Friday, August 31, 2007

To Delhi

Today I flew to Delhi. I miss Darjeeling already.

A friend of a friend took me around town upon my arrival. I saw the India Gates and the Red Fort, and ate at the most exclusive club in Delhi. We had great conversation, which eased the transition out of the lush mountains and into the dirty city a bit.

Tomorrow, I fly to London, and then to NYC. I'll catch you later from the other side of the world!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goom Tea Estate

Today I visited Goom Tea Estate, which is not in Goom (the town), nor is it near the Goom Monastary. (Confusing?) They have a manager's bungalow that has been converted into an inn. It's absolutely lovely. There's a prim little garden nearby and plants line all the drives. The food is completely vegetarian. (If you want meat, they suggest going to a restaurant in town.) The tea garden looks healthy from afar, but I didn't have the chance to see it up close. (Most of it is conventional, but they do have some organic production as well.) The factory is quite a sight. Almost all of the surfaces are white and it is immaculately clean. You have to wear special shoes, a hairnet, a surgical mask, and an apron to get in. (Strangely, you don't have to wear gloves.) The dryer has lighted windows that allow you to see they conveyor belt moving the tea along as it dries. Cool.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Castleton & Crafts

Today I visited Castleton's fields and continued with my craft project.

The trip to Castleton was very interesting. Suman showed me around again, explaining each step of the tea growth and harvesting as we walked. I saw where their quality teas come from up close. (The naturally rich soil and the location on the mountain, paired with watchful management explained the quality level well.) I saw some of their experiments-in-progress involving clonal teas. I also saw the difference between organic and conventional tea production. (I knew the biodiversity would be far lower at (conventional) Castleton than at (organic) Makaibari and that there were landslides due to insufficient ground cover, but what I didn't realize that there would be as much of an insect and fungus problem as there was.) Suman and I talked about the transition process (the change from conventional to organic, which they call the conversion process in India) and the possibility of organic production at Castleton. (I hope they make the switch!) While I was there, I had the pleasure of joining Suman, his wife, and his infant daughter for conversation, a splendid white tea, and a meal prepared by his "homely" wife. (In India "homely" is not a euphemism for "plain" or "unattractive." It means "good around the home.") We talked about Indian vegetarianism (which is different from American vegetarianism in that eggs, garlic, and onion count as "non-veg"), tea production, various tea blights, and the tea market in the US. All very nice.

Afterward, I met with the crafts group again. We talked about what kinds of things they want to make with the technique they've learned and where they can sell the crafts they produce. I often think of crafts as part of the Third-Wave Feminist reclaimation of traditional feminine activities, but in teaching women a technique that will empower them to earn their own incomes, I hope I've taken that notion a step further.

I'm flying to Delhi in two days and to London and NYC in three. I wish I weren't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Down Time

I'm going to be leaving very soon. I decided to take some down time and mentally process my trip a bit. This meant doing a lot of not much at all. I hung out with the Makaibari volunteers and shot the breeze for a while. I drank a lot of tea. I took a tour of the local village, where many of the Makaibari workers live. Drank more tea. Met with the knotting group and found that they're making great progress with the technique. Talked with some of the loacls. Watched a silly movie. Read more of "The Book of Tea." Relaxed. Enjoyed the scenery. It was a good day.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Darjeeling to Kurseong, Plus a Birthday

Today, Nalin joined me (or, rather, I joined him) on the ride from Darjeeling to Kurseong, which is a good thing, because many of the drivers were on strike. He took me to the Tea Research Association (TRA) Clonal Facility, which is really more of a grafting facility, but was fascinationg to see. They have a dozen or so different varieties of tea growing in small sections night next to eachother, which makes it very easy for city-folk like me to see their many differences (color, size, shape, leaf-style, and bud size/shape/downiness). They also have a small greenhouse, in which young grafts are growing, and a miniature tea factory with tiny rollers, dryers, and everything else. We rode by dozens of tea estates, including Singleton and Margaret's Hope. I got to see skiffing (a light, mid-season pruning) and more picking along the way.

Back in Kurseong, I got the priviledge of joining in two 60th birthday celebrations of Rajah Banerjee, the owner of Makaibari Estate. The smaller celebration was pretty much a family affair. It included a traditional Bengali birthday meal of a fried foods, including a fish head, greens, okra, root vegetables, and eggplant, a dessert of rice pudding (which was eerily like the kind my grandmother used to make), the blowing of a conch shell, the application of a red powder to Rajah's forehead, and the lighting of an oil lamp. After the meal, the leftovers from Rajah's plate were buried as an offering to the earth. In the evening, there was a big party, which was very much like an American birthday party in a restaurant. (Drinking, lots of food, boisterous conversation, and a big cake. Well, two big cakes, actually.) I met some great people and laughed a lot. Fun times.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

An Extra Day in Darjeeling

I was going to return to Kurseong today, but decided to see some more sights in Darjeeling. Nalin took me around the area to see some gorgeous views of tea estates (including Tukduh, Pandam, and Glenburn), an organic farm, waterfalls, flowers, and all kinds of fruit trees. (Many of the fruits ripen in winter. It's enough to make me want to stay in India year-round!) We talked about tea tourism in India (which was obviously a topic of interest to me, as I am a tea tour guide) and about the tea industry in general. He showed me several estates he used to manage, all of which were lovely (tree-lined roads, healthy plants). Nalin shared all kinds of tea secrets along the way. Unfortunately, I was too carsick to enjoy about half the trip. Next time, I'll take a motion-sickness pill first. After the expedition, I ran some errands in town and worked on a gift for a friend (which I will share with you all later). Tomorrow: Back down the mountain to Kurseong, via about 15 tea estates and the Tea Research Association (not to be confused with the DTRC).

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Today I visited Happy Valley Tea Estate and The Mayfair Hotel, and I learned a lot about tea politics.

After a breakfast of momos, I walked down the mountain a bit to Happy Valley Tea Estate. Happy Valley is not particularly known for its tea, but the estate itself is in most of the India guidebooks because it is so convenient to Darjeeling proper and because (until recently) it offered tours of the field and factory. I navigated winding roads, narrow paths between houses and sharp drops, slippery stone stairs, and a rocky trail through the estate grounds to find a group of men milling about outside the factory. I asked them if I could take a tour and (after some discussion amongst them in Nepali) a young man stepped forward, eyes darting about. Halfway through the "tour," I discovered that the tours had been discontinued and that I wasn't supposed to be there without permission from the manager. "May I see the manager and ask him?" "No. He has seen you with me already. He'll be angry." So, I didn't get to see the factory and the information on the fields was limited. However, I did learn Lesson One: Always ask who is in charge.

After the "tour," I stopped by the "cafe," which is actually a tiny house with a snack stand operating out of the kitchen and a "tearoom" in the bedroom. I drank Happy Valley tea, which is "the world's best tea" ... or so I'm told by the woman selling it. Her reasoning? "It brews in only five seconds." I know what you're thinking, right? "No way." Well, let me tell you this: It DID brew in only five seconds. Maybe even less. And it tasted pretty good. How is that possible? She used about 1/2 cup of FTGFOP1S (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe Top Grade) tealeaves per cup of water. ... Yes, really. The other tourists in the room with me were eating it up. Lesson Two: Don't believe everything you're told, especially if you're a tourist.

Over the course of my visit to Happy Valley, I spoke with several employees. Each one told me, in no uncertain terms, that Happy Valley is, well, not so happy these days. They USED to be, but a recent change in management has caused a lot of strife. Complaints ranged from bureaucracy and hipocracy to cuts in sick days (from 14 days per year to 3 days per year if I remember correctly). Lesson Three: "Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our PAST behavior." (Empahsis added.) I hope things get better soon.

After the trek to (Un)Happy Valley, I walked back up the big hill to The Mayfair Hotel for afternoon tea. Just as I was starting to feel very cynical about tea in Darjeeling, by luck, I was recognized and caught by Nalin Modha, a tea professional who was the youngest estate manager in the entire Indian tea industry. Over tea (with freshly baked butter cookies and cucumber sandwiches) and (later on) dinner (which was delicious and enormous), I learned Lessons Four through Four-Hundred from Nalin. We talked about tea education, workers' health, the tea market, the ecosystem, and numerous other things related to tea and (generally) to politics. He's very knowledgable and I am glad to have run into him here. Tomorrow, I'll be meeting him to see some of the surrounding area. Exciting!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Return to Darjeeling

Today I ascended the mountain to Darjeeling. First, though, I was lucky enough to exchange recipes with the hotel's teamaker. He's a bright young guy, and great at what he does. He hopes to move to the US in about 5 years. With the delectable teas he brews, I'm sure he can get a good job here. He taught me how to make three of his best teas (what a wonderful souvenir!) and I taught him some tricks for brewing cloud-free iced tea, sweetening complex teas without overpowering their flavors, and using powdered teas, and I gave him basic recipes for gyokuro floats with matcha ice cream and spicy hot cocoa. (It was the least I could do!) I can't wait to brew these up when I get home.

Took a jeep up to Darjeeling. Passed tea plantations (including Margaret's Hope), a Tazo nursery (their nonprofit org, CHAI, does a lot of volunteer work here), waterfalls, the Toy Train tracks, construction workers taking a tea break, small towns, a breathtaking monastary, and construction of all kinds.

Checked into my hotel, exhausted and hungry. Decided to go to The New Elgin for afternoon tea. The setting was charming and the tea was quite good (Darjeeling first flush, butter cookies with almond essence, and cucumber-tomato sandwiches on white). The one anomaly was the music, which was Muzac hits from the 1960s-1980s in all their synthesized glory. Very odd. The bill was about $6. Sweet. Tomorrow I'll check out The Mayfair. Next visit I'll see The Windamere. (It's under construction right now.)

The rest of the day was spent running errands: picking up the bokus (Tibetan dresses) Natalia and I had made (they're gorgeous), buying some Ayurvedic medicine I can't get easily in the US, aquiring some fabric and tea for friends back home, visiting tearooms to see what they're all about (and to try to visit someone I met at the World Tea Expo, who was out of town), and buying a new umbrella (I left mine in Kurseong, but I love the ones they have up here--brightly colored stripes, like a big rainbow above your head).

In the evening, the locals all gathered around TV sets (in shops, in a tricked out SUV, in restaurants) to watch "Indian Idol" and cheer for Prashant. I returned to my room to reread "The Book of Tea" by Kazuko Okakura. It matches the mood set by the contemplative mists over the Kangchenjunga.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Bonus Day

I hadn't planned to stay in Kurseong today. I was supposed to go up to Darjeeling (the city... I'm already in the region). However, I am really glad I stayed, as I got to do some very exciting things.

First on the impromptu agenda was a visit to the Darjeeling Tea Research Centre to talk with Dr. Saha, the head researcher there. We talked about soil science (his forte), the plans for the DTRC's expansion (which include more staff, upgraded facilities, an auditorium for lectures and films, a library, and a museum... I can't wait to see it completed!), ground cover, mulching, composting, organic production, and Pranayama (which seems to be a very popular topic around here). Dr. Saha is very knowledgable and I learned a lot during my visit. I hope to get the chance to meet with him more the next time I come to India.

After the DTRC, I met Rajah for lunch (okra, rice, dal, greens, pumpkin soup, and mangoes) then began my craft education project. I taught several local women a craft technique called "knotting," which I learned from one of the world's top five masters in the field, Ed Bing Lee. He uses the technique to make tiny, richly-colored, sculptural pieces out of individual strands of embroidery floss. I use it to make very textural scarves. It's a technique that allows for an enormous range of styles, so I taught the women the basics, told them some of the ways they could vary the technique, and let them run with it. They pick it up so quickly it was astounding! I've taught seasoned crafters in the States the same technique before, but these women were pros with this stuff! Amazing... My hope is that they can use the technique to make crafts that can be sold locally or on the international market and bring some extra income to their families. The women in the Darjeeling region are very enterprising and motivated. I'm sure they'll do well with it, especially since they seem to enjoy the technique and what it produces.

After the craft session, I went back to Rajah's office (to let him know how it went) and met some documentary videographers from the US. We all talked about organic tea production and such for a while and then I headed back to my hotel for a special treat: a Himalayan stick massage. This type of massage is usually only practiced by Brahmins, but one man outside of the Brahmin class learned it and practices it around Kurseong. It is a unique type of massage that involves the rhythmic rapping of two sticks. (He actually uses the verb "beat" to describe this action.) He explained that the rhythm creates a vibration that aids in aligning one's chakras. I can't vouch for that personally, but I can say that it feels great.

In post-massage bliss, I floated up to the dining room to order my dinner. I was lucky enough to meet the hotel's owner, a lovely woman from Kolkata. She asked me about my day, I mentioned the knotting class, and the next thing I knew, we were bonding over dinner. She offered to carry the women's crafts at the hotel's shop (very exciting!). I gave her chef my tea granita recipes. Her chef made me a concoction for my cold, which was incredibly similar to my Witches' Brew (and exactly what I needed). We talked about politics, the hotel, travel, Indian culture, local legends, and a whole host of other things. What a fantastic conversation!

After dinner and talk, I headed back to my room to call Natalia and Pat. They're off in Agra, having a fabulous time. For a split second I thought, "Maybe I should have planned to spend a few days in the Golden Triangle," and then I remembered that the focus of my trip is tea and realized that I'll probably have much more fun in Darjeeling, despite its relative lack of "must see" architecture. Yes, it is all about the tea this trip.

I've decided that if all bonus days are like this, I should change my plans more often!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Castleton Tea Estate

Natalia and Pat left for a tour of the Golden Triangle today. I miss them already! However, I had an exciting distraction. I got to visit Castleton Tea Estate!

Castleton is very well-known throughout the world. It is run by a company that is 70% British-owned. They own several other estates in Darjeeling, including the equally well-known Margaret's Hope. I met with Suman Das, the field manager, who has worked in the tea industry for some time and who cares very much about spreading knowledge and love for Darjeeling teas around the world. Today we he took me on a tour through the factory. Next week, he'll take me to the fields.

We began the tour with the withering room. It was pretty similar to the one at Makaibari. Not much to say about that.

Then, we went to the rolling room. There were two types of rollers, the regular, single-action kind I had seen at Makaibari, and a second kind that uses a more intense double rolling action to bruise the leaves for oxidation. We discussed the variations in pressure that are necessary to properly bruise the leaves, and then stopped by the "fermentation" (oxidation) tables and talked about the first and second nose (the two peaks of flavor that black teas go through as they oxidize).

From there, we went to the drying room and talked about the input and output temperature variance, the mechanized spreader (which keeps the tea input volume consistent), and the conveyor belt mechanism for transport of the tea to the sorting room.

In the sorting room, I saw several machines which were not present in Makaibari. They sorted the teas to varying degrees. Often, the tealeaves were run through the same machine multiple times for a more refined sorting. At Makaibari, this work is done by hand. I'm sure the machine method is much more efficient, but I have to admit that the hand sorters at Makaibari looked much happier than the workers who ran the sorting machines at Castleton. Either way it's done, at the end of the sorting, the leaves are divided into grades, the most basic of which are dust, fannings, broken leaf, and whole leaf.

(A side note: There are two main types of tea harvesting. One is done by machines. It's called CTC or Cut, Tear, Curl. It cannot produce whole-leaf teas. The other is called Orthodox production, and it is done by hand. It is more time and labor intensive, but it is the only way to get whole-leaf teas. Castleton is not organic, but it is Orthodox. This is part of why it has such a good reputation.)

The last stop in the factory was a multi-purpose room where the tea is run through an electromagnetic machine that removes any residual trash/foreign matter, piles of tea and a shovel (for blending), and crates and stencils (for packaging).

After the factory tour, we sat down for tea and talked shop for a while. We talked about the American market and tea education, and arranged for a field visit next week. I'm looking forward to it already!

Outside of the Castleton visit, today's highlights include:

Orange Blossom tea (Darjeeling with marmalade and orange peel)
The reading of Rajah's book, "The Wonder of Darjeeling"
Progress on the craft education thing I mentioned yesterday
Dinner and tea with Rajah (who has become a good friend over this visit)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Today, Natalia, Pat, Rajah, and I visited Kurseong, which is a town in Darjeeling (the region) in between the lowlands around Bagdogra airport and the peaks surrounding Darjeeling (the city). It is home to Makaibari, Castleton, Ambootia, Goom, and several other tea estates.

The focus of my visit was Goethal's, a school that just celebrated its 100th birthday. Goethal's is a prestigious, private, boys-only school. The students seemed happy, confident, (in many cases) fluent in English, and happy. We visited a few classrooms and I told one group of young students the story of Arachne, which they were reading for class. (I knew my college degrees in textiles and art would come in handy someday!)

It was interesting enough, but the real purpose of the visit was not Goethal's itself, but a small, girls-only trade school for students who would not be able to get a formal education elsewhere. They taught the regular school subjects, but also taught trades ranging from typing to hairdressing to sewing to cooking to professional driving. (Strangely, the cooking classroom only had bagged tea. I said something about the value in teaching about loose leaf tea to the school's headmaster, who said he'd have to do something about it.) The students were quieter and less confident than the boys in the next building, but you could see that their confidence was building as they learned new skills. And they looked happy, which is (I think) the most important part. Natalia (who teaches high school in NYC) led the classes for a few minutes, asking questions about their studies and things like "Indian Idol" (which is still EVERYWHERE up here... "Vote for Prashant" ads are in every storefront and people are canvassing for money to use on text messages to vote for him). It was an inspiring visit; I left with thoughts of tea and craft education buzzing around my head. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Natalia and Pat will be leaving tomorrow. We've been running around like the Three Muscateers. I guess when they go, they'll be the Dynamic Due and I'll be The Lone Ranger. I'll really miss them! Rajah invited us to a farewell dinner of carrot-cucumber salad, tomato-pumpkin soup, a grilled local, eggplant-like vegetable wrapped in whole-wheat chapatis (flat breads), aloo muttar (pea and potato curry), and gulab jamun (sort of like milk dumplings in sugar syrup) with fresh double cream. Oh, and wine and whisky (both premium items in India, as the import tax levied by the Indian government on them is quite high). What a lovely way to say goodbye!

Side note: I finished "The One-Straw Revolution." It was excellent.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Makaibari: Day Four

Today I:

Crossed over to the dark side and drank a delicious Assam blend with fresh mint, spices, and milk

Learned just how hard it is to get laundry dry during monsoon season

Picked tea for the first time (with a basket with a headstrap and all)

Saw a secret project that's in progress at Makaibari, and realized that Makaibari is the tea version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory

Saw the downy buds of growing Silver Tips firsthand

Walked through the Makaibari gardens, checking out the butterflies, streams (with tiny catfish), tiger tracks, and fragrant flowers

Got a leech bite

Got into a very mild car crash (with a tea bush, no less)

Ate more momos (Yum!)

Read more of "The One-Straw Revolution" (I highly recommend this book to those interested in organic agriculture and sustainability.)

Ate tea-smoked mushrooms and ginger "pudding" (cake) with black tea sauce (Double yum!)


Watched a ridiculous movie called "American Chai."

Fun times.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Makaibari: Day Three

Today I saw some things that are too intangible and fantastical for me to write about here. Suffice it to say that Makaibari is a remarkably spiritual and sustainable place and you have to see it to believe it.

Aside from that, I have embarked on a mission to try every one of the teas they make at my hotel. Today, it was Orange Blossom (a light Darjeeling with orange peel and marmalade), a roasted Darjeeling with rose petals, saffron, spices, honey, and milk, and Kanchanjunga (basically hot cocoa with Darjeeling and mint). Did I mention that I love being in India? I also read more of "The One-Straw Revolution" and took a walk through the town with Natalia and Pat. (We decided that the views are like San Francisco times a thousand and were amused by the sight of a local boy with an NYC shirt on.)

It was a good day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Makiabari: Day Two

Today I awoke with a cold and plans for a tea tasting. Talk about a bad combination! It was fine, though. Natalia and I slurped and spit our way through about 20 unsorted teas and six of Makaibari's premium teas. Amazing. The pinnacle was the last one--Imperial Silver Tips, the highest-priced tea in the world.

Afterward, I switched gears and went to the biofuel plant, where three cows (named Red, Black, and Angry) are housed and their waste is composted for methane cooking gas and slurry for composting into mulch for the tea garden. There's a great program in place that encourages the locals to use the plant for their fuel instead of gathering firewood to burn. Talk about a commitment to sustainability!

Later, Natalia and I headed down the mountain to meet her boyfriend (and my friend and webdesigner) Pat. He had just flown in from Kolkata and we arrived at the airport to surprize him. Rajah arrived a little later and we all waited for some of Rajah's business associates while talking about politics, mangoes in Dubai, and plastic surgeons over a very large beer that was brewed with Himalayan spring water and mixed into shanties with Sprite from a bottle. Normally I don't drink beer during the day or Sprite, well, ever, but this was a pleasant exception to those rules. The associates, a couple from Hyderabad, arrived and we left for Makaibari again. The view of the mountains was the best I've seen so far. I guess Pat got lucky.

When we got back, we chatted more over tea and met with the leading staff of Makaibari. They seemed to be humble and proud of their work at the same time. It was such a contrast to so many Americans who are egomaniacs with no pride in their work. Natalia and Pat left for some alone time and I headed down to the shaman's house for some old-fashioned cold remedies. He had me taste a variety of bitter and sour roots from around Makaibari, each for a different purpose. Then, he have me a tuft of grasses and told me to dampen them, wrap them in cloth, and sniff the fumes to alleviate my cold. Afterward, I went on a walk and enjoyed the night view, and then read "The One-Straw Revolution" by Fukuoku (a loan from Rajah). I don't know if it was something the shaman gave me, the altitude, or just being at Makaibari, but by the time I got back to the hotel, I was on cloud nine. And that was BEFORE the tea-smoked mushrooms and African curry. I love this place.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Makaibari Tea Estate

Today, I got my first taste of Makaibari Tea Estate. It was astounding, but first things first... Breakfast: Darjeeling tea (of course) and toast with ginger-plum jam and local honey. Yum. After breakfast, Natalia and I walked down the mountain a bit, making our way through the quiet, secretive mists and searching for glimpses of the surrounding landscape. Suddenly, we saw it: "MAKAIBARI TEA ESTATE." The mist had parted to reveal the estate's name written across the entire roof of the factory (this kind of sign is common, as it allows you to identify the estate from afar), the offices, some of the neighboring houses, and (a small) part of the (very large) garden.

Upon arrival, we met The Man himself, Rajah Banerjee, otherwise known (much to his chagrin) as "The Lord of Darjeeling." Over tea (Makaibari's second flush muscatel--excellent), we talked with Rajah and with Katie (a volunteer from outside London who is at Makaibari to teach the local children about health and hygene).

After tea, we were wisked away to the factory to see the withering room (where the tealeaves are partially dried), the 120- and 140-year-old rolling machines (which bruise the tealeaves and begin the oxidation process required for black and oolong teas), the oxidizing shelves (where the teas are tested by their "nose" (aroma) to ensure that they reach their peak flavor), the drying machine (which looks a bit like something out of the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"), the sorting and grading room (where we got to join some of the ladies in sorting tealeaves by size and quality), and the packing area (where wooden boxes are labeled with stencils and filled with some of the worlds' best teas). Very illuminating.

After the factory tour, we met Rajah for salutations to Ganesha, stopped off at the stables to feed carrots to Rajah's ex-racehorse Storm Centre, and began a trek through the gardens. Rajah stopped every minute or so to show us a medicinal plant, unusual butterfly, or other point of interest. We learned about Makaibari's six stages of permaculture (most permaculture only has three stages), which include legume trees (which deposit nitrogen into the soil), fruit trees (mango, cherry, guava, pear, etc.), marijuana plants (with a high THC content to repel pests), tea bushes (of course), small neem trees (a staple in India), and clover (for mulching). The soil itself was the richest, most fragrant soil I've ever seen. It may sound silly, but it was ALIVE. There were worms and ants and microorganisms crawling all throughout it and it was absolutely beautiful.

I won't bore you with the details of the rest of the day, because it was almost all talking and eating. I will say that we had a phenomenal white tea (Makaibari was the first Indian tea estate to produce white tea, this one was light and floral, yet strangely earthy), some incredible food (notable dishes: a gingery version of saurkraut and a dessert of fresh mangoes with double cream), more tea with more volunteers (Mike and Dana from Pennsylvania, who teach at the local school and are building a library for the locals), and great conversation with everyone we met. It was lovely.

First impressions of Makaibari: I can tell there's something very special (magical?) about this place. Everything is so green, the people look so happy, and there's a particular energy radiating about everywhere you look. It's simple in its complexity and vice versa. It's alive and full of life (which are two different things). It's dynamic, connected, sustainable... I have the feeling I should have visited other estates first to avoid disappointment!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Down to Kurseong

To say that yesterday was horrendous would be an understatement. It has nothing to do with India or Darjeeling. I suppose mourning isn't any fun no matter where you are. Today, I tied up some loose ends in Darjeeling and headed down the mountain to Kurseong (the home of Makaibari, Castleton, Goom, Ambootia, and numerous other tea estates). As I descended the mountain, the mist moved from the valleys and the steep hills below my feet to the sky above my head, I felt as if my world was being set upright again. Our stop at an ornately decorated and richly colored Buddhist monastary didn't hurt, either.

Early evening, I settled into my lovely "Old-World Style" hotel and immediately ordered a pot of tea from their extensive tea menu. (Oh, how I love India.) Natalia and I called Makaibari to set up a meeting time for tomorrow, looked out over the garden and nearby locals' houses, and then pampered ourselves with spa services (a massage for her, a green tea facial for me, both very relaxing). Afterward, we ate a meal of spicy wontons (Indo-Chinese food is my new favorite type of tasty, and completely different from American-style Chinese food), vegetable korma, rice, and (our OTHER India staple (besides tea)) bottled water. It's the first meal I've been able to enjoy since yesterday, so I really savored it. It seems that travel or this place or something is demanding accelerated healing. As emo as it sounds, I feel like my heart is being ripped out, torn up, sewn together, and shoved back in all at once. Ah, well. Nothing that a good cup of tea can't help, right? Tomorrow: the famed Makaibari Tea Estate.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hindustani Independence Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of India's freedom from British raj (rule). There are dances in the steep streets and fireworks in the air over the mountaintops. For entirely unrelated reasons, it is a day of mourning for me. I have lost someone I love very much. I have nothing more to say for today.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Darjeeling: Day Two

The first thing on today's agenda was tea. After a fresh pot of it and a shower (er, two showers, one each), we were off to breakfast. We scoped out the town and decided on Frank Ross Cafe. I'd read about how addictive and delicious their momos (veggie dumplings) are. I have to say I agree! We'll be back there soon, I'm sure.

Post breakfast, we hit the shops. A bookstore, some curio shops, a few of the many tea shops... we picked up some gorgeous scarves, a yak hair sweater (to stave off the cold and the damp), a Kashmiri tea cozy in the shape of an elephant, and a handmade tea strainer. Very exciting (and I usually hate shopping).

Next up was lunch. We went to a well-reputed restaurant and we very disappointed. The food and the service were both abysmal. It seemed like a place for tourists who want to see and be seen, and that's about it. Too bad.

After lunch, we went on a quest for bokus (Tibetan dresses). First, we had to find the right fabrics. This task brought us to lower Darjeeling which is, as I guessed yesterday, more for the locals than for the tourists. We navigated narrow alleys and semi-covered passageways through chaat (snack) stands, shoe shops, bakeries, general stores, spice vendors, and (yes, yes) the fabric stalls. So many gorgeous fabrics to choose from! There's a lot you can find in New York City, but Jackson Heights simply does not have this kind of variety. (Still, I love Jackson Heights. Whenever I crave spicy corn chevda (my favorite type of chaat), a cup of masala chai, and a Bollywood blockbuster, it's where I go. Plus they have Tibetan bocha (butter tea) and great Afghani food.) We selected our fabrics (I got a deep violet silk for the dress and a bright white silk for the blouse) and headed to the tailor for our fitting. Mission accomplished. All I have left to do is pick the bokus up when I return to Darjeeling next week.

Once we were through arranging for the bokus, we explored the town a bit more, checking out the various markets and whatnot. We chilled out at the hotel a bit. (Shopping can be so tiresome!) Then we dashed off for "Cash," an Indian film (in Hindi, sans subtitles... How else are we supposed to learn?). It was totally absurd and so completely bad that I had to like it. The theatre was interesting in that it was heavily guarded, there was an immense menu at the snack bar (because most Indian movies are so long and have an intermission), and the patrons were all very well-dressed (which leads me to believe that going to the movies is more of a special occasion here than it is in the US).

For dinner, we headed to Glenary's. I had the most amazing veggie kebobs in the world!!! In the States, there are a lot of (vegetarian) "fake meats" on the market. I don't like most of them. Why eat a fake hotdog when you can have a meal that is vegetarian and non-processed? However, these kebobs were done RIGHT. The veggies were fresh and the spices and grilling were both just right. Plus there were these great spicy sauces, one kind of like ketsup (I think with pumpkin in it, too?) and another kind of like a salsa verde. Mmm... Perfect.

I rather like Darjeeling. It's very touristy (it was settled by the British (acting as tourists, trying to get away from the heat of Kolkata), after all), but it's really quite charming. The mist shrouds everything in dampness and quiet, and there's a chill that gets into your bones and reminds you of the immense mountains you can't see (during monsoon season, anyway, unless you're lucky) beyond the clouds. Most surfaces are covered in orange and green mosses and monkeys play in the trees and on the buildings. Collared dogs roam the street and seem to understand right of way better than any NYC taxi driver I've seen. People walk around holding hands or arm-in-arm, but in a friendly rather than a sexual way. Actually, it's very common to see two (presumably) heterosexual men holding hands in the street here, which I find to be refreshing after so much time around the macho attitudes of the West. The food is generally good and the tea is generally better. I can see why tourists flock here when it's an season besides the monsoon season. I can't wait to see the tea plantations when I come back next week.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Up to Darjeeling!

Ah, Darjeeling! Glad to be here.

We awoke early and took a car to the airport. We talked with the driver about current events and Bollywood films. At the airport, we checked in (amazed by the casual approach to security), met a woman who lectures on/researches human trafficing and whose son lives in NYC, were mistaken for a movie star (me) and attendant (Natalia, who everyone keeps thinking is Nepalese), and boarded the plane.

On the plane, I got the impression that Indian national airlines are probably very much like American airlines were in the '60s. The flight attendants were very well put together and (genuinely) friendly. (I couldn't help but notice that they always said "namaskar" instead of "namaste." "Namaskar" is more polite and formal than "namaste.") The music was far less banal than what you'd expect of an airline. The food was actually decent. A selection of newspapers were offered to every client. Cool.

After we landed, we hopped a cab to Siliguri, a nearby military town. From Siliguri, we made the mistake of taking a shared jeep to Darjeeling. I say mistake not because we went to Darjeeling, but because it was a shared (rather that private) jeep. When they say "shared," they mean "shared." As in, people are practically and (in the case of a little boy who was supposed to sit next to me) actually sitting on your lap. It's not unusual for one or more people to hold on to the luggage rack and ride on the back of the jeep. Next time, we'll hire a private jeep.

The ride was about 4 hours long and very bumpy, but the views made it worth it! Tea estates everywhere you look, tailors and food stands and rickshaws in the towns, people walking along the road (sometimes carrying immense loads of tealeaves, clothing, vegetables, and all sorts of other things), breathtaking waterfalls and mountains, the tracks for the Toy Train (the Himalayas' first passenger train, still running on narrow-gauge tracks)... Absolutely incredible. Somewhere along the ascent, I turned to Natalia and said, "Can I just move here?" It's that beautiful.

By the time we got to Darjeeling, it was early evening and the weather had turned chilly. We hired aporter to take out bags from lower Darjeeling (where the shared jeeps stop) to upper Darjeeling (where our hotel is). It looks like lower Darjeeling is more for the locals and upper is more for the tourists. I'll look into that more soon. We passed through narrow, windy streets lined with tea shops, produce and meat stalls, craft vendors, "curio shops" (sellers of Tibetan crafts and such), a mosque, a library, and a church before (finally) making our way to the hotel.

After all the travel, the hotel welcomed us with a hot pot of Darjeeling tea. As you can probably guess, I like it here already.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Last Full Day in Kolkata (This Trip)

Today is my last full day in Kolkata. Well, for this trip, anyway! I hope to return again soon. The people are charming. (I'd heard so many bad things about the scams and the beggars, but it hasn't been a problem at all. Perhaps it helps that we're wearing local dress?) The city is completely overwhelming, in a good way. The food is delicious, as is the tea. The culture is rich and poetic. Perhaps I can visit again in two years...

Today, Natalia and I were taken under the wing of a local tea distributer. We were escorted to Kumar Tolli, a para (neighborhood) where artisans craft life-sized sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses for an annual festival that's held each October. They wrap straw around wooden rods and bind it with twine to form a base for the sculpture. Then, they coat it with clay from the Ganges, which has been mixed with wood chips (to make it sturdy). The top layer of clay is not mixed with wood chips, so it makes for a smooth surface. After it dries, it is painted with bright colors, and carried to the Ganges, where it is returned to the river. Such a beautiful cycle! Ideas of time and work are so different here. More on that later (when I have time... ironic?).

Afterward, we were taken to Tangra, where we saw some sights and ate more Chinese food. (It's a local favorite here. Don't worry-- we're eating local cuisine, too! And it's quite good.) Then we went to the Victoria Memorial and Botanical Gardens, which made me think of Central Park. The only real reasons are that it's an oasis of green in the middle of the city and that it has very little smog compared to the surrounding area. The local marble used to build the memorial was lovely, and the handwork was very intricate. Seeing the local flora was a real treat, too. Oh, and we saw the chipmunks, which have stripes and are much more adorable than American chipmunks. (Historical tidbit--their tail hairs used to be used to make brushes for Indian miniature paintings.)

It was so kind of the tea distributor to show us around. We had a fantastic time!

Now we're around our hotel again. I am contemplating the purchase of a deep aqua sari with silver handwork. Natalia and I might get henna painted on our hands. I'm sure we'll have some more masala chai. We leave early tomorrow, so I think we'll take it easy tonight.

I'll post back as soon as I can. Later!


Saturday, August 11, 2007

More of Kolkata

Kolkata is such a fascinating place. I think I'm getting the hang of everything but the pollution. (It's very smoggy here.) Walking in the streets, talking with people, navigation, and making purchases are all getting much easier.

Natalia and I have both bought some salwar kameez (salwar=pants, kameez=tunic/long shirt, a salwar kameez also has a dupatti, or scarf), which are being hand-tailored for us. The fabrics are exquisite! Similar garments would cost so much more in the US, and they wouldn't be custom-made. As someone with a textile design background and love for textiles, I am in heaven.

We tried some of the food and explored a bit. The local markets (which we visited yesterday, too) are now easily navigable. We checked out Park Street, ehich is a "cool" part of town. We tried some IndoChinese fusion cuisine (amazing, filling, and about $3 for the two of us--we had crispy fried tofu, spring rolls, gobi (cauliflower) Manchurian, vegetarian Thai curry, and jasmine tea) in a hidden-away, air-conditioned restaurant, then headed over to Flurry's ("Kolkata's only tearoom") to find that they are actually a restaurant. We bought some sweets (for which they are famous, we chose a dark chocolate torte slice and am almond cake "cube" (really a rectangular prism)) and headed over to Chinatown ("Tangra"), then explored the local market some more, and made friend with a few people in the para (neighborhood), including the chai wallah (tea vendor).

We had some more masala chai. It's still delicious! (You see, we have to check several times a day, just to make sure.) It comes in tiny, unfired, red clay cups, which you throw on the ground when you are done with your drink. If you live in the west, you are probably put off by that. (It seems like littering, right?) Don't worry-- the clay is smashed by pedestrians, rickshaws, jeeps, and taxis, then mixed back into the earth by the rain. If it's the dry season, then the chipped and broken cups become a temporary part of the sidewalk or road (which is often made up of stones, broken cement, and such). The local red clay deposits are later used to make the cups all over again. It's natural recycling.

I spoke with the owner of Makaibari Tea Estate today. I'm so excited about the visit! They were the first biodynamic (a step beyond organic) tea estate in the world, all the way back in the 70s (before it was trendy). There is so much to learn there. I can't wait!

More soon. Check back again.


If you're reading this on Vee Tea, the post order may be funny. Try my Vee Tea Blogger page instead.

Friday, August 10, 2007

In Kolkata (Calcutta)

I arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta) today. It's filthy and poverty-stricken and crowded and loud... and I love it! There are so many beautiful colors and textures, so many wonderful people, so many things to do... Yes, there is bureaucracy. The lines are long and the traffic is terrible. There are people who will harass you on the street. There is trash and muck all around. A lot of people are completely destitute. It's hot and muggy. However, the rewards are worth the bureaucracy and the waiting. The harassment is typically in the form of asking you to buy something (many of the things they are offering are things I want--bottled water, hand-made clothing) or begging for food (which is simple enough to provide if you hand out your leftovers from the enormous meals they serve in all the restaurants). As for the poverty... it's hard to see, but tourism is a major industry here and it benefits the local populus. I can only hope that I can help. And as for the weather, well, it's probably worse in NYC right now! I thought it would be much worse than it is. It's really not that bad! I would never want to live in Kolkata, but I intend to visit again as soon as I can!

I'd also like to take a moment to talk about (of course!) the tea. The masala chai (hot, spiced black tea with milk and sugar, called "chai" in the US) is the absolute best I've ever had. It's sweet and creamy. The tea is dust (low-grade), but the spices are very fresh. The ginger is what makes it--I don't think I can go back to dried ginger in my masala chai after this! Indian masala chai varies by region. Here, the main flavors are sugar, ginger, and cardamom, with a bit of clove. Some areas use fennel, cinnamon, more clove, and other spices. In the US, it's usually heavy on the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. I'm looking forward to trying Darjeeling's masala chai to compare with the other kinds I've had. I'm even more excited about visiting Darjeeling's tea estates, though! I can hardly wait...

I'm having a great time so far. More soon!


PS--If you're reading this on Vee Tea, the post order may be funny. Try my Vee Tea Blogger page instead.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lost Day

Today was lost due to time travel. OK, not really. But it sounds cooler than, "I spent the day on an airplane remembering that humans really ARE animals and passed the international date line along the way."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Last Day in London

My short stop in London is about to end. Today was my last full day here, and I made the best of it. Natalia and I started at the Royal Academy of Art, where she toured the facilities and I worked on some things outdoors, where the weather was gorgeous (warm, breezy). From there, we hopped the Tube to the Victoria and Albert Museum for New York Fashion Now (loved the Duckie Brown, Christian Joy (of Karen O fame), and Proenza Schouler) and the South Asian Art collection (for the Indian art, of course). We walked past Harrods to The Carriage Hotel for afternoon tea (delicious sandwiches--loved the egg salad--and wonderful sweets from passionfruit macaroons to raisin scones). Afterwards, we went back to Harrods to check out the tea (a great range of loose and bagged whole-leaf tea, lots of single estate teas (including some from estates I'll be visiting soon!), several notable specialty teas), sweets (oh, the beautiful macaroons and cakes at Laduree!), chocolates (more Maison du Chocolat, and tons of other brands), bar fromage, and gorgeous clothing. I was more than a little surprized to see that they have a Krispy Kreme, as it is a southern institution and NOT something particularly associted with class. I suppose it's a novelty here, like it was when it first opened in LA. When we were done shopping at Harrods, we walked around Kensington and Chelsea for a while, then had dinner at a little Italian place (where Princess Diana supposedly frequented). Then, it was back to the hostel to pack a bit and work on a crafts project I've been trying to finish. We had a great day. I'll be sure to visit London again sometime soon! (A post for when I have time: London vs. NYC. Pros and Cons of each.)

Tomorrow, we leave for Kolkata. Masala chai, here we come!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In London!

Natalia and I arrived in London last night. By the time we got to the hostel, everything in the neighborhood was closed, despite the fact that it's in Central London. Welcome to the UK! I'd heard that everything closes very early, but I didn't realize just how all-encompassing "everything" was in those mentions. I must be too used to "the city that never sleeps." It was OK, though. We got to walk around in the quiet for once. :)

Today, we walked around town a bit more (and noted, once again, how much quieter it is than in NYC), and then we went to the New Tate. The New Tate had a fascinating exhibit called "Global Cities," all about the development and growth of some of the major cities around the globe. The coolest part: a 3-D model of population densities in four major cities, by location. In other words, it was an overhead view of the city, with varying model heights as population density rose or fell by neighborhood. Outside of that exhibit, I really enjoyed the Surrealist area of the museum: Dreams and Poetry.

After the New Tate, we walked over to the Bramah Museum of Coffee and Tea for some Rose Congou and tea education. They were not exactly fastidious about things like spelling, but they had a wealth of information on coffee and tea, and it was very entertaining and educational. Also, learning some of the British terms for things was fun. (Example: "Cookie jars" are called "biscuit barrels.")

Next, we were off the Picadilly Circus to fight the crowd to get to the Royal Academy of Art and Fortnum & Mason. On the way, we stopped off at Minamoto Kitchoan for some Japanese wagashi (sweets, which we have yet to eat) and Maison du Chocolat for some incredible dark chocolate truffles. Yum! At Fortnum & Mason, we spent some time checking out their wide tea selection, biscuits, and teaware. (More on that later!) To end the day, we had some fish and chips at a pub. (I know, I know. But it's required, really.)

Now we're off to plan for tomorrow. Later!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Off to India (via London)

Today, I leave for India. After passport drama (It was filed 17 weeks in advance, and then received JUST IN TIME to get my travel visa.), changes in plans (Who knew my friend would get kicked out of Bhutan for traveling on an Overseas Citizenship of India rather than a regular Indian passport?), last-minute vaccines (NY's immunization clinic said I didn't need a second Hep-A shot. My doctor blanched at the thought of me not getting it.), and packing absurdity (Ziploc bags are my new best friends. They make anything and everything fit into one small suitcase), I am FINALLY ready to go.

First stop, London. My friend Natalia and I will enjoy three days of tea and museums (of the tea and art varieties... yes, they have a tea museum and, yes, I am amped about it). Then, we're off to Kolkata for some masala chai and culture shock. After a few days to adjust, we'll fly up to Darjeeling for cool mist, hot tea, and tours of some of the world's best tea plantations. Three-and-a-half weeks of caffeination from nation to nation. Exciting. I'll be posting a travel blog whenever possible, so check back often.

PS--If you're viewing this through Vee Tea, the post order may be funny. Try my Vee Tea Blogger page instead.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Packing List

Next week, I leave for India (Kolcata, Darjeeling, and Delhi). Below is my packing list. A good packing list takes a long time to compile, and there seem to be very on the internet made by women. I hope this is of use to my fellow travelers, especially those out there who (like me) feel the need to bring face scrub and Q-tips.

General Use:
Suitcase--lightweight, sturdy, lockable... or you could go the backpack route
Lock--combination or key, for keeping the suitcase safely shut
Belt/Strap/Bike Lock Chain--for holding the suitcase securely shut and fastened to whatever surface it's supposed to be attached to (top of the bus, bottom of your train seat, etc.)
Ziploc/Space Saver Bags (various sizes)--for packing everything as effectively and efficiently as possible, less air=more space, bring extras
Power Adapter--two-way or multi-function, depending on how often and where you travel
Swiss Army Knife--I don't think I need to explain this one. Just pack it.
Small Sewing Kit--for emergency repairs... or you could get things repaired... it depends on how often you plan to move around
Flashlight--small, lightweight, reliable, with extra batteries
Lighter--for emergencies/blackouts/smoking (if you smoke)... Just don't pack it in your carry-on!
Scotch Tape--just in case... It's very handy stuff!
Water Bottle and Water Sanitizing Tablets--more ethical than bottled water, though I can understand wanting a "cold one" in the Kolkata heat; I like the Platypus bottles because they collapse as you use them
Clip Belt/Purse--Many people use belts to clip things on (iPod, flashlight, etc.). Personally, I prefer a lightweight purse with an over-the-shoulder strap and a zipper.
Guidebook/Maps/Travel Notes--for, you know, getting around and stuff... kind of important
Language Dictionary--optional
Umbrella--tiny, collapsible, lightweight, sturdy, essential during monsoon season, but otherwise a "buy as needed" item
Sunglasses and Sunglasses Case--utilitarian, UV protective, durable

Documents and Money Stuff:
Passport and Copy of Passport--Keep these in separate places. Also, if you live in the US, apply for your passport EXTRA early. Mine took 17 weeks to process, and arrive just in time for me to go to the Indian Consulate to get my visa.
Visas--all applicable
Other ID--useful... Preferably state-issued
Credit Card--Check which kind is more commonly accepted where you plan to travel. Call your credit card company before you leave to let them know you're traveling; otherwise, they may put your account on hold for "suspicious activity."
Cash--your country's and theirs
Vaccination Certificate--required for crossing some borders; I KNOW you don't want to use the sketchy, expensive ones they sell at the crossing
Extra Passport Photos--in case you need an extra visa for a different travel zone or nearby country
Money Wallet--lightweight, easy to carry close to the body

Soap and Soap dish/Liquid Soap and Washcloth--I'm going with the soap and soap dish. If you decide to use liquid soap and a washcloth, be sure to pack extra Ziploc bags for the bottle. Nothing's worse than a suitcase full of suds.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Dental Floss--Travel toothbrushes are best.
Shampoo and Conditioner--Once again, in a Ziploc bag.
Deodorant--especially necessary in the hotter climates
Face Soap and Scrub--optional
Moisturizer--body and/or face; if you don’t think you'll need much, just bring a sampler size
Razor--Remember that skit on Kids in the Hall where the "vacation beards" make people go crazy and kill themselves? No? Never mind...
Nail Clippers, Tweezers--If these are on your Swiss Army Knife, you can skip them. I'm particular about my grooming products, so I'm still bringing them.
Antiseptic--I'm a spaz. I need this. And I need...
Band-Aids--Various sizes and shapes
Malaria Tablets--There are two kinds. One can cause hair loss and the other can cause severe sunburn. The kind that can cause severe sunburn is more common, so (unfortunately) that's the one I have. Let's raise a (tea) toast to Vee NOT getting second degree burns in Kolkata!
Aspirin/Ibuprofen--I'm going to venture a guess that you will need this at some point in your trip. At least bring a little two-pack so you have some on you when you really need it.
Ciprofloxacin--You know that horror story you heard from your friend who ate a salad on vacation and was violently ill for three days? Don't let that be you.
Imodium--Once again, Delhi belly is no fun.
Any (Legal) Drugs or Supplements You Regularly Take/Use--birth control pills, vitamin B12, probiotics, anti-migraine pills, eczema ointment, and the like
Sun block--ESPECIALLY if you are fair-skinned (like me) or you're taking the anti-malarial pills that increases chances of sunburn; note the SPF and reapply often*
Aloe Vera--for the sunburn that (if you're like me) you will inevitably get, despite all the precautions
Hand Sanitizer--wipes, gel, liquid, whatever... you'll really want it on multiple occasions
Toilet Paper--optional, but I think it's worth it to bring a roll and avoid the scratchy stuff
Tissues--one of those little handy packs, for dust, pollen, travel bugs, tear-jerker moments, etc.
Q-tips--I think that Q-tips are one of the greatest things in the whole wide world. I'm packing two per day.
Lip Gloss, Make-Up--optional, though lip gloss with SPF can be a big plus for even the least glamour-fabulous traveler
Tampons/Pads--as needed (It is common for female travelers to stop menstruating, so don't worry too much if you think you need them, and then you don't.)
Condoms--as needed (Though the HIV/AIDS rate is lower than previously estimated, it's still very high. Please be safe.)
Glasses/Contacts/Contact Solution--as needed
Flip Flops--for showering; a necessity if you're staying in a hostel

*"All Day" doesn't really mean all day. "Waterproof" means you can run into the waves for two minutes, and then pat yourself dry. A proper application of sun block is 1-oz (a shot glass full) for your body, plus more for your face. The FDA is currently revising the way sun blocks are rated and what claims they can make on the packaging. For now, just know that the labels don't really mean what they say.

Buff--a multipurpose circular band of cloth that comes in so handy you'll wonder how you lived without it before, great for packing light enough to make room for the face scrub, Q-tips, and other small luxuries
Tank Tops/Cotton Bras--for wearing under other clothing (female travelers should not bare their shoulders in India, though midriffs are considered to be much tamer than we view them in the West)
Lightweight Local Garments--I'm going salwar kameez (tunic and flowy pants, with a scarf) shopping there. The local dress is, well, suited to the local climate. If you don't feel comfortable doing this for whatever reason, I suggest lightweight pants and (non-offensive) tee shirts.
Sweaters--Another "buy there" item (yay for yak hair!), for the mist and chill of the Himalayas.
Hats--This varies with where and when you're traveling. I'm brining one for hot weather and one for cold weather. The one for hot weather has a wide brim, SPF protection, breathability, and a waterproof coating. The one for cold weather is warm and water-resistant.
Socks--moisture-wicking, good for hot and for cold, suited to your activities
Hiking Shoes--great for the mountainous regions, make sure they're broken in BEFORE you leave
Waterproof Shoes/Sandals--great for monsoon season
Other Comfortable Shoes--optional
Dress Shoes--I'm buying one pair of flats there for nights out on the town. Optional.
Stockings--For when I'm going somewhere dressy.
Nice Salwar Kameez--Ditto above.
Swimsuit--should be modest, only necessary if you actually plan to go swimming
Purse--also mentioned in "Documents and Money Stuff," but worth mentioning here, too, especially if you want to pack a (small) nice one for a fancy dinner or whatever

**Obviously, this list will vary from person to person much more than the other lists. This is what I chose to pack. Take what you will, fill in the rest.

Other Useful Things:
Contact List--useful phone numbers, addresses, etc.
Phone Card--make sure you can use it from the country you're traveling to, or buy one there
Spoon--useful for sauces, chutneys, and the like, especially when eating on the street in a country where most people just use their hands
iPod, iPod cHarger, iPod cAse--Two words: very necessary.
Powdered Detergent--in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware box, for handwashing delicates (do not leave delicates to the dhobi!) or washing on the run (dhobis sometimes have a one-day turnaround, so if you're hopping from place to place it may be easier to do your own washing)
Cord--a length of cord can come in incredibly handy; use it as a washing line, carrying strap, quick-fix repair, etc.; bring more than you think you'll need (10 feet plus)
Quick-Drying Towel--available in camping stores
Camera--digital or film, with extra memory cards/film
Video Camera--optional, with extra recording media
Travel Journal/Sketchbook--optional, but highly recommended
Non-Black Tea--if you crave green mid-afternoon or chamomile in the evening or... whatever (If you're traveling to, say, Japan, change this to "Non-Green Tea." If you're traveling to China, just buy it there unless it's something specific and non-Chinese.)
Tea Strainer--see my article on Infusion Methods for help selecting one

Things I Will Be Buying There:
Tea--lots of it, no explanation needed
Local Dress--I figure the locals know what's best for the heat, rain, and cold in their areas, as they've dealt with it for many generations. Also, you can get gorgeous, one-of-a-kind garments tailored for you at very little cost, which is kind of awesome. Just make sure to get the measurements taken towards the beginning of your trip, as you will probably have (temporarily) lost weight by the end.
Candles--for blackouts
Local Spices--cheaper, fresher, and easier to get than in my local market
Ayurvedic Medicines--Neem toothpaste, Pudin Hara, White Flower Balm, etc.
Local Art and Crafts--whatever strikes my fancy and is in my price range... I'm sure I'll get some scarves and fabric, maybe a small sculpture or painting... I wholeheartedly recommend buying local art whenever you can and wherever you are! If you choose carefully, it can be something you remember your trip by and treasure for many years.

So, that's it for my packing list. What else do you pack?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Shout Out

I want to give a thank you to all my readers. It's great getting email from you about what you're learning and about the information you have to share with me. Though I won't be able to respond as frequently while I'm traveling, I'll catch up when I get back. In the meantime, here's a shout out to my top five countries and states (in terms of visits and time on the site):

Total Visits:
1. US
2. Finland
3. UK
4. Canada
5. Sweden (though New Zealand could easily overtake Sweden if it wanted)

1. New York
2. California
3. North Carolina
4. Texas (Austin represent!)
5. Massachusetts (though Jersey is close behind)

Average Time on the Site:
1. Israel
2. Bhutan
3. Trinidad/Tobago
4. Singapore
5. Thailand (though New Zealand is close behind)

1. Utah
2. Kentucky
3. Missouri
4. Oregon
5. A tie! Massachusetts and New Jersey

So, thank you, readers. If you want to see your country or state represented next time I check out my Google Analytics, send a link to your local friends! (Or, if you want to promote the goodness that is Vee Tea, send it to all of your friends.) In the meantime, enjoy your tea. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another Reason to Buy Organic/VeeTea Updates

Apparently, organic foods have a higher nutrient content than conventional foods. (The New York Times decided to place an ad before this page. Just click "skip in the top right corner to get past it.") I would imagine this extends to tea, too. Cool.

Normally, I'd announce a discount for tours and classes today. (They have previously been for educators and food service workers.) This month is a little (read: very) different. I'm leaving for India on the 6th (to see the tea fields and drink lots of masala chai and Darjeeling!) and I won't be back until September 1st. So, no discount this month, as I won't be here to give classes and tours.

Also, you've probably noticed that I usually post an article each Monday. Not this month. I'll resume in September. You can wait in breathless anticipation until then.

However, I will be posting a travel blog whenever possible. For those of you reading through Vee Tea, you may want to check the travel blog through Blogger instead. I'm writing blogs as I go, then entering them when I can, which causes problems with the way RSS posts them to subscriber sites (like Vee Tea). The blog orders and dates will make more sense if you read the blogs on Blogger. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just trust me and read it on Blogger.

While I'm gone, I will be able to respond to email occasionally. Don't hesitate to contact me, just know that it may take a week for me to respond.