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No doubt many people can recognize the name of Darjeeling, having long emblazoned the sides of tea tins and tags. Yet, the leaves that steep in waters around the world are just a taste of the exotic town that's also one of India's most popular hill stations. For travelers who want to immerse themselves in the origins of the iconic brew, Darjeeling's tea plantations offer a glimpse into the process.
Lay of the land
Tea gardens abound in and around Darjeeling. The mountainous terrain provides a good lookout over these estates, which form a lush and beautiful patchwork across the landscape. One of the best ways to take in the expanse of the gardens is a ride on the Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Cable Car, which gives an aerial view of those plantations, according to Darjeeling's government website.
Yet, neither of these options rival seeing the gardens up close. Many tea estates throughout Darjeeling allow tours through their land, where travelers can get an intimate understanding of the business of tea, from growth to harvesting. Depending on the time of year, visitors may be treated to the sight of tea growers plucking leaves or workers processing the season's yield, according to Lonely Planet. The best months to witness a tea garden in action are between March and November, but travelers should note that summers can get quite hot and fall is monsoon season.
Gardens to see
The Happy Valley tea garden is a popular destination little more than half a mile away from the center of town. While close to the city, it is a restive escape from the town's bustle. To get there, visitors can simply walk downhill to the estate or, for a more scenic experience, take a pony from nearby Chowrasta?, according to the region's website. Once there, they should be able to walk through the gardens themselves, thanks to a cooperative that has kept them open even during temporary closures.
Another common destination for tea explorers is the Glenburn Tea Estate, a small plantation that offers hotel accommodations in addition to estate tours. The tea company that established the estate is younger than the Happy Valley tea garden, having been founded a mere five years after in 1859. Guests may take a walk or a drive through the tea fields, where a guide will narrate how a tea brush is grown, tended and plucked. At the factory, visitors will then see how the leaves are withered, rolled, fermented, dried and sorted before being packaged and sent around the world.
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