Medical concerns, spiritual sojourns, exotic haveli experience, and Slumdog Millionaire inspired trips to India may be the major reasons why foreigners are thronging the country. But that little cup of flavourful tea is doing its bit too, in pulling the discerning crowds all the way to the Indian Karmic land.
Yes! Tea tourism has indeed emerged as India's power-packed answer to wine tourism offered by European countries like France and Italy. The country has now emerged as the largest exporter of tea globally and as one of the top contenders indulging in this niche tourism. As a result, not just foreigners, Indians with moolah and a desire to tread the undiscovered are heading to the tea plantations as well, to relax amidst miles of green, to sip on exotic teas, to enjoy adventurous moments merged with spiritually elating ones.
The benefits associated with the wonder beverage only help the cause. It is loaded with anti-oxidants, fights cancer and its aroma helps in rejuvenating the mind and the body. Moreover, with herbal, organic, and green teas foraying their way into the market, the negative health effects of caffeine are being conveniently ignored too. Flavoured herbal Indian teas have emerged as the biggest hit with tourists.
Recommended destinations for your Indian tea vacation
Your top choices for a vacation destination that could whip up a storm in your cup are Darjeeling in West Bengal, Munnar in Kerala, Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, Ooty in Tamil Nadu, and Assam.
As all these destinations offer similar facilities and are equally blessed with the bounties of nature, choosing a place would solely depend on personal preferences.
Julie Weston, a London resident, who recently came to India on a healing trip with her mother, took two separate vacations: A beach vacation in Goa and a spiritual tea vacation in Munnar, Kerala. Julie says, "Tea is drunk to forget the cares of the world, so we decided to drink the best possible tea in the most picturesque of surroundings for the second part of our great Indian vacation. Munnar emerged as the obvious choice post research." Ask her about her experience and she says, "The long walks through the plantations, interaction with the plantation workers and plucking leaves with them, tasting different teas every morning, everything was amazing. The hills and the greenery reminded me of Scotland, and we also brought back large stocks of some amazing flavoured Indian tea."
Activities and indulgences
Here are some things you must indulge in while enjoying your tryst with tea growing earth and people:
Visits to the tea plantations
A guided tour through the plantations to understand the intriguing tea growing process is a must. "We witnessed the entire fascinating process from plucking to packing and also learnt how tea is sorted, dried and processed differently to attain different tastes. We even joined the workers in plucking tea leaves", says Sujatha who celebrated her first wedding anniversary with her husband at the tea plantations in Darjeeling. She strongly recommends a visit to the Happy Valley tea estate at Darjeeling.
Checking out epic tea places
Tea museums or local tea bars are great places to visit, for information on tea and for genuine tea tasting. Munnar has an intriguing tea museum with a tea tasting area marked with many plaques, describing the history of tea and the plantation.
Enjoying the locale
All the tea destinations are located amidst magical natural environs and offer enough to explore. Escape to the Himalayan peaks from the lovely hill station of Darjeeling, witness the exotic species of flora and fauna in the forests and wildlife sanctuaries of Munnar and Assam, watch countless streams and brooks criss-cross the landscape, holding tea gardens in their mesh at Palampur and get spellbound by the verdant vegetation and gurgling streams at the queen of hill stations -- Ooty. Sunrise and sunsets are a memorable experience at all these places; don't miss it!
Fun and adventure
Apart from getting driven around in a jeep, you can walk, trek or go for horse riding to see the landscape, flora and fauna of a tea garden up close. Some tea gardens also arrange picnics, barbeque, fishing, river rafting and overnight camps at a premium; find out about these facilities in advance and plan accordingly.
Buying exotic teasYour tea sojourn is not complete without buying fresh stocks of varied infused, organic, flavoured teas, apart from your favourite tipple of course. Ask your local tour guide to help you buy your supply.
Making a choice
If you wish to live the grand life of a tea planter, staying at the posh heritage bungalows in one of the tea gardens is the best bet for you. Such bungalows and boutique tea resorts offer a unique mix of natural beauty and luxurious royalty; but ensure that you have a liberal budget as just a one-day stay at such a place is likely to set you back by anything above Rs 10,000.
For instance, more than a century old Glenburn at Darjeeling, a 1,600 acre tea estate owned and run by the Prakash family has four high-end luxurious suites on offer. At this beautiful river valley tea estate, stretching from an elevation of 3,700 feet, all the way down, you get to enjoy a drink and a sit-down exquisite dinner served in colonial planters' style with your hosts, punctuated by endless cups of Glenburn tea. Tariff here is Rs 18,000 for double occupancy suite and Rs 12,000 for single occupancy suite. For more details, visit www.glenburnteaestate.com.
www.exploredarjeeling.com will tell you about all the other tea estates in Darjeeling, making the process of selecting a place easy and informed.
For information and tips on booking your stay in Munnar, visit www.munnar.com. If you are looking for a luxury tea resort in Munnar with value added services, do check www.teavalleyresort.com, www.teameadows.com and www.teabungalows.com.
For Assam, browse through www.assamteatourism.com to look for your stay options.
If you wish to fit your holiday into a budget, skip staying at the gardens or a resort and opt instead for a hotel situated somewhere close to the gardens. However, this may entail certain amount of commuting and you may miss out on the regal living and the most picturesque views which makes for half the charm of a tea vacation. Though, by carefully choosing a heritage hotel, you could make up for the loss. The tariff at such places usually ranges between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000 per night.
For example, Dekeling Resort in Darjeeling, a beautiful British era mansion now restored and converted into a hotel by the Tibetan Dekeva family, offers a commanding view of the Darjeeling town and majestic Kanchenjunga range, oozes with traditional Tibetan hospitality and is affordable too. A deluxe double room here costs about Rs 3,000 with meals and Rs 1,600 without meals and a double suite is Rs 3,265 with meals and Rs 2,900 without meals.Opting for a tea tour package is another alternative you could explore, especially if you desire an exclusive tea holiday. Check out www.teatourindia.com, www.allindiatraveltours.com, www.shinningindia.com, and www.manorholidays.com to get started.
It is a mix of an adventure and a leisure holiday so your packing requires a mixed strategy too.
Here is what you must take along:
Those colourful raincoats and windcheaters, gum boots and large umbrellas, warm clothing and spare clothes and socks, as any tea growing destination is likely to have cool and humid climate.
Sunscreen lotion, hat, sunglasses and scarf for protection against sun burn, heat strokes and tan.
Insect and mosquito repellents, anti-allergic tablets and antiseptic skin creams for curing insect bites and normal rash conditions.
A well equipped first aid and an emergency kit, since most tea estates may not have quick access to shopping areas.
Remember to include
- Pain and fever relief medicines
- Crepe bandage for normal sprain conditions
- Glucose powder and oral rehydration mix sachets
- Paper soap strips or hand sanitizer
- Torch and extra batteries
A tea vacation ensures that you come back rejuvenated and spiritually healed, at the same time extending a unique flavour of India in your cup. So, go on... sip on the exotic diversity of India at the tea plantations!