Environmentally-conscious adventurers, volunteers and eco tourists alike, could enjoy this experience in West Bengal, India: an Indian homestay with a local family in Indias first certified organic and largest tea estate in Darjeeling.
I met Swaraj Kumar Banerjee, the Rajah of Darjeeling and the 4th generation tea planter of Makaibari Estate, who had a clear passion for conservation and sustainability. His efforts have heralded permaculture and sustainable tea production at Makaibari, which has been certified organic since 1988 and biodynamic since 1991, all a first of its kind in India.
Wandering through the 700 hectare estate is a sight to see: carefully-trimmed Chinese and Assam tea bushes spread between natural woodland and villages. 70% of the estate remains under forest cover, which provides immediate shade for the tea leaves and helps retain moisture, as well a natural environment for many species of indigenous animals such as endangered panthers, tigers, birds, butterflies, snakes, spiders to thrive.
The lady tea-pickers stop and wave to me and my guide, most if not all pickers are women as their hands are more gentle on the prized bushes, plucking the essential bud and 2 top leaves that are later used to steep a delicate cup of Darjeeling green, white, oolong or black tea. The families living near my Indian homestay on the estate are provided their own cows, for milk and manure, the latter of which is later converted to bio-gas which eliminates the need to cut down forests for firewood, and is a non polluting renewable energy source. Excess manure is composted and sold as organic fertiliser to the estate.
I come back after a sun-kissed day exploring the hills of the estate to the lovely Lama family, my hosts of the Indian homestay, where a traditional vegetarian meal and (of course) a cup of Darjeeling tea await me.
When this Fair-trade tea is sold, a premium is added that is used for social development projects that directly benefit the villages on the estate. These include electrification of villages, increased forestation, improved sanitation, micro loans, purchase of farm animals, computer training for children, a medical centre and higher education scholarships. Life here is slow, subtle and serene, and the connections made immediate.
Opportunities for volunteers are ever present, and helping hands and hearts are always welcome, whether at one of the schools on the estate, teaching a new skill, or building a water pump. Past volunteers helped by compiling a cookbook of all the villagers favourite local recipes that is sold at the head office, another group help set up a library near the computer centre. The are many possibilities and each provides you with the chance to experience simple sustainable living at its best.
Please visit www.volmakaibari.org for more information on homestays and volunteering.
Makaibari Tea Estates work to ensure that Makaibari maintains a sustainable human and natural environment that can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors.
This article is a guest post byNiusia Winczewski of Gazing Maven.
Gazing Maven, graphic designer slash doodler slash photographer. Lover of airplane tickets, spicy food, trekking, pets, sun-chasing road trips and down-to-earth characters. The formula is simple: search, observe, create. http://gazingmaven.blogspot.com/