling, the land of tea plantations and one of the most popular hill stations in India, is situated at an altitude of 6,710 feet in the Mahabharat or Lesser Himalaya range, right beside the spectacular Himalayas. Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain peak, is always in the backdrop. Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain peak, may briefly appear amid the clouds on a clear day.
As fascinating as the natural landscape are the natives of the hills of Darjeeling, the Lepchas, the Gorkhas, the Sherpas, and the Bhutias with their distinctive Nepali and Tibetan influence. Tibetan noodle soup called Thupka and the Tibetan momo, steamed dumplings of vegetables or meat wrapped in dough and served in soup, are the most cherished foods. Tibetan thangkas (silk paintings with Buddhist themes), singing bowls, and prayer wheels are as popular takeaways as Darjeeling tea.
The days in Darjeeling fly past as you visit high-altitude monasteries and tea gardens, bite into momos, and tap singing bowls.
Darjeeling tea, with its characteristic muscatel flavour, is highly valued and sought world over.
The first trial plantation of tea seed in Darjeeling was done by Dr. A. Campbell in 1841.
Today there are 144 tea gardens in Darjeeling, the produce from which has official status as ‘Darjeeling Tea’. These tea gardens span 74,843 acres and produce over 9 million kg of tea, employing about 50 percent of the district population.
Types of Darjeeling Tea
- Black Tea – This accounts for over 90% of the tea consumption in the western world. During production, leaves are altered to allow the characteristic flavours — ranging from flowery to fruity, nutty, or spicy — to emerge.
- Oolong Tea – Full-bodied tea with a fragrant flavour and a fruity, sweet aroma. Oolongs have some of the qualities of both black and green tea.
- Green Tea – The favoured beverage in Asia. Its aroma and health benefits make it appealing to both tea lovers and non-tea drinkers.
- White tea – The most delicate tea, unmatched in its subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness.
Blended, Flavoured and Scented Teas
- Blended Tea: Earl Greys, Breakfast and Afternoon Blends, Russian Caravan, and Lapsang Souchons
- Flavoured Tea: Flavoured varieties of black, oolong and green teas
- Scented Tea: Jasmine, litchee and rose
- Seasonal Blends: Spring, summer, fall, winter and holiday blends
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