With “you MUST see the sunrise” ringing in my ears, I quickly awoke and checked my watch. Ah, it’s 4:20. sunrise at 4:30. I jumped out of bed, ran to the door and looked out at the overcast and drizzly day. NO VIEW. Laid back down. Rain stopped by 4:30. Got up, looked out, NO VIEW! I tried to go back to sleep but we had to be at the factory at 8:30am SHARP for the tea tasting. We had met Raj (he gave himself that title) Banerjee, owner of Makaibari Estates, the day before. He introduced us to his god first thing and blessed us with a drop of water from the shrine! (Politeness is important, not theological debates. My God knows.) And talked about all the potential we had inside. He set up the tea tasting and dictatorially told us to be there at 8:30 sharp! We also had to make sure we were up and ready for breakfast and pictures with our host, the Lama family, before the girls left for school and dad left for work. The oldest daughter is at university and was only home for the weekend. The mom said, “I will be very lonely.”
After a breakfast of aloo parantha, a potato pancake/crepe, we hurried to the tea tasting, about 5 minutes early. The Raj was having a “staff meeting/locker room yelling” with his workers. He waved us upstairs (into the “shrine” of his success) to wait. He is the 4th generation of this plantation that started in 1859. Portraits of predecessors and framed newspaper and magazine articles adorned the walls along with the mounted buffalo. We were ushered to the table in the main room to wait and brought a cup of tea (of course). Finally, The Raj came up and took us into the tasting room. We had to wear the Makaibari white apron. He explained each tea, pointing out the dry leaf, liquor and wet leaf. I tried to take pictures of each and he was very particular about the quality of the photos. It had to make the teas look their best!!! Dr. Yang, from South Korea, came in to test taste the batch of Muscatel black tea he had processed. The Raj gave him a big thumbs up. We agreed. I was encouraged to find out that I had been doing my tea tastings the right way!
We had packed up before the tea tasting to be ready to leave for Delhi and Bethany couldn’t find her other camera lens. She realized that she had left her it in the taxi driver’s car the night before and I realized I couldn’t find my hard drive!!!! Bethany called the taxi man (aka, Peter Sellers) and with the help of our host mom, asked if the lens was in his car. YES!!! YEAH!!! As it turned out, he was already planning to pass the tea estate that morning and could bring the lens!!! Hoorah! After a call to Abe, I discovered my hard drive was in a borrowed computer case side pocket, not stolen at the airport, as I had feared! Whew!
We could not have had better weather while we were at the estate, but we weren’t leaving too early. Their monsoon was in full effect. We bought some packs of tea to take (including precious silver tip tea), waited for “Peter Sellers” and the camera lens then headed down in the taxi. On the way we saw a wreck that had just happened. (It was the 1st one Bethany had seen in her 10 months in India which is pretty amazing given the way that they drive and how foggy the mountain roads are in monsoon.)
We got to the airport with plenty of time. While we waited our turn to go through security check what should we see playing on a monitor to our left by the shop’s door? A video about The Raj and his tea estate! Everything that makes it great and how they do things!! LOL. He is a good business man, that’s for sure. Then we jumped through several hoops and finally made it onto the plane. The flight was uneventful. We bought, hear me, BOUGHT some plane (not plain, for sure) food and drink and soon arrived in Delhi. The same taxi driver who had met me in Delhi before was waiting for us and at 5PM we embarked on a 5 hour taxi ride to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
So it is 10pm in Agra. Our driver doesn’t know where the hotel is. This was the only part of our trip that Bethany booked herself instead of using the travel agent. finally we discover that the taxi is not allowed to drive to the hotel (later we found out why). Our options? 1) Walk in the dark not knowing where we are going. 2) Hire a bicycle ricshaw to take us there. Hummmmm???? What to do????? So sorry I was not able to get a picture of us. The best I can offer is a shot of our rickshaw and the little man. (see our taxi driver standing there next to him) We loaded my two huge suitcases, Bethany’s backpack, my hand bag and Bethany’s purse and ourselves onto the little seat and were on our way…..at about max 4 miles an hour when he was peddling. Speed of a snail when he got off and pushed!
The hotel was just down the street from the west gate to the Taj and it opened at 6:00AM. We found our room. Simple. Bed-no blanket. Bathroom-no toilet paper. Bucket shower-no towels. But, we had to get to sleep fast because we needed to awake at 5am to see the Taj. And when you are asleep you can’t see the surroundings anyway!