First Flush Darjeeling

Three customers last week asked me when this year's First Flush would be available. To each I explained, Not until April at the earliest. The Darjeeling tea season begins around March of each year after a winter hibernation period during which there is no manufacture. The first harvest of each year is called 'First Flush' and is eagerly awaited. 'Paila Patti' (first leaf) is celebrated on the opening day of the season with blessings, gifts and an overwhelming feeling of hope. The Darjeeling mountain air is crisp, workers are glad to be back at work after 'earned leave', a programme that methodically schedules time off for each worker during the off-season.

This year, Darjeeling had an unusually cold winter and experienced snow for the first time. The Himalayan mountains around Darjeeling are always snow-capped but the town proper hardly sees any snow. During the entire six years I attended boarding school in Darjeeling, I never once saw snow. We saw hail and rain and mist, the famous Darjeeling mist, but not snow. For a perfect first flush, the elements must conspire - winter ends, intermittent showers arrive, the valleys bloom and suddenly, the bushes are flush with leaf. We expect that next week will be the opening of our 2008 Makaibari season. Two inches of rain have already fallen, a critical prerequisite for First Flush.

In addition to the vagaries of weather, Darjeeling district recently also experienced some civil unrest. (Darjeeling is a town as well as a district). One political faction is clamoring for statehood which resulted in bandhs (strikes/stoppages)and caused hardship to locals and tourists alike. A friend of mine, leading a tour group to see the Himalayan Monasteries, landed in Delhi last week only to to be told of an 'indefinite bandh' in Darjeeling. The situation has, thankfully, normalized.
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