Darjeeling Tea Garden Stays & Tours
What to expect
Tea Tourism is a relatively new concept in the world and Darjeeling is a taking a lead in this area. And why not? Darjeeling is after all the Mecca of tea and sprawling estates producing what we know as the "Champagne of Teas" to the delight of the world. There are 80 odd operational tea gardens in Darjeeling that span across thousands of acres of land area on open hill slopes.
High on the hills with cool breeze and misty weather, planters and workers come together to form a wonderland where tea grows in the finest form like no where else in the world.
So what does tea tourism mean? Imagine you are spending a few days in a sprawling tea garden. You will stay in a Bungalow that was typically the residence of a British tea planter built during the old colonial time. The bungalow retains the antique furnishing & aura of the colonial days, and setup amidst lush garden setting within the estate. Food served is usually made of fresh organic produce from the backyard garden.
You wake up and sip a cup of finest aromatic tea that was plucked fresh from the gardens, a tea brand that the world knows. You take a stroll through the garden, talk to the garden workers and see how they deftly pluck the two leaves with a bud, and learn about their lives.
You are also invited to take a look and learn about the tea processing in the factory where some of the best teas in the world are withered, rolled, dried, sorted and packaged.
Tea Garden in Darjeeling
A jeep takes you to the nearby attractions and places of interest for you to soak in the nature. Later you take a walk through the villages and nature trails, and get deeper insight into the lives of the people living in the mountains. In the evening, you are entertained with local cultural dance and music specially performed for you as you drink a glass of wine. Ultimate, isn't it? That's tea tourism.
And where else will you get best of all the elements of a garden tour other than in Darjeeling? Several tea estates in Darjeeling hills offer vacation packages to tourists to experience life in the gardens along with stays in heritage bungalows along with rustic activities and entertainment with local flavor that are rarely found anywhere else in the world.
However except in few cases, tea tourism is not yet meant for the budget travelers. The luxury and special intimate experience in the gardens don't come cheap. Having said that, there are some gardens where tea tourism is affordable even for the mid-budget travelers.
Bungalow in a Darjeeling Tea Garden
And in some others like Makaibari Tea Estate, the garden workers and villagers have extended their houses to make home stays for tourists at low budget and offer them homemade food and an excellent glimpse into the tea garden life as well.
For the luxury class of garden experience, the estates mostly offer all inclusive packages including transfers, meals, sightseeing and garden activities. In few cases though you get options for room only rates and additional charges for food and other activities.
Remember, staying in plantation estates is not like staying in a five star luxury hotel. Tea garden stays are meant to bring you closer to the nature and the garden life. In most tea gardens, the properties are managed and services provided staff who are family members of estate workers and not by professionals as in the five star hotels. While some gardens have introduced TVs in the rooms, others prefer not to so that you are never detached from the nature and real garden life. Similarly you won't get all amenities of luxury hotels in a tea bungalow such as restaurants, gym, 24-hours room service etc.
Some great tea garden retreats & homestays
Here are some of my favorite tea gardens in Darjeeling hills and the surrounding areas. Check out the links for the complete offerings including information about the tea estate, how to reach, how to book and what can you expect during your stay.
This in my view is the first tea resort which has genuinely come forward to offer luxury tea garden vacation in an old colonial planter's bungalow at a very reasonable price making it affordable for even middle income groups. Such tea resort stay and garden experience would have otherwise remained a dream for many. And on top of it, it comes with couple of outstanding offers - first it is home to the tea estate called Steinthal which is the very first garden to be planted in Darjeeling hills during the British era way back in 1852, and second this tea resort is the one closest to Darjeeling town out of all taking only 25 minutes to reach and thus offering best of both the worlds - secluded and sprawling tea gardens on a vast stretch of mountain slopes, as well as a quick access to all town amenities of Darjeeling.
This is one of the old and the most talked about tea estates in Darjeeling district which is still run by the descendants of Banerjee family who were the original founders of the estate. Located in Kurseong and covering a gross area of 750 hectars, Makaibari has gone on to win many accolades in the world tea platform. It has always been one of the top tea producing gardens in the world. Makaibari is located at Kurseong, 45kms from Siliguri/Bagdogra and 37kms from Darjeeling. While the estate offers luxury accommodations in its Stone House building and cottages, the garden workers also offer nice & clean home stays at a low budget price in their village homes along with food.
Located about 30-minute drive from the lower town of Darjeeling, Ging is a sprawling tea estate spread over 600 hectares of lush tea gardens. It is part of the Chamong Group. The Tea House is a restored planter's bungalow which was built in 1864 during the colonial days. The antique furniture, all-wooden floors and high ceiling with rafts are all reflective of grand aura of the period. There are six well appointed suites. You get wonderful views of Kanchenjunga from the Tea House as well as from the viewing deck in front. Other than witnessing tea plucking (in season) and factory visit, you will also experience tea tasting as well as walks along the trails through the gardens.
A 1,600 acres of sprawling tea estate perched on a hill slope with elevation ranging from 3,200ft down to 800ft where there are two rivers flowing through the estate. There is also a forest along the river side which is part of the estate. There are two plush bungalows with 4 suites each and having stunning views of the valleys and mountains, and a campsite lodge by the river side. Glenburn is about 1 hour 15 minutes from Darjeeling town and 3 hours from Bagdogra Airport or Siliguri.
Located near Kurseong, Goomtee Tea Estate is an organic tea garden producing some of the finest orthodox Darjeeling tea. The Bungalow located within the estate has sweeping views of the mountains, valleys and gardens. It has four double rooms and used to be the residence of a British planter and his family. Goomtee is located 48kms from Darjeeling (2hrs) and 40kms from Siliguri/Bagdogra.
Located in Ghoom area of Darjeeling, Tumsong has a rolling tea garden on an estate that spreads over 186 hectars of land area and on an open hill slope with elevations varying between 5,500 ft to 2,700 ft. The Manager's Bunglow retains the old colonial aura and offers four large suites. Tumsong is about 3 hours from Bagdogra airport / Siliguri, and about 1 hour 15 minutes from Darjeeling town center.
This tea estate is located 7kms before Mirik and on Siliguri-Mirik-Darjeeling route. The resort is a 3-storied luxury bungalow with modern amenities yet offering old world charm, and surrounded by lush tea bushes all around. You can get wonderful views of tea gardens, Mirik valley and even Nepal from the rooms.
Well, if you are looking for a day trip to visit a lovely tea garden which is located close to Darjeeling town, sea tea plucking, watch and understand tea processing in the factory, buy some premium packaged tea leaves that are freshly plucked from the gardens, then Happy Valley Tea Estate would be a great choice. It's only few minutes from the lower town (Chowk Bazaar) area. A narrow steep lane from Lebong Cart Road leads down to the factory and the gardens next to it. However there is no arrange ment for overnight stay at this estate. It's good for a half day tour.
Setup in 1870 by a British planter, Selim Hill has a 170 hectare tea plantation area located 50kms from Darjeeling with sweeping views of the mountains. The tea garden employs over 200 workers who come from four different villages that are part of the estate. The old Planter's Bungalow has four luxurious double rooms, a living room, dining room, a large veranda and a wonderful garden with many different flowers and magnificent views.
Amitava Dasgupta (April 2016)
Hi Raj, Last week I visited Happy Valley with high hopes reading the reviews but to my utter disappointment it turned to be a nothing kind of place. I am not sure whether our driver took us to the proper place or not. We took a cab from Clubside, it dropped us to a place after crossing Tenzing Rock but there way no signage or display board. Only a few tea/momo shacks. A small opening beside those shacks offer a view of the tea garden that too marred by transmission wires. The road which could have lead into the tea garden was blocked with a message "Entry is Prohibited". It was the utter mood dampener. Would like your views on this, as I am sure something is wrong, after so many people giving good reviews, how can it be otherwise.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2016
Hi, you seem to had gone to Rangeet Valley Tea Estate - the wrong place. Earlier when those roadside stalls were not there, we used to walk down to the tea gardens for taking pictures. Happy valley comes much before as you go down Lebong Cart Road and a narrow steep lane leads down to the estate below. Looks like the taxi driver tricked you for a longer ride.
Nikhil Gupta (April 2015)
Raj, at the onset, thanks for answering the mail if you do:). Great website, great info. Quick question. Can you give me a tentative idea about how much it will cost in staying at tea estates. I know from your article that upscale are in range of 20,000+, I was talking more from a budget standpoint specifically budget or mid range. Do not want to go for home stays but at the tea estate for 2 nights. thanks.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2015
Hi, you can look into Goomtee Tea Estate for a mid range stay. They charge about Rs. 9,000 for two including meals (vegetarians).
Sangita Sanyal (July 2014)
Hi, I am looking forward to spend around 3days in Darjeeling along with my parents. My purpose is to send some quite time in the tea gardens, take a walk and sit and admire the mountains around. My budget is not more than Rs 2500 per night. Can you suggest the best place to stay? Regards and thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) July 2014
Hi, Proper tea garden stays in planters bungalows are expensive. Your options are limited. You can go for Homestays at Makaibari
or Singell Tea Estates
Paula Aziz (July 2014)
I loved Glenburn's web site. I am very much interested to visit Glenburn while I stay in Darjeeling. Is it possible to go to Glenburn for lunch or tea even if I am not boarding? do they allow guest for such activities? waiting for your response. Thank you for this site once again.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) July 2014
Usually the tea garden retreats combine the meals and activities with overnight stays and offer packages. One has to pay an advance - usually 50% of the total package price. Since they don't run regular restaurants, the meals are prepared only for guests staying at the estate. I haven't seen any tea garden offering day trips yet other than factory & garden visits ... that's probably because all amenities are meant for private use by in-house guests. But you can try to request for a day trip package and see how they respond... spell out your requirement including transfers, meals, activities you want etc so that they can price it. Let me know how it goes.
Marie-Soleil Desautels (May 2014)
Dear Raj Bhattacharya, I hope you are doing fine. I am a journalist from Canada and I am writing about tea tourism in Darjeeling district for the French newspaper La Presse published in Quebec province. I visited Glenburn, Goomtee, Singtom and will soon go to Makaibari. Your website is an incredible source of information, and I would have like to ask you few questions.
You have been working and writing since 2000 now, more than 10 years, on the Darjeeling region. According to you, what are the major changes in the tea tourism in the last 10 years? More and more tea estate offer rooms (either in bungalow, in new building or homestay). Why do you think they are doing it? Do the tea estates need money from tourism because the costs of doing tea business are higher with less income and that tourism becomes a way to support the garden? Do you know exactly how many tea estates offer tourism experience where we can sleep there, etc.? And how many are planing to offer such experience in a near future?
Thank you very much for your time. Best regards,
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) May 2014
Hi, Tea tourism in Darjeeling is still evolving and in its early stages. More and more tea estates are coming forward and opening up their gardens and bungalows to the tourists. There was a time when such tea tourism was limited to the directors of the estates and owners' families. Other than the accommodation, I see lot many activities are now being added including nature & village hikes, eco adventure activities, experiencing tea garden life & local culture, sightseeing tours, organic food etc etc.
While this acts as an additional source of revenue for the management, it also helps creating more jobs for the villagers who work in such tea garden retreats and also in associated activities. The home stays are aimed towards creating alternative income for the garden workers and villagers who extend their houses to accommodate tourists. But to my mind it's still long way off from meeting its objectives where the villagers can see a sustainable alternative income all through the year. Most home stays in Makaibari still go vacant for most part of the year. But they still don't mind because much of the investment has been supported by the estate management which has helped them to own additional assets.
Over all, tea tourism is still not an organized sector in Darjeeling. You will seldom find tour operators or agencies active in tea tourism, mainly because the tea estate owners still believe to go by word of mouth and tend to be very selective about their guests. Prices in the main retreats are kept far higher than they should be keeping them out of reach from vast majority. Home stays of course are low scale alternatives which tend to be attractive mostly to foreign tourists on low budgets. The sector is far from operating as a well oiled professional industry, which is mainly because of its heritage. I think that mind set will change in future when more and more operators will swing into play to mediate such tours, and that's when I think the sector will realize its full potential.
Coni (November 2013)
Hi Raj, I am planing to go to Darjeeling in January and visit the tea plantations. Are the tea plants with leaves at this time of the year? is the landscape of the tea plantations still looking as nice as in the productive season? or they look mainly with brown branches ? I have read on the internet that the tea plants are dormant during winter and the leaves are not growing. Thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2013
Hi, While the tea plants remain dormant during the peak winter, the bushes continue to have leaves. So the garden landscape still looks quite beautiful and green. The first tea plucking (known as the first flush) takes place in March/April.