Darjeeling Tea Tourism Community Forum

 
 
There are many tea resorts and retreats in Darjeeling that have opened up in the recent times in various tea gardens. In some of the tea estates, the garden workers have extended their homes in the villages to offer homestay accommodation to budget tourists. 
 
Tea Tourism not only includes only the accommodation in tea gardens, it also involves many activities in the gardens including factory visits to experience tea processing, tea tasting, watching tea plucking during the plucking seasons, savoring tea freshly plucked from the gardens, village walks and more. This is fast becoming an alternative business for most tea estates in Darjeeling mainly because of the dwindling business and bleak future forecasts of tea sales and exports. 
 
Below is a community discussion forum to discuss the present ad future state of tea tourism in Darjeeling. You can ask or answer questions related to the topic. 
 
Ordered from older to newer posts 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Dear Sir, 
 
I hope my message finds you well. 
 
My name is Jhilam Gangopadhyay, and I am currently pursuing my master's in Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland. I wish to do my master's thesis and PhD on tea tourism in Darjeeling. As a resident of Calcutta and daughter of a former tea planter, this topic is very personal and important to me. In fact, my father was posted in Glenburn and Tumsong, and I spent my childhood in the latter tea estate. 
 
Your website has been a priceless source of information for me, but if possible, I believe I would benefit greatly if I could schedule a call with you to hear your opinion on some of the questions I have. If the above isn't possible, I would be happy to send over some of the questions I have. 
I would be extremely grateful for your support in the same. Please let me know if you wish to know more details about the topic first. Wish you a wonderful weekend, 
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Hello, a call won't be feasible because of all my preoccupations. You can send over the questions that you have (hopefully only a few), I can try to find some time to respond. Best wishes, 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Dear Sir, I understand that you are busy and I greatly appreciate your reply to my message. I have tried to keep my questions limited and I hope you are able to answer them without much hassle. Once again, I thank you for your time in answering my questions. 
 
Question-1) 
In your opinion, what kind of tourists does tea tourism in Darjeeling attract? What are they looking for when they come to stay in these resorts? Are they mostly domestic or international travelers?  
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
The accommodations in the tea gardens include both upscale resorts (that may be a converted original British planter's bungalow or a modern resort), or homestays that are mainly run by the garden workers and meant for budget travellers. The homestays are usually extensions of the villagers' own houses but somewhat modernized to cater to tourists' requirements. The upscale tea resorts attract both Indian and foreign tourists, however, some tea resorts like Glenburn attract mostly foreign tourists. The homestays mostly attract Indian tourists. 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Question-2) 
Do you think these resorts are doing enough to involve the locals in tea tourism? Apart from converting some of the villagers' houses into homestays, how else does tea tourism create alternative forms of employment, especially since in the past fifteen years there has been a large exodus of tea laborers from the estates and the tea gardens are struggling to keep their workforce intact? 
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Tea Resort is clearly an alternative form of business that the tea estates are adopting because only the tea cultivation is no longer much profitable... in fact, many tea gardens are incurring losses in the recent years and sustainability is under serious threats. Tea Resorts do create some opportunity for the locals in terms resort housekeeping, cooking, guides to take the guests around to experience tea gardens, local village tours, hikes, sightseeing tours etc. 
 
The homestays in the tea gardens are only limited to few estates where it has been allowed, for example in Makaibari, but most tea gardens do not allow this yet. 
 
But involvement of locals in tea tourism in Darjeeling is still relatively small because, 1) This is still an emerging and evolving area where the demand is not yet large enough to involve locals in large scale, 2) Most tea resorts are very small having capacity of only 5-6 rooms, so the scale is anyway quite limited. An exception is the massive Taj Chiakutir resort that has come up recently in Makaibari tea garden which employs substantial number of locals. However, that kind of large structure is not quite desirable in tea gardens, 3) More tea gardens need to encourage and fund opening of homestays so that more locals can get involved in tea tourism. 
 
Tea Resorts need to create and offer additional innovative activities &átours that can involve more locals. This should be offered not only to their in-house guests, but also to other general tourists who are interested to make day trips to tea gardens and enjoy the day. I had made such suggestions to several tea resorts and Singtom Tea Resort is one of the first ones which has initiated such packages for day tours &áactivities. 
 
While tea tourism in Darjeeling is largely an exclusive affair, do you think the tea gardens should make efforts to attract more people to make it more sustainable in the long term? 
 
Yes, they should make more efforts to attract more tourists and make it sustainable in the long term. Firstly, some of the upscale tea resorts like Glenburn are prohibitively expensive which would discourage even some luxury-class travellers to stay there for more than a day or two. They need to rationalize their costs to attract more tourists, otherwise those become affordable only to some select class of foreign tourists... perhaps that is what they want. 
 
As I had mentioned earlier, more homestays should be encouranged in the tea gardens that can open doors to the budget-class Indian tourists, because that's where the real numbers lie. The tea garden management should take some steps to promote the homestays as they are hardly known to common tourists... or perhaps the homestays could form a community of their own and collectively promote themselves more aggressively. Unfortunately, not many tourists even know what they are missing out on. 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Question-3) 
Is it hard to find reservations in these tea resorts all year round or is it just during the high-season months?  
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Most of these tea resorts and homestays in Darjeeling go empty during the low seasons, just like the hotels. It is only during the high seasons when it can get difficult to get reservations and that too because of the limited capacity they have. Note that, most tourists availing tea resorts or homestays only stay there for a day or two and then move on to another place or hotel. 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Question-4) 
Has the Gorkhaland movement had any specific impact on tea tourism?  
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Yes, like it has impacted the hotels, the strikes have resulted into polonged closures of these tea resorts and homestays, and that has severely impacted tea tourism in Darjeeling as a whole. 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Question-5) 
How has the pandemic affected tea tourism in Darjeeling? 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Pandemic too has forced prolonged closures of the resorts and homestays. They have started to open up only in recent times. So, needless to say, everybody in tea tourism business has incurred heavy losses, just like the entire hospitality industry. Most staff in Tea Tourism who are from the local villages are temporary staff. So they would immediately go without pay when such closures take place. 
 
 
 
Jhilam Gangopadhyay (September 2021) 
Dear Sir, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions in such detail! I am immensely grateful for your effort and your responses will be very helpful for my thesis. 
 
I just had one clarification in mind - you said, 'An exception is the massive Taj Chiakutir resort that has come up recently in Makaibari tea garden which employs substantial number of locals. However, that kind of large structure is not quite desirable in tea gardens'. When you say that kind of large structure is not quite desirable, is it because it ruins the landscape, or something else? If you could kindly clarify this point, it would be very helpful. 
 
Wish you a wonderful week ahead, 
 
 
 
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) September 2021 
Such large structures are not desirable for several reasons... one, of course, a large 72-room hotel of that magnitude does not blend well with the natural ambience of a tea garden although they have tried to make some use of bamboo and cane, but that's mostly for the show. The actual structure is made of concrete just like any other luxury hotel, and it even has an indoor swimming pool. 
 
But the more significant reason is different... it is likely to interfere with the environment and biodiversity of the place and eventually with the ecosystem. Although the hotel is talking about permaculture and sustainable ecosystem, it is yet to be known how they plan to achieve that. 
 
Remember, many tea gardens in Darjeeling have become organic over the years and Makaibari was the first to become so, and it's the pioneer in this. And organic gardens particularly require a very balanced ecosystem and preferably large forested lands of their own so that the gardens are environmentally stable. Makaibari's primary forest area is twice the size of its tea plantation area. 
 
Rajah Banerjee, the former owner of Makaibari and his predecessors never allowed such large commercial hotels in the property, although Banerjee did allow homestays in the villages to enable sustainable living for the villagers. Best wishes, 
 
 
 
 
 

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