Once I discovered the Glenburn Tea Estate during research for my trip, I knew that I had to have the experience and it was even more spectacular then I had imagined…and that is saying a lot! I had decided to spend four nights at the estate to acclimate to the time change before I began my business assignment. Soon after arriving at the Bagdogra airport the Glenburn driver had us zooming out of the crowded area and it became a scene from a movie where we were zigzagging in between people, animals, cars and the like and the horn would go off about every minute or two in some sort of morse code the drivers seem to use in India. The first 30 minutes or so the roads were so crowded I kept thinking how exhausting it must be for the driver. It was the picture of India you expect with modest, simple living and lots of crowded spaces.
As we moved higher up the road continued to get narrower and narrower until it looked to the inexperienced eye more like a footpath then a road.
After about 2 hours or so, we stopped at a beautiful lookout point and my driver took out a delightful aqua colored picnic basket---the same color of much of the wicker balcony furniture on the estate--- for afternoon tea, sandwiches, fruit and brownies. It was so perfect. I hadn't eaten since my 8am breakfast and it was now about 5pm, and it was a good bridge before our meal which would be at 9pm that evening.
Upon arrival at the estate, I was greeted with a kelly green silk scarf that was placed around the neck of each guest as they arrived and ice tea by the amazing Najma Ahmed . Najma is like having your own personal fairy godmother, she makes everything happen on the estate for the guests with style and grace....whatever they wish seems to appear or happen instantaneously. She is truly a marvel.
Then I was offered hot tea, after which I was shown to my suite---The Singalila Suite ---in The Water Lily Bungalow perched on the edge of the hill with majestic views of the valleys all around Darjeeling Town and the Kanchenjunga Range. Najma said it was her favorite suite and at first I thought she might be just saying that, but I do believe it just might be the most spectacular one after all with it's glassed in round balcony that was a perfect tea room to enjoy the view of the tea fields, abundant flowers and of course the Himalayas.
In the spacious room I found a gorgeous antique four poster bed, with embroidered bed linens and fresh flower arrangements that would be tended to daily. In the large bathroom, also with a spectacular view, there was both a walk in rain shower and a separate old-fashioned tub.
It was a particularly welcoming introduction in that the morning rain had cleared the haze and we had a beautiful view of the mountains that is rare this time of year.
The owner of the estate, Husna-Tara Prakash, was also there that day (she often resides in Calcutta) so it was fun to meet her and later on her husband. The estate has 1000 acres of private forest land and two rivers. They have their own source of electricity and water so they do not experience the same issues faced by the people in the town of Darjeeling.
After freshening up and changing for dinner, I joined the other guests at a bonfire for cocktails. It was so reminiscent of my safari experience.. ...meeting interesting people from other parts of the world.....a gentlemen from the US Embassy with the FDA assigned to monitor the Indian Agricultural Industry accompanied by his father, a couple from the UK where he is a judge and she is a midwife, another couple also from the UK where he is a high school teacher and she does marketing and a gentlemen from South Africa who was there on a hospitality consulting project discussing expansion opportunities. Dinner in the main dining room was lovely and then I retired to my room for an 8 hours of sleep that I sorely needed by that point!
Just before I left to walk down the path to my suite, plans were confirmed for the next days activities....morning tea tour and tasting.....as well as what time I would like my morning tea brought to my room.
I woke up about 5am when I heard soft music rising up from further down the mountain, perhaps morning prayers. It was already light and I took a few moments to look out and snap a few pictures of the mountain that was visible and then headed back to bed for a few more hours sleep before my morning tea at 8am. Breakfast was a buffet served on the outdoor terrace a few steps away from our building. I had poached eggs with a design of a flower made of herbs and red pepper strips on top of it, a tender very buttery croissant, fresh juice, broiled tomatoes and tea. We were treated to a large eagle circling overhead just as we finished up breakfast.
Next it was time for the tea tour with Kumar. I would be touring with just two other people so it was a nice small tour that made it easy to ask questions and go at the pace that was comfortable for all. First we were shown the two different types of plants on the estate, the Darjeeling variety and the Assam. The smaller leaf Darjeeling came from seed and later cuttings from China while the much larger leaf Assam was found growing wild in the forest. Tea Gardening as an occupation is handed down through the generations. It appeared that all of the gardeners were of Nepal ancestry. I just loved their happy spirits. I asked one of the drivers one day if everyone really is as happy as they seem and he laughed and said yes. They all work very, very hard, incredible long hours, but always with such a pleasant disposition. After the tour we had our tea tasting. I decided I liked the second flush best.
Often following the tea experience, people go down to the river for a 3 hour hike. One of the other guests had twisted his ankle the day before on this hike and others had described it as challenging. I thought better of it knowing I didn’t need to try and maneuver the rest of my travels with a foot problem…or a bug bite. There is a long list of things you can do on the estate including bird watching which I would have liked to take in or a local reflexology treatment. Somehow the time just slipped away from me and I didn’t get to all these little additional adventures with the exception of a day trip into Darjeeling. It was nice just to relax and drink in the incredible beauty of the estate and be served tea and wonderful, gourmet, organic meals from produce grown on the estate itself!
That evening new guests arrived, a Swiss couple with three charming children with ages ranging 3 1/2 to 7. They were amazing kids. They had been traveling for 27 hours straight and yet they were sitting like perfect angels waiting for their meal. They were all going on a hiking trip to Bhutan where they were going to hiking up to 5 hours a day! The father was an adventure tour operator and Bhutan was his favorite spot. During my next stay at Glenburn, I hope to follow it up by a trip there.
The other interesting new couple was from the UK, a barrister and his wife a solicitor. They were there taking a holiday with their two high school age daughters that had just graduated and were volunteering in India teaching children in a village during their gap year---the year off between High School and University. That evening we visited over cocktails before dinner in the drawing room.
On the third night our group again met over a bonfire and we were joined by a new arrival, a couple from India where she works in tax for a multinational and he works in advertising for a new family channel being launched in India.
I mention the other guests here because I believe they were a special part of making my experience so memorable. The Glenburn Tea Estate offers a small intimate setting with just 8 suites and most of your meals taken with the other guests, although you can request to dine privately. When the other guests appreciate the beauty, attentive service, the care devoted to all the meals and extraordinary attention to detail overall, than you can experience the same type of magic you find on a safari where everyone is anxious to visit, recount their day’s adventures to the group and collectively share in the wonder of it all.
I have been fortunate enough to have many wonderful travel adventures and I count this enchanting stay as an amazing value and one of the top highlights.
- Also Known As:
- Glenburn Tea Estate Hotel Darjeeling
- Glenburn Tea Estate West Bengal