Next on the Darjeeling tour was a visit to Okayti Estate, a three hour drive from Goomtee. The Darjeeling area, bordering Nepal, is populated predominantly by Gorkhas of ethnic Nepali background. On the way, we passed through many villages, each plastered with flags which I didn’t recognise and slogans painted on walls. The Gorkhas have long been campaigning for a separate state from West Bengal, Gorkhaland, to be established in the Indian union so that they can control distribution of resources around the Darjeeling hills.
Like Goomtee, Okayti Estate is renowned for top quality Darjeeling tea. Situated on the border with Nepal and ranging in elevation from 2700ft to 6800ft, it is a beautiful estate on steep and impeccably well tended hills. It was established in 1856, making it one of the oldest tea estates in Darjeeling.
The estate employs 1000 permanent staff. All staff and dependants, totalling around 4000 people live on the estate, living almost entirely self sufficient lives. There are schools, hospitals, shops and markets located on the estate. Okayti Estate also boasts the oldest tea processing factory in Darjeeling, established in 1888, alongside one of the newest, established in 2004. The estate covers a total of 600 hectares, of which 550 acres are under plantation.
Okayti Estate was originally known as Rangdoo Estate. The name Okayti orginates from the time when the most renowned tea gardens in India would send samples of their teas to Queen Victoria for first refusal. For a number of years, the Queen tasted tea from Rangdoo Estate and “gave it the ok”, indicating that she wanted to buy it. So Rangdoo Estate became known as the estate with the “OK Tea”. Now locals pronounce the name of the estate as “O kai tee”.
A huge range of teas is produced at Okayti, ranging from traditional first and second flush Darjeelings to white teas, green teas and even oolong teas. While I was visiting, first flush teas were being produced. At JING we are proud to stock three beautiful teas from Okayti including two second flush black teas and a bright and refreshing white tea with delicious hints of muscatel. After driving around the estate in a sturdy 4WD vehicle along some very steep roads, we visited the new factory for a quick tour and to taste a range of their very freshest first flush teas.
The samples for tasting ranged from those produced 10 days previously to those produced on the day and day before I visited. 10 days after their production, the teas have reached maturity, the flavours are balanced and settled. Those manufactured on the day and day before I visited had a beautifully smooth, rounded and honeyed sweetness.
These tastes were still present in the 10 day old sample, but had receded slightly, creating deliciously balanced tea which completely quenched my thirst.The factory is located just metres from the border with Nepal, marked by a small river. Mainly just to be able to say I had done it, I had a quick walk over to Nepal, by crossing this bridge.
That afternoon I jumped in a taxi bound for New Jalpaiguri for the return train journey on the overnight Darjeeling Mail to Calcutta.
It was a slightly hairy ride, as the light faded and it grew dark, it seemed that my driver, Dinesh, was actually a little short-sighted.After a number of very near misses while trying to overtake slower vehicles, I managed to communicate that I wanted to arrive in NJP alive, rather than as a road traffic accident statistic.
Luckily, we had picked up one of Dinesh’s friends on the way down the mountains. He was keen to drive so they switched places and we got to the train station with some time to spare.After my experiences at Calcutta Sealdah station, it was quite a relief to be legitimately and safely installed on my first Indian train. I had however mistakenly thought that there would be a dining carriage on the train.
Fortunately, my compartment companions had brought some food along with them for their evening meal and were kind enough to share some of it with me.We sat contentedly scoffing the food, a mixture of potato and cauliflower curries, with bread and rice, with our hands, as the train skipped across the countryside towards Calcutta.The next morning we awoke in the outskirts of Calcutta, pulling slowly into the huge station along with many other local commuter trains, each with passengers clinging to the sides and leaning out of the gaps where doors used to be.
Jumping down from the train, I readied myself for the attention I was bound to receive from local taxi drivers outside the station. I bagged myself a fairly good deal and we set out for the airport for my next flight to Coimbatore to visit the Nilgiris.
Next in the series – Part 5 – The Nilgiris