A Christmas Break to Darjeeling and Calcutta

Tea in Darjeeling and Culture in Kolkata

A Christmas Break in Darjeeling and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)

I’ve always taken my morning cup of tea for granted – dunk a teabag in a mug of boiling water and splash in the milk. That was until we visited and stayed a few days at Glenburn Tea Estate, nestled in the hills just outside of Darjeeling. The first thing we learnt was that adding milk is sacrilege. As is the teabag. However, we learnt so much more than that from Sanjay, the enthusiastic estate manager, on a morning tour and tasting session. For example, their famous Darjeeling brew will have a subtle difference in its taste depending on the time of year it is plucked (plucked, not picked), the elevation and the aspect on which it grows – what the French call the terroir.

Darjeeling. Glenburn Tea Estate 6Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling 

There is more to the Glenburn experience beyond tea.  A working estate since 1860, there are eight beautiful guest rooms which retain the original charm of the era. At Glenburn, you are made to feel at home and during our stay we were pampered from start to finish. Neena is the perfect host; always on hand and somehow able to gauge what you’re in the mood for whether it be a cup of tea (of course) and a chat, or a stroll and a picnic or simply a bit of solitude in the lovely garden.

Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling 

Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling 

The views from the bungalows are wonderful with Darjeeling perched on the hill across and valley and spectacular views of the mountains on the other. Although sitting on the veranda with a good book is an idyllic way to pass the time, there is plenty on offer to tempt further exploration of the area. The surrounding hills are perfect for day hikes and we did several during our stay. We walked to the local village, passing the tea pluckers busy at work, and down to the river where a delicious lunch was waiting.  Food is one of the highlights at Glenburn Tea Estate so the walks are a great way to justify tasting all that is on offer, including the homemade bread and cakes as well as the home-grown vegetables and salads.  It is also possible to visit Darjeeling as a day trip from Glenburn, but the danger is that once you arrive at Glenburn you just don’t want to leave!

Darjeeling. Glenburn Tea Estate 151The lodge at Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling 

But all good things do come to an end and after a few days, we headed down from the hills to Calcutta, or Kolkata as it was renamed in 2001. Kolkata is a city that is well associated with the British but what I didn’t realise is that the city was built purely for the British. Before Job Charnock (c. 1630-1693) decided it was the perfect trading post for the East India Company, the area was marshland.

In response to guest feedback, Glenburn are now offering their experience and expertise in this historic city and we spent the day exploring places that most visitors don’t even know exist.  It was a fascinating day and we learnt so much more about a city that, between us, we have visited several before. We began with an early morning visit to the flower market, continued on foot past historical buildings and churches, stopped by street vendors and had brunch in a family home. The day ended perfectly with a cruise on the Hooghly River, watching the sun set over Howrah Bridge and enjoying a nice cup of tea – from the Glenburn Estate of course. Whether you choose a guided tour or not, Kolkata is a great city for exploring on foot, the Bengalis are extremely friendly people and the famous Fairlawns Hotel is a great place for a cold Kingfisher beer at the end of a busy day. 

Calcutta Flower market-21Kolkata Flower Market 

BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square), Kolkata

Victoria Memorial (left) and Howrah Bridge (right)

BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square) Area Kolkata India (1)-20Kolkata’s distinctive yellow taxis