Today we had the opportunity to visit one of the leading tea producers in India, Hathikuli Tea Plantation. Hathikuli is the biggest employer in the Kaziranga area and as we soon found out, the largest organic farm in all of Asia. The management of this massive tea operation taught us a lot about tea and what an operation of this size means to both the local community and the environment surrounding it. The plantation covers 470 hectares and employs more than 3,000 workers, the majority of whom are working as tea pickers, which they have done for generations since the plantation opened more than 100 years ago.
No words can truly describe the magic of Kaziranga – it’s like you have walked into a Garden of Eden. Nestled between the Brahmaputra River and the Himalayas, this slice of heaven is one of the two last remaining strongholds of the Indian Rhino. With less than 3000 Rhinos left in the world, this is truly a place worth all of the efforts that are going into saving this haven. Kaziranga was made a World Heritage site in 1985 but remains mostly under the radar from typical tourists. The lack of infrastructure and tourist development makes getting here a bit of an adventure, but completely worth it once you arrive.
“In an age of conservation reverses, this is one of the Indian subcontinent’s most significant successes”
As we got dressed to have dinner with one of the most important people in conservation today, there was an overcoming feeling of excitement. We had been introduced to Bittu and his lovely wife Madhu Saghal, who have been on the forefront of Indian wildlife and nature conservation since the early 70’s. Let me start by saying that describing this amazing couple in a simple blog post is somewhat of an impossible task.
We pulled out the crinkled piece of paper where we had scribbled down the directions. Something along the lines of, go to this church, turn right after the large wall with flowers and then a left at the single yellow streetlight …mind you we are still in the sparkling city of Mumbai, a city where there are few street signs and a maze of alleys that could engulf anyone. With some help from our taxi driver who barely spoke any English, we arrived at Bittu’s 30 minutes later.
As I walked the streets of Mumbai, a kind of peace came over me. It has been four long years since I traveled abroad. The dirty crowded streets, with people and cars crisscrossing each other’s paths was not as overwhelming as expected, but rather I felt a sense of calmness -almost as if I had returned home.
With a deep inhale you could smell a blend of the various scents that come with a crazy city like Mumbai. More than 16 million people live in what used to be Bombay. The smells range from the captivating smell of spices and street food to overwhelming smells of trash, urine, fish, and pollution, and if you really looked for it, a hint of Jasmine. I don’t know if it was the area we landed in, Colaba Mumbai, or the time of day, but it didn’t seem nearly as chaotic as expected. We walked the quiet alleys in the early Sunday morning hours, as the city slowly woke up and we just enjoyed getting lost in a new city.
So it would seem everything was not quite under control after all. We got a couple of weeks delay due to our Visas. For some reason the Indian consulate in the US has a hard time with European passports. Oh well, Visas are here, tickets are booked and we will land in Mumbai in a couple of days!
Very excited for what is to come. We hope you will follow our quest during the upcoming month!
The clock is ticking and we are hustling to get everything ready for the trip. Vaccines and Visas are now under control, and we are making sure that all of our equipment is in working order and that we have everything we need for a successful adventure!
India here we come!