One thing I love more than coffee is tea. In part because I grew up waking to tea, but more so because I spent my childhood vacations in a Nilgiri tea estate.
I still remember the chill that ran through my spine every morning while I reached my index finger into the bucket of water. Every day I’d dream of bathing in cold water and not falling sick. It felt like an achievement to bear the cold air and the cold water dripping from my temple. I never managed to, though. It was always better to douse myself in lukewarm water and come out for warm tea and breakfast.
All of those memories came rushing back to me as I swayed in the jeep, riding through Thekkady’s tea estates.
I had always taken for granted the beauty of tea plantations. But I hadn’t been in one for about four years. We did visit an estate during my team trip to Darjeeling, but that was no proper estate. It was young and grew on plains!
In my opinion, a proper tea estate lies on a hill, about a hundred years old, still bearing the ghosts of British colonialism. Oh, and I’d trip on my feet every time I tried to climb an area of plantation. That’s how tea estates should be. That’s how Thekkady was.
I’d gawk at tea pluckers who cruise through tea leaves without the least care about the slope. They had become so accustomed to incline walking; it’s like regular walking for them. I still remember their straw baskets resting on their bright red headbands, sometimes matching their green saris or clashing with their pink dhotis.
And I knew I wasn’t the only one reminiscing. My mother sat next to me in the jeep, and she clung to the handle, almost reaching out to the tea that grazed her side. She was born and raised in a tea estate. Her memories were as strong as the tea her family cultivated. There was nothing our guide could show us that she hadn’t seen already. Nevertheless, her eyes sparkled with long lost moments.
But the Thekkady tea estates were much higher and much rougher than the Nilgiri estates I’m used to. When riding in the Nilgiri mountains, we at least remained in our seats, whereas Thekkady made us jump harder than we had expected.
But none of that mattered once we reached the top. That wasn’t our destination, but we had ridden through so much of lusciousness, we had to take a break. What’s more, we could smell the tea drifting through the leaves.
I felt elite, to look at leaves that give us a heart-warming beverage, at being able to inhale it before anyone else.