On the Terai plain (area straddling Nepal and India), I’ve seen them use strange crosses to mark the height of tea plants. The cross is stuck into the ground and only the shoots growing above the horizontal bar are plucked. It makes this cheerful plucker look a bit like a tea missionary.
In the mountains of Nepal, people still believe in the Yeti. I’ve not had the opportunity to meet the Abominable Snowman myself, but I’ve heard plenty about him from the villagers. What I do know is that he is not abominable and is not always the size that people claim. Around the Kanchenjunga Tea Estate (Nepal), the yetis, of which there are many in the region, are not even a metre high.
I wonder if the magic of the Himalayan landscapes might have a part to play in all this. The filaments of mist flanking the mountains, the trees that appear and disappear with the changing winds, which are so full of humidity they feel as thick as cotton, the paths that fade into the clouds… When the sky merges with the ground, it is easy to lose your bearings.
In some regions of the world, tea plucking is only done by women, while men are responsible for other jobs. It’s the case in India and central Sri Lanka, where men employed on the plantations tend the soil and prune the tea plants. Some people will tell you the reason for this is probably that women are more nimble-fingered and take better care of the fragile and precious leaves.
But most of the time, like here in the north of Ilam Valley, eastern Nepal, opposite Darjeeling accross the border, the village men and women do the same tasks, including tea plucking. It is also the case in China and Taiwan. And in Japan, it is not rare to see a man carefully plucking the tea leaves and a woman behind the wheel of a tractor.
Is there really a reason for these practices? Well, let’s say that where the British used to be and where there are large tea plantations, the roles of men and women are different and the work is not always shared out in a way that seems fairest to us.
In Ilam (Nepal), horses are still used to transport tea leaves. These two young men have walked for two hours to reach the place where the tea is processed, so they can sell their fresh tea leaves. Hanging against the horses’ flanks are sacks weighing around 20 kilos each. They try to avoid making this long journey on a rainy day, otherwise the cargo can get damaged as it begins to ferment.