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.