The Happy Tea Deck

SUDHA PILLAI
Saturday, 6 October 2018

Margaret’s Deck in Darjeeling is built in memory of a young girl who fell in love with the tea estate

If New York is a city that never sleeps and Singapore is a city that never stops eating, then Darjeeling is a district that never stops drinking tea. Late into the night, as my car winds its way up the hills from Bagdora to Kurseong in Tung, I see people lounging and sipping cha.

Tea was first discovered in the Yunnan province in China in 2737 BC. In 1842, when the British wanted to break China’s monopoly over tea, they smuggled Robert Fortune, a Scottish Botanist, into the secret tea gardens of China. The enterprising botanist, well-versed in Mandarin, returned to Darjeeling with 20,000 black and green tea plants. Some of the tea bushes in Darjeeling today are said to have originated from those early plants.

A 30-minute scenic drive from the 150-year-old Margaret’s Hope Tea Garden brings me to Margaret’s Deck or the Goodricke Tea Pot. Hanging over a hillock, on a clear day, it offers striking views of the Himalayan peaks and lush tea gardens. On a misty day, however, it’s like being in a scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, all shadows and mystery. Outside the gates of the tea house runs the iconic Darjeeling Toy Train, chugged by steam engines. Life rolls out in Eastman colour when you sit on the deck, sip your ‘summer tea’, and watch the train go past, whistling and billowing smoke.

Margaret’s Hope was earlier known as Bara-Rington. In the early 20th century, the tea estate was owned by an Englishman named Cruikshank. His daughter Margaret fell in love with the estate when she visited her father. Standing at the spot where Margaret’s Deck now does, she loved savouring the bounty of nature. She apparently was always happy and hopeful when she looked at the tea garden. Margaret soon had to return to England for a short visit, but during the journey, she fell ill and died of a tropical disease. In her memory, her father named the garden ‘Margaret’s Hope’. Local legend has it that Margaret’s happy spirit still hovers around and that’s why all those who visit the garden or the Deck feel happy too. It’s a legend I can readily subscribe to.

(The author is a travel writer, photographer and artist. She blogs at www.asunnysquare.com)

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