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Base tour: India
Ceylon 5 Day Pre-tour - Today known as Sri Lanka, the "resplendent" isle of Ceylon has a long and colorful history. It is also one of the top tea exporting countries in the world. A tropical wonderland, this developing nation has been shaped by Dutch, Portuguese and English influence since the 1600's. Arriving into the capital city of Colombo, we'll transfer to our beach-side hotel which overlooks the Indian Ocean.
Day 1 - After a short orientation where we'll formally meet our guides, board our private coach bus and head into Colombo for a visit to the tea auction and an introduction to Ceylon teas in the tasting room of John Keels, the country's largest tea broker. With tongue tingling with the taste of tea, we'll board our coach and head inland toward Kandy. Stopping to refresh at the Spice garden where you can even get a spice massage, learn about some of the other important products from the country. Pressing onward, we reach the national Tea Museum for a look at the origins of Ceylon tea farming and production. Kandy is also the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and we'll take in some of the colorful culture in the music and dancing performance. After dinner we'll remove our shoes and enter one of the most holy places in the country, the Buddha's Tooth Relic Temple. Rest for the night bathed in the fresh mountain air.
Day 2 - Teas from this area are sought for their robust flavors and one of the most well known tea estates is the sprawling Kenilworth estate. This morning we'll roll up our sleeves to learn how to pluck the tender leaves and take them to the factory for processing. We'll spend some time in the tasting room for an introduction on the many teas produced by this estate. Visit the manager's bungalow for a short rest an then we set off for the higher altitudes of Nuwara Eliya. We'll visit another tea estate to compare the differences with the Mid-grown Kandy teas. Generally more delicate and aromatic, enjoy the taste of some fine teas and then retire to the old world splendor of the Grand Hotel.
Day 3 - We'll get an early start this morning and drive to Udawalawe National Park for a Jeep safari where we'll see all kinds of wildlife, including elephants. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the savannah complete with afternoon tea. Continuing westward, we'll arrive in the low-grown Ratnapura tea region. We'll visit yet another famous tea factory to learn about the special teas from this area and taste examples of freshly made tea. Rest for the night enjoying the memories of the day.
Day 4 - This area is also famous for gemstones so our first stop today is a gem workshop. Then we head for our final destination, the lovely and historic Mt. Lavinia hotel, arriving just in time for afternoon tea. The rest of the day is at your lesure to walk the beach or take advantage of the many other comforts the hotel has to offer. Dinner will be served on the beach with your choice from an amazing spread of freshly caught seafood.
Day 5 - After breakfast we'll transfer to the airport because we're off to India! Arriving in India's cultural capital of Calcutta in the evening, we'll meet our guide, enjoy a delicious Bengali dinner and settle into our hotel. The flight from Colombo to Calcutta is included in the tour cost!
Tea Tour of India 2022 - Base Tour
Day 1 - We have a full schedule today which starts of course with tea! Calcutta is famous for its many Chai Walla tea stalls, each with their own secret recipe. Enjoy a guided walk through the streets to see and taste the local color including the busy tea sellers streets. After lunch it is time for some tea tasting training at J. Thomas & Co., the oldest tea brokers in the world and home of the world's biggest tea tasting room. Get acquainted with the different Indian teas as well as how they are bought and sold. Check out the tea auction and then have a tour of some of the other must see cultural sights of the city including the palatial Victoria Memorial.
Day 2 - Before our flight to the tea gardens of upper Assam, we'll have a relaxing boat ride on the Hoogly river, where the first tea shipments were dispatched to England. Arriving in Dubrugarh, Assam we'll transfer to our tea estate home and have a lecture on the history and manufacture of the world famous Assam tea. Relax in the bungalows that were the posh jungle residences of the old-time planters.
Day 3 - Producing teas that are deep and malty, Assam supplies more than half of all the teas for the country. This morning we'll start our day in the tea gardens plucking the tender leaves along side the expert tea pickers. Take our leaves back to the factory and see all the processing steps that turn the green leaf into our favorite brew. In the afternoon we'll put our tongues to work in the manager's tasting room, evaluating the days production. Tonight, interact with other tea growers and research people in a dialogue about the many issues facing tea producers.
Day 4 - Visiting another tea garden on the way, this morning we'll drive to Jorhat, a major city in Assam and delve into the experimental side of tea at a program at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute. Learn about the latest developments in farming a production practices. The afternoon gets wild as we walk through the protected Gibbon Sanctuary to get glimpses of the amazing wildlife unique to this area. After a traditional Assamese "tali" dinner we'll board our overnight train heading to the foothills of Darjeeling.
Day 5 - Watch the countryside pass by and enjoy the rhythm of the train. By lunch time we'll arrive at New Jalpaiguri station and transfer to Siliguri for a seminar on Darjeeling tea and tea tasting at a tea trader's offices. In the afternoon our journey up into the hills begins as we reach Kurseong town. After a reception and introduction by the manager, we'll enjoy a vegetarian dinner and stay in the bungalows of Goomtee tea estate.
Day 6 - After bedside "morning tea" and a delicious breakfast we'll tour the factory and garden and have a tasting of some freshly made 1st flush teas. Lunch today is momos (dumplings), the Nepali specialty of the Tourist Lodge. Then we'll have a tour of the Makaibari tea estate and learn about organic and biodynamic farming practices. By evening we will arrive at Glenburn tea estate for a manager's reception and delicious dinner. In addition to being an historic tea estate, the luxurious planter's bungalows are one of the best boutique hotels in India.
Day 7 - Kanchanjunga is the third highest mountain in the world and watching the sunrise illuminate the snow-capped peaks is the sight of a life time. Today we rise early to behold the spectacle from the front lawn of the bungalows. Following breakfast, join the manager in the cupping room to learn about and taste the different teas made here. If we're lucky, we may taste some special silver tips. The foot of the estate is the Rungeet river and we'll hike down the verdant paths through the tea gardens learning about the different bush cultivars and their attributes. Sit back and enjoy a bar-b-que lunch as you dip your toes in the cool waters. Returning to the bungalows, reflect with some quite time before another sumptuous dinner.
Day 8 - A scintillating drive down from the tea hills brings us back to Siliguri in time to catch our flight to New Delhi, the nation's capital. See some of the prominent structures including the India Gate and government buildings and have some time for shopping at a local handicraft and sari shop.
Day 9 - Dharamsala is the residence of the Dalai Lama and our destination for today. We'll take a morning flight and reach there in time for lunch. Experience a taste of Tibetan culture and perhaps even some yak butter tea as we take in some of the sights. Just an hours drive away is Kangra Valley, a beautiful but relatively lesser known tea producing center. Tea production there dates from around the same time as Darjeeling and we'll compare notes as we taste several freshly made teas. Again, we'll enjoy being pampered at the bungalows of the Dharamsala tea estate.
Day 10 - Today we really enjoy the fresh mountain air as we tour the tea garden and see the operations at the factory. A program on the history and manufacture of Kangra teas is on our menu for the afternoon along with a tasting session to become better acquainted with their special characteristics. Take a walk around the estate or do some journaling with a little free time before dinner.
Day 11 - With Dharamsala over our shoulders, say farewell to the mountains and get ready for sand as we fly back to New Delhi this afternoon and hit the road for Agra, the location of the Taj Mahal. Built in the mid 1600s by Emperor Shah Jahan it is one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.
Day 12 - Built as a tomb for the Emperor's favorite wife, the structure is made of marble with ornate and detailed inlays of semi-precious stones. The stone carvers who built this amazing wonder were master craftsmen from Persia and their descendants still live in the area, continuing to apply their trade. Visit a stone carver's workshop and showroom to see how the skills have been handed down for generations. Then get a view from a different vantage point, the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son. More like a walled city, it is an impressive fortress in traditional Mughal style and a UNESCO world heritage site. Browse the shelves of a local arts and craft shop for treasures.
Day 13 - The Western state of Rajasthan reveals a very different feel and culture than the East and today we travel to it's capital of Jaipur. Along the way we'll stop at a desert oasis for a short rest and then travel via camel caravan (a short one) to get a feel of days past when tea was carried this way. We'll arrive in this ancient city and enjoy a special reception with the King of Shahpura. What's more, we'll stay the night in his city palace and enjoy a special roof-top banquet and ethnic dance show. Earlier, we'll visit the local bazaar market to see the hustle and bustle of textile merchants, craft makers and jewelry dealers as they bargain with their customers.
Day 14 - The sprawling, hilltop Amber Fort is one of the major "must see" sights of Jaipur. We'll tour the compound and then visit the showroom where metal and silver crafts are the specialty. Returning to Delhi we arrive just in time for afternoon tea at the exclusive Imperial Hotel. Sip in elegance as you enjoy savories and sweets, the perfect end to our adventure. Share our farewell dinner together, recounting stories and memories that will linger for years to come.