One of the best known tea-themed boutique addresses is a family owned and operated resort near Ghoom, Darjeeling
The journey to Glenburn Tea Estate is not unlike the journey through life. It is easy to be poetic while taking in the majestic views of the Himalayas all the way down from Darjeeling to Ghoom and beyond. Quite harrowing when you pass through the final unpaved and unkempt stretch of road that finally leads right into… paradise. The staff, I was later told, was accustomed to weary travelers complaining of the final stretch of their journey.
If anything, quite like my earlier visit to the Arya Tea Estate, the rugged paths made it more of an adventure!
I couldn’t have been wrong for even as I stepped into the reception of the Glenburn Tea Estate and Boutique Hotel on that spring evening, I could sense that I was in a land of many legends, and joy.
Founded in 1859 and restored by its present owners in 2002, Glenburn Boutique Hotel is a treasure house filled with a fine selection of antiques, state-of-the-art amenities and an international appeal — all with tea at its heart. After a warm welcome, I was led directly to my room for the night, The Planter’s Suite.
With a few minutes before a general gathering over drinks for the evening, I was taken by how beautifully each and every corner of the room had been put together. The selection of the upholstery to the quaint antiques placed thoughtfully around the room was surreal.
The most captivating of all, was the washroom. A solo traveller’s biggest fear and closest quarters, the washroom has decided the fate of many journeys. With the continued reference to tea (in the soap, teapot shaped holders and a very stately note near the flush handle), blended with instance of humour and a general eloquent British sense of brilliance, I spent some quality time.
Once I had changed I stepped out on the porch and stepped into the lawn outside. The glittering landscape on the mountainside across from us was a telltale sign of Darjeeling, while a handful of remaining scattered bright lights in the mountains around marked villages and temples.
It is quite hard to highlight the contrast between the vibrant evenings of Darjeeling, shimmering with all its glory, to the poetic silence of the mountains that surround you at Glenburn. It wouldn’t be incorrect to consider the lawn area of the Burra Bungalow at Glenburn Boutique Hotel to an observatory platform. Poetic licenses here are issued in whispers of the wind and embossed with shimmering stars.
I took one of the empty loungers and lay back for a while to soak in the clear night sky and a few constellations looking back at me. Eager not to lose a single moment of absolute bliss.
It was only at the sound of the dinner bell that I realised that I was famished!
A unique facet of the hospitality at Glenburn is the tradition of taking dinner together with all the other guests and a few staff members. It is a great way of connecting with fellow travellers and there’s always a great story to come by over the dinner table.
A traditional Tibetan dinner was served complete with soups to bread, with an exotic dessert assortment as the only standout. A lovely couple from Berkshire, London, regaled us with stories of their eight journeys to India and their adorable puppy who is relaxing at a puppy hotel while the couple enjoyed their Indian getaway.
It was equally delightful to hear of a new lady who had joined the Glenburn hospitality team and was looking forward to exploring the country as well. Before long, there were suggestions and anecdotes leading to laughter that rang through dinnertime.
Post-dinner I took a short, but much required, stroll in the lawn before heading to bed. I’d run out of pages if I wanted to describe, in detail, the bed alone. A royal four-poster bed, draped in matching covers to complement the subtle pastel shades of the room, standing a good two feet over the ground and with a little stool to help me climb onto its plush, hand-embroidered spread. There would be no going back from this high seat of absolute comfort.
Reflecting upon my journey, I drifted into a comfortable sleep when I was rudely woken up by a sound on the skylight. I quickly realized that it was just two garden lizards running across the roof. I had last heard them as a child, several years ago. The city had taken away the memory of a distinct sound well, though not well enough. Since I was now awake, I decided to explore the room some more and found myself quite taken by the images posted on the walls and above the fireplace and little titbits of historic information, all linked to the estate and to tea.
The top of a rather large dresser that stood adjacent to the main entrance, carried a frayed booklet on top. Like all boutique hotels, Glenburn offers a handy guide of phone numbers, room tariffs among other details in this booklet. Except, the great detail in which the story has been captured. I could imagine the many tired eyes, stolen from sleep, poring over its contents.
The Glenburn Boutique Hotel was inherited by the Prakash family from a Scottish tea company. Over the years, several changes had been made to it but it was only when a south Delhi based interior decorator, Bronwyn Latif, had visited and fallen for its charm that the present owners decided to give it the facelift one sees today.
It is quite unbelievable how every aesthetic and emotion finds a rightful space in the rooms of the property without any association with any 5-star hospitality partner. Every inch of Glenburn’s luxury is a handcrafted measure of joy, maintained with an equal measure of love by the management.
The Boutique Hotel is defined by The Burra Bungalow, as the original bungalow is called which houses the Kanchenjuga Suite and the Planter’s Suite, where I was staying, the Rose Suite along with the Simbong Butterfly Room. A little to the right beyond the lawn would take one to a flight of stairs leading to the other sections of the hotel which included the newer additions to the hotel as well.
My next wake-up call was one that I would consider my biggest recall of the visit. A cup of freshly brewed Glenburn tea accompanied by two of the most delectable homemade cookies I have ever tasted! It was almost a smile of mischief on the bearer’s face as he left the tray on the dresser. I wonder how many times they have been complemented on the taste of these delightful morning treats. I was almost tempted to asking for more. As an afterthought, I should have!
The enchanting serenade continued soon after my morning ablutions and I walked out to soak in a clear view of the Kanchenjunga, as well as the sights and sounds of the birds and bees in the garden. Life is good here and the air is pure. Extending my leisurely stroll, I explored the newer quarters of the property that I had read about the previous night- the Water Lily bungalow, in particular, before returning to the Burra Bungalow. I also took in the Rangeet Suite, named after the river Rangeet that flows in the estate. Its tasteful pastel hues were as inviting as the lovely painted cane furniture in the private sitting area of the lounge overlooking the garden. Each room had a graceful blend of Eastern aesthetics along with a distinct British impression.
A key aspect of Glenburn is how much of the original has found its way back into the renovated estate. Several archways and skylights have been revived using older material. Somewhere in all the efforts to create a contemporary comfort, the heart of Glenburn has been retained.
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A short discussion with the staff helped me understand that of the 8 villages that fall into the fold of the Glenburn Tea Estate, the nearest is Bada Gaon. Most of the staff at the estate lives and works in these villages. The glorious teas produced by the estate are also picked and processed by the residents of these villages.
Intrigued, more so after a hearty and healthy breakfast, I decided to explore the closest village on foot. And Bada Gaon turned out to be every bit as beautiful and enchanting as I had hoped. Time flew in the company of the children enjoying their holiday from the Glenburn School and with new wives and old ones laughing at my attempts to communicate. Guests at Glenburn are invited to be a part of the morning assembly of the school at 9 am although I found the informal out-of-school hangout more enjoyable.
The Glenburn Estate is spread across 1,600-acres and a visit to any one of the villages feels like returning to an innocent time far removed from the exhausting charades of city life. The people are warm and welcoming. There is a sense of pride of being a part of the Glenburn family, one that has cared for them for generations and is clearly keen on continuing to do so. I was already aware of the Glenburn Welfare Scheme which draws volunteers for the school, hospital as well as the Society for Performing Arts.
A walk around the village led to a sense of deep calm and joy at being amidst good people. Some of the older girls were keen to accompany me to the river Rung Dung, the other river in the estate, to explore some more but my feet were giving away. They sat before me, showing me how they braid their hair and using paper and other little articles to decorate their dolls and narrate stories of the Simbong forest that also falls in the estate. They chatted away forgetting that I couldn’t keep pace with their thoughts, or imagination.
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The return to the Planter’s Suite was a short-lived joy for I was to leave soon. I chose to take lunch in my room to make more time to pack all my belongings when I noticed that I had completely skipped an entire section of the suite in the darkness of the night. A narrow door that I thought led to another entrance to the washroom, opened into a pretty little circular alcove covered in laces.
Stepping into the space, I discovered that it opens directly into a garden. It is a lovely space to lounge in. It was here that I settled in over lunch, stealing a few precious moments to relish a glorious Glenburn tea in one hand and a favourite dog-eared book in the other, I must have dozed off into a classical dream until it was time to leave it behind.
A quaint souvenir shop sits behind the Burra Bungalow, with the rest of the offices. It is a great place to pick up something to remember this chapter of travel by. As for me, I returned from the experience of Burra Bungalow with a memories of a lizard’s call, green tea-based toiletries — which worked wonders on my tired skin, laughter of the people of Bada Gaon and the image of the constellations shining down on me in a soothing silence.
Things to do:
- Visit the local village, Bada Gaon is nearest to the main entrance and just behind the factory.
- Explore the tea gardens. A complete itinerary is available with the staff and can be customized to your need.
- Gaze into the night sky, should the weather permit. I was fortunate to have clear skies.
- Learn to cook a traditional dish. The kitchen staff is a fine group and well equipped to demonstrate recipes that they prepare for guests.
- Early risers will be rewarded with the sighting of some rare birds and butterflies, and on clear mornings — an inspiring view of the Kanchenjunga.
- The more adventurous can seek a guided expedition to the estate’s forested area, Simbong.
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