Tea Tourism In Bengal – The Glenburn experience

Distance from Kolkata: 660 km
Driving Time: 15.5 hours 
Road Trip: 6.7 days

Tea tourism is India’s answer to what is known as wine tourism in Europe. The lush green, rolling tea plantations, the tranquil ambience and reviving the old world charm and luxuriant existence of British planters are all part of the experience of tea tourism.

Nestled in the foothills of the snow covered Himalayas, Darjeeling – so long known for its excellent tea, is spreading out the red carpet to attract tourists to its age-old tea estates. The bungalows within the tea gardens offer the best of comforts; a walk or drive through the fields with trained guides learning how tea bushes grow, pluck the ‘two leaves and a bud’ that is later processed into the best tea leaves and end up in your tea cup!  The day ends with a Tea Tasting Session where one can tease his various senses to recognise the differences in aroma, flavour and appearance of tea leaves produced during different times of the year.

A trip to the tea estates would also entail interacting with the friendly and simple workers as you move around the tea garden. Enjoy the multitude of birds, butterflies and flora that add to the diverse but vibrant landscape in the garden.

Although Phaskowa Tea Estate and Makaibari are some of the destinations in Bengal for tea tourists, Team WHEELS chose to explore Glenburn Tea Estate.

Glenburn Tea Estate is located near Ghoom (on way to Darjeeling) beside Takdah Tea Estate and you may opt for any one of the two routes given below.

Route 1: You may choose to proceed towards Jorebanglow (on way to Teesta Bazar) from Ghoom. Thereafter continue through Teen (3) Mile, Chaw (6) Mile, Takdah Police Station to finally reach Saat (7) Mile. Then, take a sharp left turn from Saat (7) Mile towards Singrimtam and Glenburn Tea Estate is just ahead. Glenburn is 21 km away from Ghoom and will take about 45 minutes to reach the tea estate. This route is a steep descent and the last phase, in particular, is quite narrow and 4×4 SUVs are therefore, preferred.

Route 2: If you want to reach Glenburn directly from Siliguri then proceed via Sevoke Road and continue straight keeping Coronation Bridge on your right. Thereafter continue through Kalijhora, Lohapool, Teesta Bazaar, Peshoke Tea Garden, Egaro (11) Mile, Aat (8) Mile, Saat (7) Mile (7 Mile), Singrimtam and reach Glenburn Tea Estate. This route is a steep climb from Peshoke and would again require a 4×4 vehicle. Glenburn is 76 km from Sevoke Hotel at Siliguri and would ideally take around three and a half hours.

WHEELS’ TIP: Avail the 4×4 air-conditioned Scorpios provided by Glenburn Tea Estate, the cost of which is included in the package. So just reach New Jalpaiguri Station or Bagdogra and let Glenburn management take care of the rest.

Glenburn Tea Estate
The finest name in Indian tea tourism is probably Glenburn Tea Estate.  The tea garden is a heavenly retreat, the estate spreading over 1900 acres in the hills, located high above the River Rungeet, flowing downstream and overlooking the mighty Kanchenjunga. Set up by a Scottish tea company in 1859, Glenburn has now passed into the hands of one of India’s pioneering tea planting families – The Prakashes.

As our 4×4 Scorpio trudged its way up to Glenburn, Neilu Sharma, the beautiful wife of Sanjay- Glenburn’s efficient manager, and who is in charge of hospitality, greeted us warmly. We were invited to have tea in the huge, main verandah, overlooking the mountains. Relaxing at the bungalows and enjoying the breathtaking scenery that Glenburn is so famous for, was an absolutely stunning experience. The remarkable view of the mountains ranges forming a semi-circle, with Sikkim on right, Darjeeling on left and Kanchenjunga in front, is simply next to heaven, if only one can afford it.

The guests at Glenburn are accommodated in one of the two bungalows – the Burra Bunglow and Water Lily, each comprising 4 suites, verandahs and gardens accessible from all rooms. The Burra Bungalow was home to generations of planters and remains the focal point of Glenburn hospitality. It has a sweeping main verandah, 4 cosy suites, a grand dining and drawing room.

All the 8 suites at Glenburn have been charmingly decorated, each following a different theme and having a fireplace. Most of the bedrooms offer uninhibited views of the mountains and are furnished with antique furniture and come with, private balconies, bay windows and private sit-outs. All attached bathrooms are as lavish as the rooms with antique free-standing bathtubs, walk-in rain showers and old fashioned washstands with Venetian mirrors and imported toiletries.

As their names suggest, each suite offers a unique experience for the guests. For instance, at the Planters’ Suite, the regal four-poster bed made of Spanish mahogany, takes you back to the days of the East India Company when British and Anglo-Indian planters ruled the gardens. The old maps and prints, oriental figures in the Toile de Jouy furnishings, transport you back to those grand old days while you relax in front of a crackling fire in the privacy of your grand room. For a breath of fresh air, step into the garden from your private sit-out and enjoy the view of the glorious mountains.

The meals at Glenburn are a pleasure too. All meals, snacks and refreshments are included in the tariff.  The menus are planned and served according to the personal preference of each guest at the main dining hall.

The lunch is usually served at the verandah whereas the dinner is a formal candle-lit-sit-down one, served at the dining hall and the seating arrangement is pre-determined one with place settings. The menu comprise cuisine ranging from the local fare or traditional Indian dishes to exotic South-East Asian and Mediterranean or European dishes, making full use of the fresh Italian herbs and salad leaves, home-grown at the Glenburn garden. Family recipes including tea-leaf pakoras, Tibetan momos, shredded lamb, Burmese khow suey, chocolate brownies, all served to you with a discrete Glenburn touch – prepared and served by the most disciplined service staffs.

Before dinner, you can have your drinks – at the verandah or under the stars, in the lawn with a bonfire crackling. Dinner is served in the dining room at a large oval table with place settings and elegant English china, fine stemware, and embroidered napkins. The spread is at par with or even better than some of the best restaurants. Generally served between 7pm and 9pm, everyone sits together at the same dining table – a lovely way to meet people from all over the world.

Lunch is also a wonderful affair, set at a smaller table on the verandah with a degree of informality. The meals are simpler but just as divine. Breakfast is also served here – generally bread, egg, sausage, bacon with a multitude of accompaniments. And of course, you are free to eat in the privacy of your room. If you’re traveling for the day, you can be certain a delightful meal will be packed for you.

The tours
Glenburn is the perfect combination of natural beauty and a luxuriant existence. For the outdoor tours at Glenburn, one may opt for hiking to the beautiful spots during the day. Most of the walks take you downhill and last between 1.5 hours to 3 hours. Guests may also opt for a drive to these spots, costs of which are included in the tariff.

You may drive down through the Simbong Forest to the River Rung Dung on their Scorpios and cross the river on foot by a small suspension bridge that takes you into the Badamtam forest. You may also reach the Manjitar suspension footbridge which is an hour’s walk from Glenburn, leading you to the old royal kingdom of Sikkim. The bridge was built by the British in 1902 after the original cane bridge was washed away by the floods of 1899. Cross the bridge into Sikkim and wander around Manjitar village. Halt for a cup of tea in one of the village stalls. Lunch is served on the way. The naturalist accompanying you will help you identify the birds, butterflies, occasional animals and the rich plant life found in the forest.

Drive for another 10 minutes to reach the neighbouring Tukdah Tea Estate or to the the track leading to the hilltop located above Glenburn. A breathtaking view awaits you at the summit where a bungalow stood once and was burnt down and never re-built. A picnic lunch will be served and you can easily spend a few hours here enjoying the panorama of mountains, valleys, rivers, pine forests and tea garden from a height of a few thousand feet above the Glenburn bungalows.

The return journey takes you through a series of little hamlets, with friendly villagers eager to interact with you and show you their pretty cottages. You will eventually descend into the Glenburn Lamha Haata Orange Orchard and the local church and a convent school located nearby. You may wish to visit only the orchard and church on a shorter half day trip, climbing up to the church takes about 20 minutes and then after another 10 minutes of descent, you reach the orchard. The Irish Cluny Sisters run the church and school. Mass is held every Sunday and the Sisters are happy to meet the guests over a cup of tea or coffee. Wander around the school, meet the children and watch them play with the animals and their young ones that they look after.

Glenburn’s Fine Cut Orange Marmalade comes from the oranges of the Lamha Haata Orange Orchard. From here you can enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding hillside and Darjeeling Town on the opposite hilltop. Wander through the fruits and vegetable patches and pick a bundle of fresh flowers to take back with you to your room before you start your return journey to the main track where your 4×4 awaits you to take you back to the Burra Bungalow.

Breakfast or lunch at Glenburn Campsite, laid out on the bank of River Rungeet, is a treasure for the whole life. For the Campsite, you will gradually descend from a height of around 3000 feet, down to the River Rangeet, which lies at around 800 feet. The surrounding forest contain a rich diversity of birds, butterflies, flora and plant life, as well as animals typical to this habitat.

Overnight stay at this campsite with security guards and a dedicated vehicle may also be opted for in the same package at no extra cost. The Glenburn Campsite offers a truly adventurous yet comfortable experience in the middle of the wilderness. The wooden lodge, raised on high platform, offers accommodation for two families in two spacious rooms, each with an attached bathroom. Both rooms offer spectacular views of the forest, river and Sikkim on the opposite bank. The verandah is a lovely place to sit and relax on at any time of the day.

Kerosene lanterns are used to light up the lodge at night and dinner is served according to each guest’s preference – either as a candle-lit meal down by the river or on the lodge verandah, which is enclosed with wire netting to keep the bugs out. Barbeques can also be organized, and a bonfire is always a popular option. After dinner, retire to your bed in the lodge, with a hot-water bottle and drift off to sleep, accompanied by the soothing sounds of the river flowing nearby.

The next morning, tea or coffee would be served in bed and you can watch the sunrise and then wander along the river to catch a glimpse of the birds that inhabit the area. Return to the campsite for a piping hot English breakfast and perhaps a refreshing dip in the river.

The fishing season at Glenburn starts in early October and runs through until about March. If you like angling you may try your hands out here. Rafting, open to swimmers, can be organized in the cold water during the winter season since the rivers are snow fed and the water level is high. Rafting trips start at the Glenburn Campsite on the River Rungeet which is joined by the mighty Teesta further downstream. The staff awaits you at the end of the trip with dry clothes, a picnic hamper and refreshments. There is an extra charge for river rafting ranging from Rs 1200 to Rs 2000 per person depending on the size of the group. Minimum group size is 2 and maximum 8 depending upon the size of the raft.

On returning to the Glenburn main bungalows, the masseurs and masseuses offer a gentle full body massage using Darjeeling green tea oil on an extra pay. This can be followed by a green tea bath soak or a steam treatment. Reflexology treatments with an invigorating fresh mint and chamomile foot soak may also be on offer to end the long day.

Our stay at Glenburn was an ecstatic experience; let’s hope the place would continue to exude that old world charm in this fast changing age.

Glenburn nightly rate includes:
Chauffeur-driven car from Bagdogra Airport, New Jalpaiguri Station, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok, Pelling, Rinchenpong to and from Glenburn Tea Estate and are at the guests’ disposal throughout the stay

All meals – including picnics/barbeques, refreshments throughout the day
Complimentary tea, coffee, mineral water, fresh juice and soft drinks
All laundry, shoe polishing and sewing services
Personal tours of the tea estate and factory and a tea tasting session
Optional overnight stay at Camp Glenburn Log Cabin beside River Rangeet
Nature and bird walks through private forest areas, along river fronts, followed by picnic lunches

Day trips to Darjeeling Town and Kalimpong
Tariff at Glenburn per night (1.10.12 – 30.9.13)
Rs 23,000 per room for 2 persons sharing on double occupancy
Rs 14,500 per room for 1 person on single occupancy
Rs 6,000 per extra (third) adult, sharing room
Rs 2,500 per child sharing parents’ room (3 to 15 years)    (No charge for children below 3 years)
(Service tax @ 6.18% is applicable on 75% of total amount)

Glenburn Tea Estate (Tourism Division) DLX Ltd.
Kanak Building, 41, Chowringhee Road, Kolkata 700071
Cellphone: 9830070213
Email: info@glenburnteaestate.com

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