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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationGlenburn Tea Estate is one of the most special and unique places in India. The former quarters of a British tea estate owner has been meticulously restored in grand style and its lounges, verandahs, gardens and rooms are the perfect place to relax after traveling around India. At Glenburn, the hospitality is genuine and your every need is taken care of.

You may like to stay in the Planters’ Suite with a bed so high you’ll need steps to get into it, or the Kanchenjunga Suite with a view of the third largest mountain in the world. If you’re a woman traveling alone, the Simbong Butterfly RoomGlenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodation is the perfect choice; it is pink with butterflies everywhere – on the pillows, paintings, and curtains. In this room even the bathtub is painted pink and its four-poster bed peppered with pillows made me feel like a little girl again.

Neena Pradhan is your hostess and makes sure that you are very well fed and happy. For instance, she sent a picnic lunch for me (complete with hot Glenburn tea) with the driver that picked me up in Gangtok (3 1/2 hours away). Upon arrival she will greet you, find out what you want to do while you’re here and seamlessly arrange everything. She oversees all the special touches such as fresh flowers in the rooms and guests being greeted with trays of drinks upon return to the lodge. The owners, Husna-Tara Prakesh and her husband, live in Calcutta and visit when they can. Husna-Tara was there when I was and is attentive to every detail and always is bringing in new improvements. She is Indian but grew up mainly in England and takes the best from both worlds.

Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationOne thing that makes Glenburn unique is that guests all share dinner together around a very large dining room table. The evening begins with drinks and hors d’oeurves either around a large bonfire in the garden or on one of the terraces or verandas of its two houses. A full range of drinks are served as well as Indian wines, and once dinner is announced and the party is brought inside you get the full Glenburn treatment. The table is elegantly set for up to 16 people with fine china and linens brought from England and place cards with each guests’ name on them dispersed around the table for you to find your seat. People who come together are separated and the result is interesting and lively conversations all around.

Dinner is served in formal style by gracious waiters carrying trays from which you serve yourself. It is an extravagant affair. On my first night dinner was a continental feast of many courses. We began with a delicious soup followed by herbed fish, roasted potatoes and onions, green beans, carrots, and crepes with mushrooms and cream. That was followed by apple crumble with both custard and fresh cream and yet another course of local cheeses with sliced apples and tea to finish. Toward the end of the evening dinner conversations were continued out on the verandah with night-caps as others headed off to bed. It felt like a timeless occasion; if you didn’t hear the details of our conversations we could have been in the British Raj era or some other much earlier period in history.

The food is excellent and very clean. The usual precautions of eating in India do not apply here. Normally, you’re told not to eat raw, uncooked foods like salads or even sliced fruits because they’ve been washed in the local water which carries all kinds of bacteria and can leave you very sick. Glenburn uses fresh salad greens from their gardens and washes them in mineral water, so you don’t need to worry, and after traveling three weeks it was so nice to eat salad! Of all the gourmet foods and preparations Glenburn served, their simple salad was my favorite.


Breakfast is served under the pommelo tree and there are several tables, so you can choose to sit with your dinner companions or with your own small group. Once again, it is a nicely prepared and abundant meal. Your many choices include: freshly squeezed juice, fruit, yogurt, granola, porridge, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausages, potato cakes, toast, and Glenburn tea or french-press coffee (which is tough to find in India!).

Another nice thing about Glenburn is that once you arrive you no longer have to pay for anything (except alcohol); all the activities, guides, drivers, meals, laundry service, and even pick ups and drop off’s hours away are included. It’s a welcome change from other resorts where your vacation quickly turns even more expensive as the cost of overpriced laundry service, excursions, and meals quickly add up.

Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationFor excursions you can choose to hike down with a naturalist guide through the tea plantation and villages to the Glenburn Camp next to a river, and then enjoy a fabulous three course barbeque lunch served with a variety of salads while the air is filled with the sound of rapids rushing past. If you like you can continue hiking over a suspension bridge to a small village in Sikkim, or you can relax with a good book while being served fresh lemonade or beer. The hike to Sikkim was fun as the village kids loved getting their pictures taken and would break into big smiles and laughter every time we showed them a photo. From the camp you can take a jeep back up the hill to Glenburn over an extremely skinny, bumpy road. If by chance you meet another vehicle you’ll really see the skill of these drivers as they come inches from the edge while squeezing past one another.

Another must-do is the tea tour; where Sanjay (the manager of the tea plantation) or his assistant shows you the process of making tea. There is a lot to explore: picking, withering, drying, separating, Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationand tasting. I learned so much about tea – such as most of the ‘tea’ that makes it to the west into tea bags is mainly dust and stems and it is also usually about a year old (which means it has lost most of its flavor). To have a good cup of tea you need to use whole tea leaves and steep them for five minutes, also you’re not supposed to drink it too hot as the flavor is not as good. Darjeeling is a prized and delicate tea and should not be taken with milk (also milk degrades tea’s antioxidants and actually creates carcinogens). Glenburn is coming up with a program to sell tea directly to customers and ship it the day after its finished so you can receive fresh tea all year long.

Later in the day you can hike down to a different river with other guests and a guide, as I did, and have a picnic lunch on its wide, sandy beach. If you have another day at Glenburn you could go to Darjeeling for a sightseeing tour, go fishing, or just relax at the lovely lodge.


Visiting the village school at 9 am for the school assembly is a fun pre-breakfast activity. The kids are so cute – they do exercises and sing songs before they file off to their classrooms. Sanjay’s wife, Neilu is in charge of Glenburn’s welfare projects, so she’ll show you around the classrooms as well. Glenburn has helped out the school for the past couple years by paying teachers salaries and buying books. Since they’ve gotten involved many parents have taken their kids out of private schools and put them back in this government school, so the enrollment has gone from 30 kids to 100. Still, it looks pretty dilapidated and some classrooms don’t have dividers between them, so you wonder how two teachers can both manage to teach their groups without a huge amount of distraction.

I loved my time at Glenburn – the only thing I didn’t like was the siren that went off in the early morning each day. Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationThe first day I didn’t know what it was and woke up alarmed. Later, when I asked about it I learned that was how the tea workers were awakened, then another later signaled it was time to start work. There are 1,000 workers on the estate, so it is definitely an authentic working tea estate. But if you are a light sleeper you should bring earplugs. Also, there are no televisions in the rooms – which I loved – but may be a drawback for some people. To me it lent to the timeless feel of the place and made it much more peaceful. There are also only bathtubs (with hand showers) in the washrooms which had the same effect. It was relaxing taking a bath every day in the clawfoot tub – something I really enjoy, but don’t usually have the time for at home.

Glenburn is a unique family-run experience in India and is definitely worth the flight into Siliguri to visit. Be sure to stay at least three or four nights, as no matter how many days you book, I’m sure you’ll want to linger. I was planning to leave in the morning after breakfast on my last day, but wanted to stay longer, so I left in the afternoon after lunch and soaked in the peace of sitting on the verandah for a few hours. Leaving late is a common occurrence, as I noticed the two women who’d left the day before me also changed their plans and left later. Glenburn Tea Estate, Simbong Butterfly Room, Kanchenjunga Suite, Neena Pradhan, Husna-Tara Prakesh, Glenburn Camp, Darjeeling tea, tea tour, travel Darjeeling, Darjeeling unique accomodationNeena says that in fact almost everyone does it unless they have a flight to catch, so do yourself a favor: come to Glenburn and stay long enough to really enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

Details:

http://www.glenburnteaestate.com/

Singles, 12,000 Rupees (about $250), doubles 18,000 Rs (about $380) including airport transfers, all meals, activities, etc.

©Christina Kay Bolton

All Photos ©Nathalie Boscq

 

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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