Alex Harney in Darjeeling 2012
September 18, 2012
We arrived to Darjeeling eager to get to work filming the process of making the fabled and delicious first flush tea. Having spent two weeks prior in Dehradun helping coach the Indian Ice Hockey team to its first international win, things had gotten a little stagnant, and my girlfriend Caitrin (assistant on this trip) and I were getting restless. The flight to Bagdogra gave us the first inkling we were heading somewhere special, after one stop we were given a spectacular view of the Himalayas (unfortunately this would be the only time we saw the snow capped peaks.)
Once we gathered our gear we were picked up by the factory manager of Okayti. Immediately we were immersed in tea fields, as they surround everything in western bengal. We had taken the only “direct” flight to Darjeeling and as such had not slept the night before. I tried my best to stay awake for the entirety of 2 1/2 hour drive to the garden but quickly fell asleep. I woke up in the hills surrounded by even more tea. I had been to tea growing areas in China, Taiwan, and Japan almost 8 years before, but the beauty was unlike anything else.
We were greeted by the Estate Manager, and were offered a moment to rest and “freshen up” after which we got into a lengthy discussion with the manager on his garden’s history. Having effectively burnt the daylight to shoot in, we sat and had dinner with the manager and were treated to a fantastic home cooked meal. Once again we had no trouble turning in and slept through a 5.3 earthquake.
By the morning and after breakfast and the previous day’s tea we were energized and itching to go. We first paid respect to our tea broker Marcus’s fathers (Bernd Wulf) memorial. If you have had the chance to read my father’s treatise on tea (if you haven’t you should) you would know that Bernd was instrumental in revolutionizing the first flush in darjeeling. Bernd was also particularly fond of the Okayti garden (with good reason) and had requested that upon his passing his ashes be scattered from the top of the garden. The estate had taken this to the next level and had built a monument in his honor. Any visit to Okayti ( or Darjeeling for that matter ) could not pass without a moment to reflect and pay homage to this great man.
Bernd’s Memorial is at the top of the Okayti Estate on its boundary with the Thurbon estate and has an all encompassing view of the fields and the mountainous border with Nepal. From the top of this hill you can truly feel the magic and the connection that Bernd felt for the plant, the place and the people. Keeping this in mind we started filming. Unfortunately in Darjeeling this year there has been a lack in the early spring rain which usually allows for near constant plucking. Instead today was an off day for the estate so we had the garden to ourselves for the most part. We got some fantastic, serene and beautiful footage of the gardens and by noon we had shot a fair deal. The manager took us to the nearby town of Mirik for a change of pace where we visited a buddhist monastery, had tea and picked up his daughter. Later that evening we took a quick tour of the factory which is a mere 50 meters from the border of Nepal. All that separates the two countries is a stream and a little wooden bridge. Unfortunately due to the rough start of the first flush season the factory was not running. We did however get a chance to taste the first two pluckings of the season and despite the lack of volume that the garden would , the quality of the tea is not lacking.
We had another fantastic dinner and quickly went to bed as we had an early morning interview to do with the manager and then head to the next garden Selimbong.