Growing up in Darjeeling, a hilly town nestled in the Himalayas, there are certain things that become part of your identity. Traditions and values embedded in the collective mind hive of the mountain people. For me there are three things that will stay with me for the rest of my life — the majesty of the mighty Himalayas, the people and culture of my beautiful town and the food and beverage that we collectively indulged in, Darjeeling loose leaf tea being at the top of the list for indulgence.
I was recently talking to an old friend who I grew up with in Darjeeling, and we couldn’t help but reminisce about our childhood days, talk about our journeys since and how a part of us still feels like it lives in the damp breeze of our hometown.
The Kanchenjunga range provides the backdrop for the idyllic Darjeeling township. Often referred to as The Sleeping Buddha, the Kanchenjunga range, as viewed from Darjeeling, looks like the figure of Buddha sleeping on his back, looking up towards the heavens,
There are lots of ethnic and religious groups that form the heartbeat of this town. A melting pot of traditions, customs and legends. So much of our culture is shaped by what we see and feel physically (mountains), what we experience (multi-culture) and what we eat and drink (Darjeeling tea). I explored the hills around my hometown, each time venturing someplace new and yet familiar. Memories of friendly tea plantation workers waving to me as I ran or biked past them along the narrow plantation trails come streaming to me every time I think of a sunny day back home.
As most mountain people, I, too, have a love for food that makes it part of my everyday adventures, and a lot of my runs and bike rides would end up with me binging at my favourite shacks that served delicious momo (Himalayan dumplings) and aloo (a potato dish that I have only ever found in Darjeeling), invariably coupled with a robust cup of Darjeeling loose leaf tea. The connection I have with this land is directly related to its food. To the whenua and the kai.
In recent times, the Darjeeling I grew up in has somewhat changed. Untouched landscapes that were, seem to be strewn with litter, wild places turning into concrete jungles. A constant reminder of the encroachment of wild natural places by humans and the demise of natural beauty. The mountain trails replaced by tar-sealed roads, the sounds of the birds and the gushing stream replaced by the constant banging and clanking of tools used for construction. The Darjeeling I grew up in may well be changing, however, a cup of Darjeeling tea is a reminder of things that are best left unchanged. For me, a cup of Darjeeling loose leaf tea always brings back memories of growing up in the mountains as a skinny Indian child. It grounds me and gives me a sense of where I am from, reinforces my self-belief and fills me with gratitude for all the good things in life, because so much of the good in my life has come from my hometown.
I think a part of me will always belong to Darjeeling, and Darjeeling will always be a part of me. Endless stories have been exchanged around fireplaces and they have all stayed with me, they may as well have been inked — tales of yetis and dragons with a cup of Darjeeling loose leaf tea warming the palms.
A cup of Darjeeling tea whether drunk in Darjeeling or here in Fiordland, NZ, still reminds me of running on those dirt tracks around the tea gardens, it still brings to my mind a clear view of the Sleeping Buddha and the Tibetan prayer flags blowing atop monasteries and homes. It is this sentiment that our philosophy at One Eighty South is founded on — take a walk back to our roots, our core, our soul. A cup of tea is not just something you drink, it has the power to encompass and inspire so much more — people, cultures and connections — this is our cup of memories, old and new, for you.