Darjeeling facts and figures

During a recent stay in Ilam Valley, I took the opportunity to meet several Darjeeling planters, and talked with them at length about the situation in the district. This is the latest news I can bring you, as well as a few figures to help you understand. In 2017, 80% of the Darjeeling harvest was lost. Ninety percent of the autumn harvest alone was lost. The separatist leader is now in hiding, and 105 days of strikes have resulted in no concrete gains for the population. They don’t know who will pay for the massive financial losses suffered by the tea plantations, of course, but also by everyone whose business relates to tourism. Then there are the shop-keepers who had to remain closed for more than three months. Throughout this stand-off between the autonomists and the government of Western Bengal, many people who were living in the mountains left to find work elsewhere. Now, 30% of this population have gone, and we don’t know if they will return. And most people who live in the mountains work in the tea fields. Despite this set-back, the herbs that had grown over the tea plants have been pulled up. There’s still a lot of work to do to cut back the bushes, though. Normally they are cut back every four or five years, but this winter, because the plants were left to grow for three months, they must be cut back to form what’s known as the plucking table. This winter pruning will delay next spring’s Darjeelings, which are usually harvested from the beginning of March. Darjeeling’s planters are unanimous in their view that there won’t be any teas in 2018 before around 20th March, and even then, only a few. The harvesting period will be shorter, the quantities smaller, and the prices higher. Another subject all our planters agree on is that if the separatists go on strike again, they will allow the tea plantations to operate normally so that people don’t suffer any more than they have to.


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Darjeeling lacks a workforce

Darjeeling is a place of contrasts right now. Life has resumed throughout the district. Once again, the roads, shops and hotels are open, the tea plantations too. But there is much work to be done, as the tea plants have disappeared beneath the weeds. This is not serious for the shrubs, they’re in good conditions, but all the vegetation needs clearing, and then the precious camellia sinensis must be cut back to their initial size. Sadly, there is a lack of manpower in Darjeeling. During the three months of protests in favour of regional autonomy, many men left the mountains to find work elsewhere. And now, the plantations don’t have enough people to do the clearing and cutting back. Yet this work is essential if there is to be a good harvest next spring, otherwise there won’t be enough Darjeeling tea, and fake Darjeelings, which are already in circulation, will flood the market. That would be a catastrophe for Darjeeling, and I hope with all my heart it will never come to that. We will have to pay close attention to the situation.


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Fine teas in the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains

The current tension in Darjeeling, although it seems finally to be easing, has guided my path toward new vistas this month. In the foothills of the Dhauladhar Mountains, a stone’s throw from Kashmir, a few tea plantations are well worth the detour—not only for their majestic view of the Himalayas, but also for the hard work of several local producers, which is unquestionably paying off. For decades, the region produced a relatively ordinary green tea for local consumption, but more recently, if you look hard enough, you can find a wide variety of more artisanal teas to delight the palate. All while gazing at the Dhauladhars, naturally.

 


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

The situation is dangerous in Darjeeling

The situation in Darjeeling has become dangerous. All the shops have shut, the hotels have closed, the roads are blocked. Work has ground to a halt on the tea plantations. It has been like this for 70 days. We are facing a major shortage. Worse, clashes with the army have left some dead. I don’t know if a political solution will be reached between the central government, the leaders of West Bengal and the separatists. I don’t know if demands to create a new state, Gorkhaland, within the Union of India, will lead to anything. What I do know is that the plantations are under threat and that it will take several weeks to get back to a situation where they can start producing tea again. It will require a massive effort in terms of clearing the ground and pruning before the bushes can grow in the right way for harvesting. The summer crop is already spoilt. The autumn harvest could be saved if the conflict ends quickly. Otherwise, we will have to stop tasting Darjeelings for a while, and instead send positive thoughts to everyone living in those mountains; the people I know well and am so fond of, who do not deserve to live through such difficult times.


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

Tension in Darjeeling

For the past three weeks, tensions have been running high in Darjeeling. Businesses, roads and plantations have shut down, tourists have been asked to leave. The reason for the general strike is that the people of Nepali origin, who make up the majority of the population, are being forced to learn Bengali at school – a language from a region they hate. Darjeeling is part of West Bengal, which is resented by the independence movement, who want to create a new state within the Indian Union: Gorkhaland. This issue has been boiling over for the past 30 years, and demonstrations are frequent. With a three-week strike taking place during the summer harvest season, the plantations will struggle to cope this year. This is on top of the 30% decline in volumes harvested due to the dry spring this year.


Posted in Country : India by François-Xavier Delmas | Tags : , ,

The author

François-Xavier Delmas is a passionate globetrotter. He’s been touring the world’s tea plantations for more than 20 years in search of the finest teas. As the founder of Le Palais des Thés, he believes that travelling is all about discovering world cultures. From Darjeeling to Shizuoka, from Taiwan to the Golden Triangle, he invites you to follow his trips as well as share his experiences and emotions.

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