Going home to Darjeeling

Going home to Darjeeling

image Chongtong Tea Estate

Chongtong Tea Estate, in the Darjeeling area

There is always a greater wisdom at work and when tea is involved and brings people from various parts of the world together, then you know you have truly made a special connection. Such was the case this past October in Siliguri, India when I met Kandy and Brian Smith from the United Kingdom.

Kandy Smith reached out through the Internet to retrieve a part of her family history and found Mr. Rajiv Lochan from Lochan Tea. For the first eleven years of Kandy’s life, she was raised the daughter of a “planter,” the name given to the man who runs a tea plantation, or tea garden. Her father, David Fletcher, ran Chongtong Tea Estate, in the Darjeeling area, in the 1950s – an estate on which Mr. Lochan himself was an assistant manager in the 1970s.

I just happened to be staying at the home of Rajiv Lochan when he welcomed the Smiths to visit with him and helped them on their quest to return to the tea-estate childhood home of Kandy Fletcher Smith. We all met for the first time over tea in the living room of the Lochan home with squeals of delight and tears of joy as Kandy presented her father’s book to Mr. Lochan, who knew of the reputation of Kandy’s well-known and well-respected father.

image Dharlene Marie Fahl, Kandy Fletcher and Brian Smith

Dharlene Marie Fahl, Kandy Fletcher and Brian Smith

I bonded with the Smiths immediately and was invited to come along on Kandy’s trip down memory lane centered around life on a tea plantation. Mr. Lochan arranged for a driver to take the three of us to Chongtong Tea Estate. With so many wonderful stories to share, we quickly wound our way up the steep Darjeeling roads, dodging pot holes, cows, chickens, waterfalls, foot traffic, and even the legendary Toy Train on the busy roads through the foothills of the Himalayas and Kanchenjunga around Darjeeling. The original title of Kandy’s father’s book was The Children of Kanchenjunga.

It had been almost fifty years since Kandy had been to her childhood home, so, needless to say, “WE” cried a river of tears. I cried right alongside my new friend as she visited her childhood home, her school, her convent, and her play areas, as well as the same club – the “Planters Club” – where Kandy and her sister had been photographed in the early 60’s. That photo is in the book. It was hard for Kathy to believe that in almost half a century so little had changed on the tea plantation and on the streets of Darjeeling.

What was truly the most heart-opening, tear-releasing event was when Kandy met, face to face, her “Ayah” – her Nanny – the woman who was just as much a mother to her as her very own “mum.” Ayah is the term used in India. Then we met many others – still vibrant and still with vivid memories of Kandy’s father, such as Mr. Fletcher’s “syce,” the man who took care of the horses on the tea estate.  Upon leaving Chongtong to move to a tea estate in Africa, David Fletcher gave his syce a pocket knife similar to a Swiss Army knife. To our amazement, the man still had this gift in his pocket when we met him that day! We also met the “Ahjong,” the personal butler of Mr. Fletcher. There was a wedding that day in the estate village. It seemed that most of the estate folks had gathered for the event. The news, thanks to Rajiv’s heralds, traveled fast – “Fletcher-sahib’s” daughter had returned. Everyone came to see. Far from feeling like “wedding crashers,” we felt like guests of honor. Even the bride and groom, who had every right to feel they might be upstaged, gave us a warm welcome at their sacred event and fed us royally!

image Kandy Fletcher Smith and tea_workers

Kandy Fletcher Smith and tea_workers

As a writer, I learned a valuable lesson about putting photos in a book. As Kandy showed her father’s book, Himalayan Tea Garden, (the American version) for many of the curious wedding guests who arrived, there was immense joy as they flipped through the pages and could actually identify folks and events featured in David Fletcher’s 50-year-old book. When the Ayah recognized herself in the book in a photo of her with Kandy and Kandy’s sister, all of us cried.  The Ayah assumed I was Kandy’s sister and when she planted kisses all over my face, we did not have the heart to tell her I was not Kandy’s blood sister; we are now, however, soul sisters for life! The Ayah never let go of our hands for the rest of our visit and saying goodbye to this glorious woman broke both our hearts! The ride home in the dark was much quieter than the ride there.

Mr. David Fletcher and his wife are still living in the United Kingdom, and Kandy Smith, his daughter, is working on her own book about her life on the Chongtong Tea Estate. I will be happy to notify everyone when her book is released.

Again, we witnessed the power of the tea plant – the Camellia sinensis – and how it can affect the lives of so many. Who would have thought? Thank you, Mr. Rajiv Lochan.

Original Story written for T’Ching.com and published on Wednesday March 30, 2011 , see it at http://www.tching.com/2011/03/going-home-to-darjeeling/

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Dharlene Marie Fahl is an entrepreneur and approaches everything she does with a universal, collaborative and cooperative spirit and is a CEO Space graduate and lifetime member. She has been a retail gift shop owner, a healing centre owner and operator, as well as a restaurant general manager and a director of training for a restaurant company responsible for seven restaurants. Her education and training is in Hospitality Management.

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