What can be a better place to experience plantation life than the oldest tea estate in the world?
We checked into Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Kurseong, and woke up early the next morning for a ‘Mystical Tea Trail’. The resort, which opened a year and a half ago, is nestled amidst the Makaibari tea estate. Among the many experiences the property offers is a guided tour through the cheerful tea garden.
Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa, Kurseong, which opened a year and a half ago, is nestled amidst the Makaibari tea estateCourtesy: Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa
Our guide was Praju Rai, who has grown up in the region. He takes guests up and down a narrow path through the misty, rolling hills, sharing the history of Makaibari, and the trail is a treat for not just tea-lovers but nature lovers, too.
“Here, hold this,” he says, passing us hiking poles.
“Is it that arduous?” we ask.
His eyes sweep over us for a second and then he says, “Better to keep it.”
Clearly, all the miles of hill-walking over the past two weeks had yet to show its impact.
The trail, however, is pretty simple. If you walk at a pace that you’re comfortable with, and Rai encourages you to do that, one can complete it in around two hours. At the end of the trail, a vehicle from Taj escorts guests back to the resort for refreshments.
Along the trail, we stop to catch our breath, and he passes us bottles of water from the hotel, ferried in his knapsack. We hear the cheery call of a Himalayan Babbler. A little later, we spot a brown-winged butterfly with white markings resting on tea leaves, and then we follow the path of a spiky moth caterpillar as it crawls down a twig. Man and nature coexisting in perfect balance.
Along the trail, one can hear the cheery call of birds like the Minivet and Common Green MagpieCourtesy: Taj Chia Kutir Resort & Spa
The Makaibari tea estate was founded in 1859 by G.C. Banerjee, and was sold in 2014 to Kolkata-based Luxmi Tea. “Makaibari is the only estate in Darjeeling to never have been owned by components of the British Raj,” shares Praju. It is called Makaibari because of the ‘makai’ or corn fields that existed until 1852, until the land was cultivated for tea.
From afar, one can see the village of Thapathali, named after people belonging to the Thapa caste of Nepal. Makaibari sustains six other villages, each named after the land, such as Fulbari (flower garden), Kodobari (millet fields) and Koilapani (black water). “At least one member of each family works at the Makaibari plantation or tea factory,” says Praju.
When IHCL and Ambuja Neotia partnered to create Taj Chia Kutir, both brands were certain they wanted to build a project in the hills. One that would offer guests not only an escape to the hills but the experience of a luxury plantation. And so guests can pick from a bouquet of curated experiences such as tea tasting sessions, a visit to the Makaibari tea factory, guided valley treks, picnics in the forestry pines or a machan meal in the tree house.
The 3km-long Mystical Tea Trail takes you through shades of green, and spells of darkness and lightAjith Gonamanda
Like Jitendra Lote, the general manager of the luxury getaway destination, says: “Taj Chia Kutir is not a resort, it’s a lifestyle experience that you should do at least once.”
We were yet to experience the finest moment of the trail. As we walked down the hilly path, hiking poles in hand, Praju suddenly broke into song. His melodic voice echoed through the nearby forests, the tune of each verse fading until the next echo took over, like nature’s very own sound-mixing device.
Watch the video here.