After Vietnam, the Impertinent Parisian has gone off to discover the perfumed lands of India, and it is with a smile on his face that he recounts his adventures, through his travel journal. He offers us tales and pictures imbued with the warmth and the beauty of the places he has gone through in his search for the best spring Darjeeling teas, always for our greatest pleasure.
A journey which has lead him from New Delhi to Assam, through the mountains of Bengal for delicate tea tasting sessions, through a path sprinkled with encounters and imagination, adventures and delights, teas and smiles.
He came back to us with his pockets full of Indian treasures and with a head full of ideas, and we cannot wait to taste the result of his selections.
Let us take a few instants to immerse ourselves into this genuine and honest travel journal and share those intense few days with Guillaume LELEU, through his finds, his wonder, his dreams, his encounters, his memories, and of course his cups of tea.
DAY 1 : AN INESCAPABLE TEA TIME
Before treading upon the lands of Darjeeling, halt in New Delhi, welcoming me. Everything is there. The blue of its doors, the pink of the volutes of its Persian capitals, the ocher of its little streets and in its shadows, its ‘Chaï’, what a pleasure to rediscover those perfumes, those lights and those lands on this Sunday of April.
Far away from our western clichés, from our pretty porcelain teacups, the ‘Chaï’ is the street beverage in India, for the poor one as for the rich one, that ‘the man from the city and the countryside’ has appropriated, like a memory, a loan to the British colonial past, to make it his.
The preparation for this one tea does not owe anything to chance, even if we can still find two versions of it, the ‘Masala Chaï’ or the ‘Tea Masala’, which keeps in the roots of its name, as for the second one, without any doubt the British preference, contrary to the first one, simpler, which has nationalized as the Indian version.
Both of them will share the basis of an Assam ranked ‘finest’ or ‘premium’, flavored with cardamom, ginger, clove, cinnamon, infused in milk.
For the ‘Tea Masala’, you will need to add fennel, anise and nutmeg for the original recipe.
But either it is ‘Chaï’ or only ‘Tea’, the best way to know all of their subtleties is still to choose the one you will find on the flames, in the twists and turns of the little streets in the ‘Old Delhi’, equipped with a dash of bravery and boldness… all of this in a simple glass.
DAY 2 :
ON THE ROADS TO THE PLANTATIONS
I am still not certain that I will arrive like that, in this way, on the heights of Darjeeling, on the track steep with soil and rocks, but as a precaution, I left early.
Such as small little bees invading the city, weaving in and out to the right and to the left, with excess of klaxon and mischief, among them, my ‘richshaw’, is not dishonoring the local driving of those tuk-tuk…
However I have the feeling that the road which will take me to my 1st Flushes is likely to be longer and bumpier than expected. I will see!
ENCOUNTER WITH A BUSINESS (YOUNG) MAN
‘Atikya’, a budding business boy and at random ‘small street seller of ‘Chaï’… ‘5 rupees for the glass of ‘Chaï’ but 20 rupees for a picture’ he told me in a precarious English, seeing that I am taking a picture of his father mixing the boiling milk tea behind him…
Atikya is 11 years old and already has a sharp business sense, he wanders the street to offer his father’s ‘Chaï’ to retail traders and onlookers, with the help of his little tinplate basket, which he previously fills with 6 full and foaming glasses.
Necessarily, his smile and riposte did not leave me cold and it cost me 100 rupees in total, a sum that I hurried to honor, to settle the 4 remaining previous pictures of the daddy, rather proud of his sonny, even if in the end, it is his picture that I am publishing J
For that price, you will have a cup with me, right?
A JOURNEY FOR THE SENSES
Just like tea can do, India wakes each of my senses at every moment.
It addresses my gaze with its rich and varied architecture, expresses to my nose with its spices’ perfumes, the fragrances of its streets, sublimates with the taste of its cooking, which wraps the palate with its unique essences, lets you listen without keeping your ears open with its singings and its noises of each instant and finally it calls out to the spirit with its contrasts and its beauties.
Multi-sensorial, just as conveyed here, in the shadows and lights of this last picture of Delhi, where I will amalgamate neither the context, nor the situation, but whose obvious serenity seemed to me to be so welcome to be shared.
Looking forward to tomorrow, at the heart of the plantations after the wonderful encounters of the day…
DAY 3 : SUNSET IN DARJEELING
End of the day in the mountains of Bengal. The sun falls down on the plantations, among which I will spend the night, in the bungalow of reception for guests, of the last garden which has welcomed me and where we have just ended the tastings of the day.
Even if the tiredness becomes apparent, if the day was rich in work, my memory will only keep records of these multiple and wonderful emotions. There is so much to say that we cannot describe, either if it is about tea, men, pickers or those landscapes surrounding me, perched at some 9,800 feet in altitude.
And then there is also some of this non-written pressure to make the best choices, for each cup, either if they are Nepalese or Indian, for all of those waiting for them.
The sun goes down in the mountains of Bengal, to give way to a promise of another tomorrow at ¾ hour’s drive, higher towards Darjeeling, in other Tea Estates…
DAY 4 : TASTING
First session in preparation on this morning in Mirik, each batch of the daily harvests must be tested to identify the perfumes distinguishing them, the quality which differs, and to understand the day parameters which will have to be changed according to the leaves of the day…
In these moments, there is something like a suspended time, a pride, an awareness of the luck which has been given to me for practicing this profession, where in the shadow, the detail of each thing takes on its full meaning… in harmony with mother Nature…, far away from all the noises, from those feedbacks sometimes violent, from the criticisms to which we are exposed when we face the personal tastes of everyone, of the beginners and of course of those whose goodwill is relative and offering them a role.
Cups are aligned at present, the rupee used as weighing is in the copper scale, the water is in the boiler… Finally this new day is starting.
DAY 5 :
Contrary to those I visited yesterday, more remote from the city and those all along the road to Darjeeling, where we will have to draw on failing that, to find happiness there in the coming days. Located further down of the city, the warehouses and factories of the most prestigious plantations which have built the reputation of Darjeeling are almost empty…
The harvests have stopped after they started around mid-March, no picker around the tea plant roots, very damaged and lacking those precious leaves… This, following a very violent storm of hailstone on last March, 31st.
The First Flushes with those prestigious names; ‘Bloomfield’, ‘Risheehat’, ‘Aria’, ‘Orange Valley’, ‘Singtom’… all very affected, are then almost nonexistent in quantity and particularly rare, since the owner’s best hope is to start a normal life again only around early June at best… after the season.
In spite of all the palpable sadness inside the Tea Estates, the tastings of the ‘harvests before the storm’ were extraordinary, the first crops were extremely promising in quality.
Because I fell in love with two batches, but also because it is a way of supporting them, I then bought the batch DJ5/16 of Bloomfield and the DJ25/16 of Orange Valley today, they appeared to me as rare treasures.
Besides, the second batch will have an extra particular taste in the cup, because it is the one from the harvest of March, 31st, right before the events, the last First Flush of the plantations further down the city, so like a sign of destiny.
They will be in Paris soon.
A GLIMPSE OF DARJEELING
To go through Darjeeling is a little like to close your eyes for a few seconds, to dream and to realize that your dream has come true when you open them again…
Here there is like a particular atmosphere, a feeling of being at the summit of Earth, perched in the center of a place that only Kipling would have let out from his imagination.
To run into the mythical little train going through the city, to contemplate the architecture in motion where everything is as a whole with tea, whose numerous plantations line the city, as if its dream had taken you beyond the clouds…
I couldn’t not share a street of it, even if it remains very little of the numerous places where my gaze has turned towards…
DAY 6 : A LAST LOOK AT DARJEELING…
Last day in Darjeeling before going back on the road to Kolkata, and then to Assam where I will visit the gardens with whom we have been working for long years.
Following the fallow lands during winter, the season has also started again for them for a few days and those meetings are essential.
So I am leaving behind me the pickers’ faces, whose beauty features will leave their mark on you forever, the small mounts mottled with green of those wonderful mountains of Bengal, the morning mist soothing the tea plants, the leaves of this precious champagne, whose harvests will continue…
But I am bringing back so many things with me that I go on with the road my heart clinging to the small pleasures of my daily life. As in Bonnières, in the factory in Gyabaree-Millikthong, ‘Making tea is an act of pleasure!’.
DAY 7 :
VISIT IN THE GARDENS OF ASSAM
The soil of Assam is a generous, ocher, red, waterlogged soil, offering a blazing and nutritive nature, prolific agriculture to those cultivating it, mainly for rice, tea and ginger.
It is from Silchar, where I am going back on the road to go to my final destinations, 3 to 4 hours from there by trek, but the path taking me there is already bordered with tea plants.
Little anecdote: at present, I have stopped counting the number of cows, dogs, goats, pigs…on the loose, which are occupying the asphalt space and which we then have to avoid, either if it is here or in New Delhi.
Here, the majority of Indian people are from a Muslim community, we are at the edge of Bangladesh and many are those who have immigrated on these promising soils.
The look towards the stranger, curious, questioner, like frightened, watching the white man that I am, proves to me, if it was useful, that we are not many to go to meet them, but I only need to smile to get one in return and to continue on my path…
O SOIL OF ASSAM!
If you were asking yourselves how the soil of Assam is, offering this tea leave that is so particular with so specific perfumes… I am going to share it with you.
It is like an African soil, which I could project, fantasize, as I could imagine it in my dreams. It is like a wild soil, punctuated by the water irrigating, the plots and the high parasol trees. It is like a welcoming land, where herds stop, where young coats climb and where the Indian woman takes her children for a walk, goes to pick up dead wood for the fire at night.
And it also has this particular geography…, all in curves and lights…
Imagine a plain in which a hundred of big diplodocuses would have fallen asleep, creating as much of small soil mounts on which men would have planted a few tea plants.
Here it is, the soil of Assam.
This red soil, splendid soil where the Camellias blossom…
This red soil that we yet see as virgin and at the state of jungle.
A soil of fire which could only give birth to this very British tea, to which we always add a drop of milk… to soothe it.
A cloud is just raining and calling me inside.
DAY 8 :
SUNNY SUNDAY MORNING
I am already about to leave Assam after long hours of tasting and selection in the heart of plantations.
While my journey is ending, I know that it will extend in the many cups that we will share in the future.
I will keep forever those perfumes with me, modelled on life, which is colored by encounters and pleasures, spiced up with surprises and our differences that a few rays of sunshine always come to caress, in order to remind us of each small pleasure.
India is modelled on its people, huge and generous, composed of a melting pot of knowledge and wealth, not exploited yet.
Tomorrow will be even better than yesterday, it is for sure, if each of us knows to keep brotherhood and love at the bottom of our souls, because being together is a chance and each journey brings me the most beautiful answer.
Last picture of this journey with this beautiful sunset on the Ganges, taken in Kolkata.
This time, I leave behind me the old ‘Britania’ machinery, still giving rhythm to all the factories I could visit with their jingling.
Those ‘small hands’ in the shadow harvesting, taking care of the leaves all along its stages of transformation, testing and offering us those ‘handmade’ beverages of exception.
Those colored streets of Silchar, Darjeeling, Kolkata, New Delhi and of all of the other cities and places which have welcomed me.
And of course, those wonderful plantations, whose treasures I am looking forward to bring back.
Goodbye India, ‘Shukhriya’! (Thank you)
See you soon Paris,
It was a pleasure to share all of those moments with you.
And to extend this journey, we invite you to discover the Darjeelings that the Impertinent Parisian brought back in his suitcase... starting with the Darjeeling S.F.T.G.F.O.P. 'Garden of Milikthong', then the Darjeeling S.F.T.G.F.O.P. 'Garden of Orange Valley', to finish all in sweetness with the Darjeeling S.F.T.G.F.O.P. 'Garden of Phuguri'.