As I looked down, the clouds were under me, and they slowly caught up as the descent began. I quickly slurped down the last of my Coke Zero (my one vice) and closed the tray table just as an air hostess whisked away my can. I was about to land in Bagdogra, and I could wait for this trip to begin, because it involved one of life’s greater mysteries for me – TEA. And I was going to find out all about it at Margaret’s Deck.
Okay, so here is a brief background about my experience with tea: I have had it. A lot. I have written about it. A lot. Do I get it? NO. So when the good people from Goodricke asked me to join them for an interesting tasting session, who was I to disagree? A FAM trip is always fun, and I jumped at the chance. So, one moderately peaceful day in February, I packed my backpack, shrugged on my leather jacket, and off I went to Kurseong for a taste of tea!
The road up to Kurseong was relatively crowd-free – one of the perks of going up in the afternoon – our driver carefully maneuvered the car up to Kurseong Tourist Lodge, and our team of four (Dolon, Rangan Da, Anoushka, and I) quickly changed into warmer clothes and replenished our flagging spirits with pots of coffee and plates of momos.
Rangan da opted for some roast chicken, but, to me, the momos were more than enough for lunch. We were supposed to meet more bloggers from different parts of India, and as I had only heard about them before and read their work, I was quite interested to meet them.
Enter Manjulika, Indrani and Aditi.
Okay, that just sounded so very very dramatic, and to be fair, they aren’t the least bit so! Maybe Aditi is a bit like that, but she’s an Aquarius, so she can’t help it!
(After this really random trivia about Aditi, let us continue).
A Session of Tea Tasting at Margaret’s Deck
We hopped into a car and were on our way to Margaret’s Deck, the tea lounge of Margaret’s Hope, which is a part of the Goodricke Tea Estate. If you want to reach Margaret’s Deck from Kurseong, I would suggest hiring a car to reach there – its about 20 minutes in a car from Kurseong Tourist Lodge, near Tung Railway Station, and is right on the road to Darjeeling, so you would not be able to miss it. Margaret’s Hope is one of the oldest tea estates of this region, and it was named so in 1927, after the then owner, Mr. Cruikshank, after his daughter, who loved the estate and died quite young. Before that, the estate was called Chhota Ringtong or maybe Bada Ringtong. Legend says that Margaret is still a part of the plantation, and her spirit lurks around in the Manager’s Bungalow (more about this later).
Margaret’s Deck is a vision. It was designed by architect Arvinder Singh, and its cleverly constructed on the edge of a cliff to give the viewer a breathtaking view of the tea gardens around the place, and the mountains. On a clear day, you can see the mountains against the Deck, and sip your tea while sunlight hits the valley. We, unfortunately, weren’t that lucky, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t get amazing photos of the place. Rangan da was super-enthusiastic, and I don’t believe there was a minute when his camera didn’t click once he was there.
We met with Mrs. Pradhan, who runs the kitchen of Margaret’s Deck, and she fed us really well for the next few days. The menu was mostly continental, and I liked the long list of quiche, flan and puddings. Mrs. Pradhan was not just a great cook, but a fantastic host, and she literally gave us shivering people (we had SERIOUSLY underestimated the cold here) clothes off her back.
Tea Tasting With Krishan Katyal, Chairman & Managing Director of J. Thomas & Co. Private Ltd.
For the uninitiated, J. Thomas & Co. Private Ltd. is the oldest tea auction house in the world, and also the largest. We were fortunate to be provided with a tasting session with Mr. Krishna Katyal, who taught us the basics of tea tasting.
Under his careful tutelage, we slurped on five different cups of tea – The White Tea, The Second Flush Muscatel, The Assam Orthodox, Green Tea, and The Assam CTC. To be fair, I loved the Second Flush Muscatel the most – a rather complex blend with hints of smoke and grass with a slightly higher quotient of tannin – and a touch of citrus which sort of crept up on you. The others were also pretty nice, but I ended up buying a good deal of the Second Flush Muscatel for home.
Our evening ended with some lovely food made by Mrs. Pradhan, and then I went off to the lodge, tucked into my bed with a book, and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning, quite early, and went out for a walk around the place. I ran into several street dogs, and took a closer look at the church opposite Kurseong Tourist Lodge. After a bit, I went back to the hotel, geared up, and moved to meet with the rest of the group for a trip to the famous Goodricke tea gardens – Margaret’s Hope and Castleton.
A Visit to Margaret’s Hope and Castleton Tea Gardens
We were taken on an educational trip to show how tea is made. We first stopped at Margaret’s Hope, the one which is famously haunted, and yes, we even went to the manager’s bungalow to see for ourselves if there were ghosts. We didn’t find any, but there was an eeriness about which I couldn’t explain.
The entire process of teamaking is divided into different parts. The first is plucking – when you pluck the leaves from the tea bushes. The tea is then brought to the factory, where it is processed. At first, it is weighed. Then, it is spread on a trough and cold air is blown through it to dry the leaves and let them wither. After a certain point, they are removed from this segment and moved to the next.
After the tea is withered, it is then bruised lightly to quicken oxidation. Once this is done, the tea is left to oxidize in a climate-controlled temperature, which can be tricky in the mountains, and incredibly temperamental, said Mr. Krishna Katyal, who was giving us the tour.
After the oxidation process is done, then it is fixated at a level where the oxidation is not allowed to continue. Then, the tea leaves are rolled and shaped to ensure it curls up, and then dried.
After our session was over, we returned to Margaret’s Deck for lunch. I still fondly remember the Coffee pudding, and the green tea cookies made with love.
After our meal was over and we had toured around Castleton Tea Estate,we decided to head over to Kurseong town to wander about a bit. I found a lovely store from where I picked up some groceries. Then, as night fell, we went back to Margaret’s Deck for dinner.
A young man was humming nostalgic tunes when we reached, and he sang a few popular numbers which were well-received. We ate, drank, and made merry while the night fell, and I could hear the sounds of the night outside, where the stars were peeking from behind the clouds. I knew my trip was coming to an end, and the moment carried with it a host of emotions inside. The strains of the guitar floated outside, while I quietly stared at the darkness that slowly enveloped the valley. Tomorrow I knew I was going to be back, but till then, I wanted these moments to last – the final notes of a perfect day coming to an end.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited to participate in a FAM trip to Margaret’s Hope as a part of #GoodrickeGetaway and her opinions are based on her experience.