Friday was our first morning at Glenburn Tea Estate, and also Lexie’s birthday! After sleeping in until 7 and enjoying a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, eggs, and a half dozen other western and Indian breakfast dishes, we were ready to do something active. Our plan for the day was to take the Rungeet River hike which winds through the tea plantation before ending up down by the river.
The Rungeet River is the larger of two rivers that run alongside the tea estate. The Rungeet River hike itself is only about five miles, but because you’re hiking in the mountains, it can take around three hours to reach the river. Thankfully, the majority of the hike (if you leave from the estate) is downhill, but I still wouldn’t necessarily call it easy.
I expected that this high up in the mountains the air would be chilly, but even at 6,000 feet it was still hot and humid. (I don’t think anyone gets cold in India, ever.) Our view as we began the Rungeet River hike was spectacular. It was still pretty foggy and drizzly, the same as yesterday, but we got to see several of the mountains when the sun would peek out from behind the clouds.
We had two tour guides walking with us, one of which spoke English. Occasionally she would stop and tell us about the tea plants and how things work on the plantation. We learned that it takes five years for a tea plant to mature, and that Darjeeling tea is actually made up of quite a few different types of tea plants, not just one.
On this portion of the hike, tea plants cover nearly all the available space on the ground – they are even planted on the steeper parts of the hillside where more experienced pickers carefully gather them.
As we meandered down the trail, we passed through some of the villages in Glenburn. Several kids were walking to school and we got another enthusiastic welcome from them, just like we did in Jaipur.
We passed some chickens and saw their coop, a pretty nice one compared to the living conditions of the chickens we saw in Mumbai. Seeing them made me very homesick for our girls back home. (I worried about them a lot while we were on our trip!)
Eventually we came to an area where some of the women were picking tea leaves. Their hands moved faster than anything I’ve ever seen – grabbing the leaves, tossing the useful part in the basket on their back, and discarding the rest on the ground. It’s almost like magic how quickly they work over an area and move on to the next.
They were kind enough to let my sister try out carrying the tea basket, which has to be worn using a head strap across the forehead. They got tickled watching her carefully pick the leaves and toss them into the basket, a thousand times slower than they do it.
I really enjoyed spending some time with them using our guide as a translator. Being a tea picker is considered a pretty high level job in this area. If you secure a position as a tea picker, then your family is considered to be doing very well. But it is not an easy job – they have to do this every day, rain or shine, often on a steep incline. There is also pressure to meet a certain quota each day, so resting your neck and back from the weight of the basket isn’t an option. I really admire the strength of these women!
The Rungeet River hike was beautiful and such a fun experience, but I was making this hike just weeks after I’d fractured my legs, which made it all the more difficult. The last quarter of a mile, Cory had to hold my hand the whole way because I kept slipping.
When we started to hear the river, I knew we couldn’t be far. Occasionally we’d catch glimpses of it through the trees – it was like a beacon for a weary traveler! After three hours, we finally reached level ground. I’ll have pictures of the river and the picnic we shared down there tomorrow!
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