THE PROJECT HIMALAYA – JAPAN
Our Japanese guests arrived late on the evening that India had beaten Pakistan in the cricket as we waited for them in the airport there was a big uproar, more horn tooting than usual, fireworks and general crazy festivities in the street.
Mr.Iwata a 17th generation tea farmer with a tiny tea garden near Kobe in Japan, was here to improve his understanding of black tea and to share his expertise in green tea.
Mr.Takeda a semi-retired tea-scientist and president of one of Japan’s most respected research institutes who has spent his life developing plants for the Japanese tea industry.
They were accompanied by Pierre our trusty translator/ interpreter, an eccentric sword smith who has lived for many years in Japan and his wife Rina.
We drove into town and, once checked in to the hotel, went out for a late night stroll through the streets of Kolkata, their first experience of India. We stopped for a traditional clay cupped chai which they enjoyed, breaking the disposable cups on the ground with great enthusiasm. Though tired, they all seemed excited and game for anything.
The next day for breakfast I pulled out a fresh sample of exceptional Darjeeling Thurbo, tasting the fresh nectar their eyes widened, the notebooks were out and the questions began to flow…
We spent the day travelling to Darjeeling. Checked in to the charming old Darjeeling Planter’s Club and then to my very good friend JP Gurung’s house for supper.
JP Gurung is one of Darjeeling’s most senior tea consultants. The son of a tea planter who, having managed many gardens for many years, now advises as a private consultant. As the Indian expert of our project he was to accompany us to Nepal the next day.
Setting up this project I had wondered whether the ‘friendly exchange’ I was hoping for was possible between people of such vastly different cultures. However JP’s warm hospitality and comfortable living room, the log-fire burning in the grate, a pot of wonderfully floral First Flush Darjeeling (and a few glasses of something a little stronger) and our shared passion for tea had us in deep discussion within minutes. It wasn’t long before the jokes were flowing and it was clear that everyone was there to make the most of it.
The following day was spent on the road and crossing the border into Nepal. Arriving late in the village of Fikkal we met our host Mr.Rai at the Nepal Small Tea Farmers factory which is a large, industrial-sized, factory owned as a co-operative by 750 small farmers, quite unique in Nepal. Fresh leaf is purchased daily from the local tea-farmers by weight and transformed into Darjeeling-style orthodox black teas. It is one of the projects that JP supervises in Fikkal. His other interest here is a tiny factory a few minutes up the road that makes artisanal green, black and wulong teas with a selection of small Japanese machines. Between these two very different tea factories we were to spend the following days exchanging knowledge and manufacturing both green and black teas together.... …...
To be continued in Kevin's next blog....'To be continued in Kevin's next blog....'
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