Tea Travel Stories
MAKAIBARI ORGANIC TEA ESTATE
Darjeeling, India. April, 2006
“Healthy Soil is Healthy Mankind,” is one of many passionate quotes from Rajah Banerjee, the ruler of Makaibari Tea Estate! This organic, bio-dynamic tea garden was quite the experience for tea lovers; a living organism in and of itself. Magical insects, tea harvesters, organically raised cattle, waterfalls and wild flowers make up a huge part of this wonderland.
I travelled to this garden by Jeep on a wild, windy road with Lado, a tea devotea from the Czech Republic. Our scenic route through Himalayan highlands led us to the garden’s gate around noon, where many school children ran to greet us with bright, exciting smiles. The sign in front of us, “Organic Makaibari” was a great first impression of their tea processing. Lado and I toured the tea factory where processing of 1st Flush Darjeeling was taking place. The smells of muscatel leaves, almost grape-like, filled the air as we watched the steps in fully fermenting black teas: withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, then hand sorting the SFTGFOP-Organic tea. Makaibari’s logo, a green flower blossom, was stamped everywhere and their tea chests for exporting teas were all labeled ‘fair traded organic.’
Marching towards us in a firm manner in the drying room was Rajah, the tea king of Makaibari. His thick, dramatic Hindi/British accent was quite the laugh as he expressed his full-hearted welcome to his land. He was very intriguing, and unlike some other gardens owners in Darjeeling where we needed special permits to enter their gardens, didn’t seem to mind our impromptu arrival. Rajah invited us up to his office for a warm, brisk cup of Muskatel First Flush Darjeeling. Lado and I shared our reasons for visiting Makaibari and Rajah was delighted that we flew from US/Czech to visit India for DARJEELING TEA!
Speaking a mile a minute, Rajah gave us a brief history of his garden as we sipped his fine nectar from the dryer that day! This man was extremely passionate and devoted to this land and his people. I will never forget him saying that if he were to pass on or sell the tea garden he would donate it to the tea ladies. “Without the ladies the garden is impossible,” he would say as he honored their sisterhood and happiness throughout their working days. He knew everyone on the land by name and always gave the workers and children fresh peppermints he makes with organic mint leaf and stevia, an herbal sweetener.
Makaibari is home to hundreds of eco-friendly workers who live together in a village raising animals organically, farming hormone free meats, organic vegetables, compost matter and, of course, Darjeeling Tea! This place was my dream land. Rajah even offered me a job! Every step I took throughout this tea garden was very sacred. As I walked the paths, sparkles of quartz and mica crystals filled the soil. The ground felt very charged here, not to mention thriving organic Camellia Sinensis tea plants everywhere. YES! I liked how the tea gardens were not super tidy or perfect looking. Rajah explained this is how you keep the tea bushes and other living things happy. He was quick to point out the different insects, flowers and trees which he claimed were the happiest of the land, so comfortable in their natural habitats. He even noticed a pair of love bugs on his leg, ‘BRILLIANT’ he said!
The Tea Deva, a pride and joy of Makaibari, is a Camellia plant-looking insect who is occasionally found hugged to the tea leaves. This insect is said to only be found in this region of India. If a tea lady finds a Tea Deva while plucking, Rjah will give her a 2000 Rupee bonus! He then takes the insect to be studied because no one is quite sure exactly what it is, except that it has a symbiotic relationship with tea plants. Unfortunately I did not see one on my visit, but the other devotees, who visited Makaibari the next day did!
As Rajah walked us through this 7 mile wonderland we stumbled across many western herbal plants; such as peppermint, chamomile, witch hazel, valerian root, dandelions and neem trees, a plant native to India good for skin and full body cleansing.
Rajah explained the fascinating procedures for Makaibari’s composting ingredients. Each of these types of herbs plays a huge part in the steps of awakening the tea garden as well as putting it to sleep at night. Identifying these herbs with Rajah, he explained how the compost is an actual breathing, living organism which keeps the tea garden alive. It is awoken with mints and dandelions in the morning, chamomile and other herbs for an afternoon nap and finally when the tea ladies are finished picking for the day they spray a substance made of stevia and valerian root which is good for deep sleep and good dreams. This was truly amazing! Who would have thought that this man has taken many western and Indian herbs to create a living tea garden!
I was also given a book written by Rajah called, “The Wonders of Darjeeling.” Its home is on the book shelf here in our tea room, so as Rajah would say, “Have a Look!!”
by Andrew Snavely