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!

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