If you are a romantic who loves the mist, and rains in hills and never misses a chance to escape to the hills, here I present to you Makaibari. Makaibari is a popular a halting point for tea connoisseurs and tea lovers enroute to Darjeeling, a hill station nestled in Northern part of West Bengal and a favourite with Bengalis trying to escape the heat and humidity of Kolkata. This time, I decided to stop over at this sleepy place on our way back from Darjeeling and I suggest you to take a little de-tour and stop by at Makaibari, Kurseong.
Makaibari needs no introduction for passionate tea lovers. Known for its signature organic tea, this was also the first tea factory in the world. This factory was built in 1859 and as the brochure claims this is also “the only tea estate in Darjeeling to never have been owned by an Englishman”. Who was the founder? G.C. Banerjee was the genius behind Makaibari Tea Estates in 1859. For a long time, till very recently this was a family run business under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee who has been instrumental in changing the economic model of tea plantation. Makaibari was the official partner in Beijing Olympics and as one of the locals pointing out to the empty store proudly adds that it is being served in FIFA World Cup in Brazil as well. Makaibari, is much more beyond a cup of tea. Under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee (the fourth generation of the Banerjee family) who spearheaded the concept of sustainable living through homestay and other initiatives, Makaibari recently has changed hands. Mr. Banerjee, as a newspaper article in TOI claims has sold off majority stake to Luxmi Group and remains the Chairman of Makaibari Tea & Trading Co. Ltd.1
Rajah Banerjee has not only introduced a signature tea, but has also successfully introduced sustainable tourism with volunteers under a Volunteer in Makaibari scheme, offering homestay facilities in the area. Volunteer in Makaibari, as the name indicates is a community run homestay facilities provided by more than 20 households. Each household has a guest room with an attached bathroom. The host family not only provides the guests with housing but three delicious sumptuous meals, and endless cups of tea. Volunteer in Makaibari also arranges for guided tours along the Makaibari tea estates, tea tasting sessions as well as a guided tour of the factory. As our hired alto halted infront of Vounteer in Makaibari’s (VIM) office which is at a stone’s throw distance from Makaibari factory, Nayan Lama ( one of the frontrunners of VIM) greeted us and took us to Dilip Bhujel’s house. I followed Mr. Raj Bhattacharya’s (http://www.darjeeling-tourism.com/)advice and had specially requested Nayan to give us Dilip Bhujel’s house.
Dilip Bhujel and Manju Bhujel’s house overlooks the Kurseong valley. They were our hosts for a night. It was drizzling when we reached Makaibari. Our welcome drink was local Makaibari tea followed by a lunch spread of rice, dal, papad, bhindi subzi and omelette. After that we decided to call it a day and soaked in the mist, sun and warmth of the place. Soon tea arrived and as darkness set in glistening lights of the Siliguri town seemed like a million floating candles. It was time to settle for dinner over piping hot rotis, dal, chicken and fried potatoes. After such sinful indulgence it was time to cosy upto the warmth of the blankets and say goodnight to the Bhujel family.
We woke around 6am to a misty morning. As soon as the sky cleared, we decided to have a quick breakfast and head for our trail to the tea factory and estate along with our guide Pranay. Pranay and Nayan are actively involved with Volunteer in Makaibari. In peak seasons, to cater to the demands they hire more volunteers. Apart from homestay projects, Volunteer in Makaibari is also planning to start a café with local delicacies ( momos, thupka and chang ). Pranay, our guide for the day took us to the Makaibari factory. He gave us a tour through the various stages of processing and then we headed for the hike towards the tea estate. The never ending, winding road led us to the lush tea gardens. Pranay was keen to show us how tea leaves are plucked. Despite the painstacking work the workers continue to be paid abysmally low.
As we walked through the pebbled path we could hear the construction activities of the much advertised Chia Kutir project of Ambuja Group2. As we struggled to make our way through the road, to walk through the tea bushes, I could not miss the noise of the construction work that enveloped the rather peaceful, green lush valley. The signs of change have seeped in. May be the road leading upto the gardens will be motorable for the tourists who will flock to this area to experience Makaibari through this upcoming boutique resort called Chia Kutir. Some things will never be right.
The only ray of hope and for all the right reasons; remain Volunteer in Makaibari with their homestay projects. If you want to soak in the rain, mist and charms of the hills and want to take a weekend break visit Makaibari with Volunteer in Makaibari. Enjoy the rains, brew a cup of second flush, pick your favourite book and pack a few clothes for your monsoon weekend at Makaibari.
1http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/New-flavour-brews-in-Makaibari/articleshow/36365128.cms; Accessed on 21 June 2014.
2 http://www.ambujaneotia.com/hospitality/hotels-and-resorts/chia-kutir.aspx;Accessed on 21 June 2014.
Volunteer in Makaibari: Nayan Lama: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to reach:
Nearest Railway Station: New Jalpaiguri
Nearest Airport: Bagdogra
For other interesting places to visit in Kurseong, and Darjeeling visit http://www.darjeeling-tourism.com/