Walking through a tea garden on the gentle hill slopes of Darjeeling and seeing the tea processing is always a special experience. And a great way to experience this is by visiting the Happy Valley Tea Estate which is located about 3km (1.8 miles) away from Chowk Bazaar area.
The approach is through a narrow winding downhill road which is quite steep. So if you are walking, the walk on your way back is likely to be quite cumbersome. But the rewards on the way are enormous.
There are some points on the way from where the mountain vistas are simply spectacular. And you will pass by local homes and cottages. The narrow road is named after T P Banerjee, a rich Bengali man from the Hoogly area of West Bengal.
He took over the Tea estate from the original owner David Wilson in 1903. Wilson, an English man, originally established the estate in the year 1854. At the entrance of the factory, there is board that still shows the year of original establishment along with the name of the estate.
During the time of Wilson, the tea estate was known as Wilson Estate. T P Banerjee bought another adjacent tea estate called Windsor Tea Estate in 1929, combined the two and renamed the whole estate as Happy Valley Tea Estate that spans across more than 270 acres. This is the nearest tea estate to Darjeeling town and the most convenient one to reach. Since 2008, the tea estate has been taken over by Sanjay Bansal.
Happy Valley tea estate is located at the end of a narrow downhill road Road. You can see the beautiful tea garden on the hill slope as you come near the end of the road. From a distance, you can see the large white colored building with slanted tinned roof which is the tea production factory.
There are guides who will offer to take you inside and show you the entire tea production process. They are usually employees of the factory acting as guides during their off time and charge small fees. While the fees may vary depending on the demand, it usually varies between Rs. 50/- to Rs. 75/- if you are alone. For groups, the per person charge can be lesser.
You will first enter into a huge hall where plucked teas are kept on elevated wooden beds for a processing known as Withering where the moisture content in the leaves are reduced. There are different qualities of tea. The number 1 or the best quality comes with a single bud with two leaves, the next quality has one bud and three leaves and so on.
The best quality tea at Happy Valley Tea Estate is known as SFTGFOP (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) which is normally produced during the first flush or sometimes as Supremo (second flush). Within this there are variations like White tea, Green tea and Black tea.
The regular quality tea at the estate is known as Family Mixture. Most of the tea bushes in this estate are nearly 100 years old, some even older.