|Makaibari, The Pearl of Darjeeling|
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Makaibari, The Pearl of Darjeeling
The little village sits atop a Himalayan peak in northeastern India. More temperate than the Indian plain to the south, the region experiences fog, frequent rain, a cool summer and a dormant season during the winter months. A refuge for British officers escaping Calcutta’s sweltering summers, in the 19th century the region was discovered to be an ideal location for growing the black tea they so enjoyed. The English left the area long ago, but the tea bushes remain.
Considered the champagne of tea, Darjeeling tea has earned a superb reputation. Tea estates can now be found throughout the area, their operators having developed unique expertise. Growing and processing methods have been refined and the climate is ideal for growing thriving tea bushes producing exceptional teas. Makaibari is one of 80 tea estates in Darjeeling. Originally conventional, Makaibari began converting to organic in the mid-1980s and was the first to be certified organic. It is also certified by the FLO, an international fair trade certification agency recognized by Transfair Canada.
Makaibari has a unique manager in Rajah Barnerjee, owner, spiritual father and master in charge of this integrated estate. As soon as he accepted the management position in 1970, he began incorporating ecological practices into the conventional methods and developing a plan for the future. He wasted no time in leading the Makaibari community on a unique adventure, aiming for the integration and harmonious cohabitation of the tea bushes, trees, shrubs, forest, birds, insects and residents. He wanted to create an estate in which the workers lived decently, their children grew up healthy and received an adequate education.
Since the villagers live in the midst of the plantation, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that were polluting the living environment were banned. The transition to organic was not an easy one. The tea bushes withered, seeking a new balance between the energy needed for growth and the fight against disease. Yield dropped and mud slides due to deforestation added to the losses. The gardeners had no choice but to reinvent tea growing. Rajah refused to be discouraged by his pessimistic colleagues and neighbours. He planted trees, spread mulch, made compost from fallen leaves and other material, applied biodynamic practices and nourished the soil’s microbial life. He planed gotu kola between the tea bushes and grew bamboo for compost and wood. The insects returned to create a natural balance, were eaten by spiders, which in turn were eaten by birds, who also hunted pests. After several years of hard work, the tides slowly turned. Growth resumed, eventually surpassing the previous average. Quality followed, leading to recognition, distinction, honours and awards of excellence. Health and prosperity had finally been achieved.