The Ballygunge ‘Bull’ June 2015

 

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Sourenee – A Journey

An invitation to experience life amidst the serenity of Sourenee Tea Estate (spread over 137 hectares) – extended by the owner, Vinita Bajoria – promised to provide a welcome relief from the scorching sun of Kolkata. I set off with a friend, Ruchhita Kazaria, and we were met at Bagdogra airport by a Gorkha driver and a bearer from Sourenee, which is situated in the picturesque Mirik Valley of Darjeeling district and is a combination of two words – ‘sour’ (a tree having medicinal properties that grows in this region) and ‘rani (indicating ‘Queen of the Valley’).

We stopped a number of times during the lovely drive, to click a treasure trove of memories, to sip on ‘nimbupaani’, have refreshing Darjeeling tea from the Estate along with cookies from the Sourenee bakery. A sense of déjà vu set in as we drove post the flag stuff house, ‘Bengdubi’, which was my father’s official residence ten years ago. We stopped at the ‘Sourenee Tea Shoppe’, which had a wide array of neatly designed tea packages for tourists. We finally arrived at a sprawling, swank bungalow – a gothic and archaic estate that was to be our abode for the next three days, a new bungalow following the colonial British model, with wooden furniture and flooring and quaint fireplaces but with a contemporary touch – and was welcomed with peach flavoured iced tea.

 
The bungalow boosts of five master bedrooms and one family suite which consists of two bedrooms and one living room. There are paintings of old Calcutta, French paintings and coffee table books on tea. With ten staff members scurrying around the bungalow, pandering to our every need, we felt we were at a home away from home, relaxed and taken care of. The place is actually seven star luxury at its best with all the molly coddling that one receives, except that it really does feel like a home and not like a hotel.

 
Being famished, we feasted on a piping hot Indian lunch of kasturi methi daal, shahi paneer, veg pulao, aloo dum and bhindi, followed by caramelized banana pudding and washed down with green tea. The chefs and the efficient staff have been trained by the Consultant, Neena Pradhan, who has a reputation for perfection.
 
After lunch, we left the bungalow with two guides, carrying umbrellas, which would also serve as walking sticks, and set off on the first trail – about half a kilometer from the bungalow and called the ‘rock point trail’. We passed through tricky paths with tea bushes rising above our ankles, found some interesting rocks and perched on one from where we could see o blaze of mountains enveloped in lush greenery. The view made us understand why Wordsworth wrote.
 
such spellbinding pieces on nature. The second trail, known as ‘the village walk’, was again half a kilometer from the bungalow and we saw tiny villages and residential establishments as we walked on.
 
We reached our bungalow for a welcome tea break, with finger food, the most special being the mouthwatering ‘tea leaf pakoras’ – a delicacy in the tea terrains. After this, we started out on the third trail, the ‘Barasalay trail’ , which consists of walking through bamboo bushes to get a breathtaking view of the entire Sourenee village. The fourth trail,called the ‘Antudara trail’, is just a minute’s walk from the bungalow and from here one can view the majestic sunset, perched on a rock. The next trail is known as the ‘Sourenee bazaar trail’, where one can get a sight of the entire Sourenee bazaar as one walks through a pony road.
 
The last trail that we covered the day is known as the ‘haunted trail’, which encompasses a few desolate graves amidst marshy long tea bushes and vegetation and a strangely eerie atmosphere. As it was getting dark, we headed back to the bungalow for a hot cup of soup and dinner, leaving the remaining trail ( meant to be the longest one ) the next day.
 
We relaxed on a swing as we awaited our dinner of chow, momos and fruit custard followed by green tea. After dinner, we lay back against our pillows and chatted late into the night, about childhood, life and more – something we don’t get time to do in the hustle and bustle of daily life . We woke up on our feather pillows, as the staff brought us our bed tea and freshly baked cookies, and then got ready to go down the remaining trails, sightsee in Mirik and shop, after a healthy breakfast of a fresh juice, cereals, baked beans on toast, omelette, poha and freshly sliced fruit.
 
The drizzle didn’t deter us as we set off with our umbrellas on the ‘Subitang trail’ ( the longest and the most difficult one ), walking to a picnic spot with a view of a stream trailing down . We enjoyed our picnic basket of sandwiches and cookies and a hot cup of Darjeeling tea from the flask and, after spotting some beautiful and rare birds and butterflies, we headed to Mirik, which is a forty minute drive from the picnic spot.
 
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‘Mirik’ is a bustling, touristy town with Tibetan markets, boating, horse riding and more. We were in a rather adventurous mood and we went cantering around on horses as well as along the guided trail for horse riding, a rather exciting experience, not to be forgotten easily. In Mirik’s main market, we bought fresh cookies and fruit cakes from the local bakeries. Once back at the bungalow, we enjoyed the chef’s continental fare of pasta, potato’s baked in their jackets, apple crumble etc. The afternoon was spent strolling around and playing with the host’s dogs and we had an early dinner of ‘Khow Suey’ , caramel custard and green tea, before retiring for the night, as we had a visit to the Sourenee tea factory planned for the next morning, before flying back.

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We walked around the Sourenee tea factory, resembling surgeons with our masks and white coats, and we learned that, for Darjeeling tea, one plucks only two leaves and the bud that makes a shoot and that 22,000 shoots are required to make a kilogram of leaf tea. We also learned about the different processes of withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, sorting and storing.
 
As we headed back to Bagdogra, we knew the tranquility of tea tourism would always attract us and energise all those who give it a try.

– Saira Shah Halim


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