Tea and paper don’t get on at all well when broken leaves are imprisoned in a cellulose bag and added to a cup with hot water, which we’re told is tea. On the other hand, tea and literature are an inseparable couple, and many writers have dipped their pen in the ink of tea. What could be more pleasurable for a reader than to enjoy one’s newspaper or novel with a teapot at one’s side? I hope you have a wonderful summer.
I’m concerned about the state of the planet, and the proliferation of plastic is one example of this. We might think of tea plantations as idyllic places high in the mountains, some on steep slopes, far from cities, surrounded by beautiful countryside. And all that is true. But tea requires a lot of manpower, and many people live in villages around the plantations. These people buy products that are often packaged in plastic, and this plastic needs disposing of.
On the tea plantations, it’s not unusual to see rubbish lying on the ground between the rows of plants, simply because people don’t think about it and throw away a bag, a packet of cigarettes or biscuits, in the middle of the field. This waste accumulates! The ground is sometimes littered with it after people have eaten their meal. The best solution I’ve seen involves holding a litter-picking day, once a year, for all villagers, including children. The atmosphere is good-spirited, it makes people take more responsibility, and at school on the same day, they talk about the lifetime of the different types of rubbish. A plastic bag will last for 400 years!
For me, tea is more than a goal, it’s a path. I can’t imagine ever knowing everything there is to know about tea. A lifetime isn’t enough. Tea is a path: what’s important to me isn’t arriving, but progressing. Progressing in my knowledge of the plant, in my knowledge of the art of processing the leaves, progressing on my journey through the tea fields to reach the villages where the communities live. Progressing slowly but surely, in a world where everyone is rushing.
I mostly travel alone. I depart alone, I return alone. This solitude encourages me to approach others. I’m more easily accepted by them, to be among them. Alone, you open up to others. We all need other people. Without a travel companion, you make more of an effort to adopt the culture of the people you meet. Alone, you’re more vulnerable, more permeable, more receptive. And that’s a good thing, because I travel to listen.
I visit many places I never want to leave, where I’m surrounded by dreamy landscapes and amazing nature, where I meet such kind and lovely people, but I always come back. I often come back with delicious teas, that’s my job, and with these photos I share with you. I love to share them with you as it’s a way of prolonging my travels, days and weeks later. I show you my photos here, I write a few lines of explanation, and in doing so, I’m transported. Thanks to you I return, I’m back in the mountains I travelled through a little too quickly, and now I have time to contemplate them, here, in your company.
In the Himalayas, people love music. Whenever the opportunity arises, they take up their instruments – sometimes a guitar, sometimes something more traditional – and they sing and dance. Here, with the Limbu people, everyone is wearing traditional dress to celebrate my arrival. They played and danced until the last rays of the setting sun, overlooking magnificent mountains. Later, they lit the fire. It’s a moment of pure happiness.
Divinities differ from country to country, and while some people are celebrating Christmas, on other continents they worship Shiva, or pray to Allah, or follow the words of Buddha. Through my work I’m lucky to come across people from different cultures and religions, and I love this variety. Happily, we don’t all think the same way yet; our customs and rituals change and we speak different languages depending on where we’re born, and I hope this continues as long as the world exists. It makes travel more interesting. Some people follow a religion, others don’t – although the latter are rare in the parts of Asia and Africa I visit. Among them, I find a multitude of different rites. People pray before a wall, from a pulpit, at the foot of a minaret, or around a stupa. They pray to the wind or fire, they place offerings at the foot of simple statuettes. Whoever or whatever you pray to, and even if you don’t pray at all, I wish you all happy holidays!
I like silence. I hate it when people make noise for no reason. I don’t have a television. I don’t see the point of listening to music constantly. I’ve noticed that many people are afraid of silence. They go around with headphones on, they talk even when no-one is listening, their thumb constantly swipes their phone screen. They are filling a void that feels threatening. But what is there to be afraid of? I’m happy with silence. I’m happy surrounded by nature, away from human noise. It’s the same with photos. A good photo needs no commentary. No noise. You can just look at it.
A few days ago, while walking in a remote part of Nepal on a track that winds through hamlets and tea fields, I remembered my first trip to this country a little over ten years ago. I remembered the curfew, the war, the ban on driving at night, the fearful army who pulled your vehicle off the road, made you get out and pointed an automatic weapon at you. I remembered the Maoists who held villagers to ransom, who took their belongings if they couldn’t pay their taxes, and sometimes even one of their sons. I remembered stories of executions, a father or mother in tears. I remembered all this pain, and now, on this little path surrounded by glorious nature, I thought that sometimes we forget to be happy, we forget to see the good things. It’s easy to spend your life lamenting, as if everything was so much better before, as if everything is going to ruins, when sometimes the world is improving. It’s a shame not to think about this, to forget to be happy. So I stopped walking, looked all around me at the incredible landscape in this peaceful country that has put war behind it. I took my time to appreciate it and to feel thankful. Sometimes the world is beautiful.
The mountains covered with tea plants rise so high and the clouds sometimes fall so low that there is no room left for the sky. The clouds cover the green blanket of tea plants with mist, envelop them in a layer of cotton wool, caress them, and then disappear. I could stay for hours, in each tea field I walk through, contemplating the beauty of the landscape. And the more I climb, the greater the reward. Tea doesn’t grow above 2,000 to 2,200 metres, but at those altitudes the views are breathtaking. If the mist lets you see them.