It’s just a detail, but something has intrigued me for years in Darjeeling. Why do people returning from market carry their shopping on their knees, with the notable exception of the cartons of eggs, which the community taxi driver places without hesitation on the bonnet of his Jeep?
When you know how bumpy the roads are in this region, and the hours of driving required just to get from one village to the next, it makes you wonder where they get the crazy idea of risking their fresh eggs in this way.
So I decided to investigate the matter, and I questioned several people while they were placing the cartons on the bonnet. I asked them why they transported their eggs like that. And each time I got the same answer, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, as if I had asked the most ridiculous question in the world.
-It’s where they are safest.
It’s true that when you get more than 20 people in a 4×4, a fragile item is more likely to get crushed inside the vehicle. And it’s true that there is so much weight thrown around at the rear of the vehicle that the most delicate items are best placed in front.
When it is time to take a break, the pluckers in Darjeeling gather in the shade to drink tea or eat their meals. We would all love to be able to have lunch every day in such a peaceful setting…
These shelters are also where the pluckers take the leaves to be collected and weighed. Once gathered together, the leaves are loaded onto a trailer and a tractor promptly tows them away to the factory for processing.
On Sundays, many people gather in Darjeeling’s main square. Sometimes political meetings are held there. At other times, entertainment draws the crowds. Today, just off the famous square, called Chowrasta, I met this dancer who was getting ready to go on stage along with her fellow dancers, adorned with the same jewellery.
I’m on my way to Darjeeling. On my journey, I sometimes stop at Longview Tea Estate, the first tea plantation in this appellation. It doesn’t always produce great teas, as not all of its various plots get enough sun, but at certain times of the year, on the highest part of the plantation, Longview produces some very good teas, earlier than other gardens. Here, under the watchful eye of the grower, I’m assessing the aromas of the different lots I’m going to taste.
In China as well as in India, when it comes to making high quality tea, no effort is spared in ensuring that only the best leaves are selected. Here, in Fuding (China), these workers are checking all the leaves of the Bai Mu Dan that has just been produced, one by one. It is a painstaking task that requires a great deal of patience. Only when this stage is finished can the leaves be packed into chests and shipped to the buyer.
In the past, the withering of tea leaves took place in the open air, but nowadays it increasingly happens in a heated, well ventilated room. This system offers greater control over the ambient conditions. Here, in Fujian (China), the temperature and humidity levels are carefully regulated, and the room benefits from a sophisticated ventilation system. Which means the leaves of this Bai Mu Dan can gradually lose their water content.
We don’t get many opportunities to develop our sense of smell in today’s world. This sense is rather neglected, and while children learn about colours at school, the same cannot be said about different types of aroma.
Yet we all have the ability to memorise a great number of smells. But you do need a method of remembering them, and the easiest way is to give them a name. By naming a smell, as we have done with each of the colours we are familiar with, we can remember it easily. Then you simply move on to the next one.
This “tea organ”, which featured at the recent Maison & Objet fair, is a fun way of introducing people to aromas and helping them learn to recognise some of the key fragrance groups.
Arracher un théier nécessite une force remarquable car ses racines plongent profondément en terre. Mais si l’homme que vous voyez ici transpire autant ce n’est pas du fait d’avoir réalisé cet exploit. Le théier vient en effet d’être déraciné par une pelleteuse et cet homme se contente de débiter la souche de l’arbuste à l’aide d’une machette. Il transpire de façon intense car la chaleur en Assam et le très fort taux d’humidité que l’on rencontre ici atteignent des sommets.
Ce qui me surprend le plus ici, du côté de Jorhat, c’est l’absence totale de vent. Durant des mois vous ne voyez pas une feuille d’arbre remuer dans cette région de l’Inde enclavée entre les hauts plateaux tibétains, au nord, et les montagnes birmanes à l’est.
In the middle of the day, as soon as the plucking is finished, the workers gather to get their bags weighed.
Here, at Dufflating (Assam), everyone waits in turn and one by one hangs their bag of tea leaves on the mobile scales. The supervisor records the worker’s name and the weight of the bag, which will determine the pay for that day. You can see that the bags are made of netting, to prevent the leaves from oxidising. They must remain in perfect condition all the way to the factory, otherwise the tea will be spoiled.
There were many victims of Sunday’s earthquake in Sikkim, including in the city of Darjeeling, less than 100km from the epicentre. Naturally, my heart goes out to the victims of this catastrophe, and I feel very saddened for those affected. I have been in touch with our various tea producers in the region, and fortunately none came to any harm.
Although earthquakes are fairly rare in Darjeeling, the region is a hotspot in terms of seismic activity, being situated where the Indian plate meets the Asian plate. In reality though, the people of Darjeeling suffer more frequently from landslides than earthquakes. They happen every year, and there are many victims.
This photo I took in Darjeeling gives you an idea of how homes are built here, on sloping ground, and helps illustrate the population’s vulnerability to natural catastrophes.