The little Darjeeling train is special because it likes to cross the road a number of times. It travels slowly, and so inevitably creates traffic jams, which the tourists love because it gives them time to take pictures.
I like the fact that this little train of Darjeeling has the same familiarity with my blog as it has with the road, and crosses it from time to time, whenever it takes its fancy. It’s as if we must give way to it, and wait patiently while it passes.
Yunnan is known for its red earth, which is highly fertile. Agriculture, like the tea here, is one of the main resources of this region, which borders the Mekong. Thanks to the clement and relatively stable temperatures, teas like the Grand Yunnan Imperial can be harvested all year long with no noticeable difference in quality.
On some tea plantations, they use a long bamboo stick to ensure a quality harvest. This photo taken in the Nilgiri (India) shows how it is used: the plucker has placed it in front of her and only takes the shoots that extend beyond it. This prevents the plucking of the previous season’s leaves, which are tougher and don’t produce good tea.
When you harvest the tea leaves, you must take great care to pick the right parts. Only the tea bud and the two adjacent leaves give you true quality. Sometimes, to prevent the tea pluckers from taking too much off, they are given a short piece of bamboo. This helps them pick just the right length of shoot and is a reminder of the standards of excellence required (like here at the Namring Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India).
At some tea plantations, they don’t like you taking photos. Sometimes, like here at Kora Kundah (southern India), there are even signs prohibiting it. I always wonder what this means. What do they have to fear from me taking photos? What is it they don’t want me to see? Most of the time it is simply a statement of ownership, a way of prohibiting trespassing. In reality, at the plantation of Kora Kundah, I know I’m free to go where I like and to photograph whatever I want. It is actually a great tea plantation, producing teas of high quality with organic and fair trade labels.
I don’t trust tea estates that limit their access or prohibit taking photos. At first I always ask why. If the reasons are not convincing, I refuse to trade and politely turn back. One mustn’t generalize, but I notice that this happens in Sri Lanka more than anywhere else.
In China, in Yunnan province where they produce Pu Er, tea plants are sometimes left to grow into proper trees. It is thought that the leaves of these “wild” tea plants are better. But this makes harvesting perilous: the pluckers have to climb a ladder into the tree and harvest buds and tea leaves, while remaining balanced on the top. Impressive.
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.
Since the tea leaves are picked constantly, like here in the Gao Shan region of China, litteraly meaning “High Mountain”, the tea tree cannot grow any bigger. It is maintained, harvest after harvest, at the most convenient height: not too low, so the task is not made more difficult, and not too high, to stop parasites developing at the base of the plants. The tea trees are kept at between knee and waist height, depending on the region and the climate.
Travelling is all about meeting other people. Many of the regions I’ve been to are not at all touristy. So the arrival of a foreigner is a big attraction for the children. Their reactions vary from surprise to hilarity. Here, in Fuding (China), I was welcomed with a cheerful and noisy fanfare! This strange bunch calls me “Big Nose”, as this is how Chinese people call us, whites.