The Finest Brew
It has always been a land that inspired the poetic expression because Darjeeling, undoubtedly, is one of the most beautiful hill stations in the Eastern part of India. Often referred to as the Queen of the Himalayas, it is a land of breathtaking sunrises, an old-world charm that instantly transports you a wonderful bygone era and a scenic beauty that is unparalleled. Standing on Observatory Hill on a bright, sunny day, one can experience the majestic sweep of the entire Himalayan range and clear views of the Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Indeed, Darjeeling has a large bouquet of charms which has made it a very popular holiday destination but perhaps the one aspect of this picturesque paradise which truly makes it a land like no other is the quality of tea that is cultivated along its gorgeous slopes. Darjeeling enjoys an enviableglobal reputation when it comes to teas of the finest qualitywith connoisseurs often referring to Darjeeling tea as the champagne of teas.
Tea has been cultivated in Darjeeling since 1856 and its lush green hills have yielded some of the most exclusive teas in the world. It is a mesmerising sight–rolling, verdant slopes through which the toy train, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, slowly makes its way towards its destination.
A Heady Bouquet
About a two-and-a-half hour drive from Mumbai city has all the potential to take you to the seat of a revolution. Lush green rolling hills, dotted with beautiful lakes and acres and acres of vineyards which have been at the forefront of ushering in a movement that has already gone global. Yes, we are talking about Nashik, a lovely city that has now forged a reputation for itself as the Wine Capital of India.
The farmers of this fertile valley always cultivated very high quality table grapes. The sunny, moderate climate of the region with good rains in the monsoon months between June and September ensures a quality crop where every year can be a ‘vintage’ year. It was only a matter of time before this excellent harvest was utilised to produce top quality wine. The wine industry has truly prospered in and around Nashik with more than 40 vineyards spread throughout the region and tourism increasingly becoming a way of life in this blessed valley.
Beans oF Fortune
It is perfectly understandable if someone get a little lost for words if asked about Araku Valley. Located a 120 kilometres from Vishakhapatnam, this is a relatively unexplored hill station whichis a bit of a surprise because Araku exists in a beauty that defiesdescription. In fact, the journey from Vishakhapatnam to Arakuis a source of wonder on its own. Over the course of the fivehours that it takes to get from one city to another, one crosses 58 tunnels and 84 bridges to get to this valley in the Eastern Ghats which is now becoming popular in some of the major cities of the world.
The reason is simple – Araku Valley is producing some of themost outstanding coffee anywhere on earth and coffee lovers areslowly beginning to discover its magic. It is worthwhile to notethat organic Araku coffee won the gold medal at the Prix Epicures OR 2018 Award in Paris, the first Indian coffee brand to earn thisdistinction. Most coffee from the valley is grown under the shade of jackfruit and silver oak trees and its natural territory and the soil it iscultivated in gives its a flavour that has had the world sit up andtake notice.
The Sweetness Of Humanity
Auroville in the Viluppuram district of Tamil Nadu and with some of its parts in the Union Territory ofPuducherry is not so much a city as it is a concept. Itbegan in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa as an ideal township dedicated to experiments in human unity after it was passed in a unanimous resolution by UNESCO who described it as a project of importance to the future of humanity. Auroville, right now, is recognised as the only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness.
It has also been lauded for its practical research into sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. Auroville is known for keeping the heritage of various cultures alive and one of the areas that it shows up in is the honey that is harvested here. Collected through the age old technique of smoking bees out of their hives, honey from Auroville is very diverse and some of its chief variants include raw, bitter, wild and ginger honey. It is a taste that has successfully found very enthusiastic takers decade after decade.
The Big Cheese
On the face of it, the southern parts of India would not automatically spring to mind if one mentions international quality cheese. It is after all a dairy product more associated with Switzerland than the Nilgiris, right? Well, as it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth because the Nilgiri Hills have been making very good cheese for some time now and they have developed an increasingly growing market for their produce.
In fact, if one were to venture into Coonoor and ask for cheese, the person behind the counter is very likely to ask, “Hard or soft?” Not a query, one would normally expect. Kodaikanal and Coonoor, both very pretty hill towns are making cheese that could be stocked on international shelves and no questions asked. The variety here is staggering. From herb garlic and pepper top cream cheese to Gruyere, blue cheese and haloumi, it is a feast for the taste buds and everything just whets up the sense of anticipation and appetite.
The entire process surrounding cheese making has also provided impetus to farm stays where cheese makers host groups and families at their farmsand take them through the process of cheese making from the very first stage to finished product. It is an exhilarating experience. The magicalblue mountains in the distance, romantic weather and the unforgettable taste of farm fresh cheese. A trip unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry.