It’s been three years since I was in Darjeeling, India. I went in March ’08 specifically to see the ‘first flush’ harvest- the picking and harvesting of the first batch of tea for the year. Then, as is now, there was political unrest.
Darjeeling, like Kolkata (formerly ‘Calcutta’) is in West Bengal, but there is a strong political move for ‘The Hills,’ as Darjeeling is called, to become a separate state known as Gorkhaland. Truthfully, I only know a fraction of what the struggle is about. It’s gone on for many years, spearheaded by a group known as Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), with frequent strikes known as ‘bahns’ calling for workers to halt all work for a day. Those bahns sometimes carry on for several days. I’ve been searching for the latest news, and this is my favorite quote of the day: “GJM supporter Anup Chamling was arrested from Happy Valley tea estate for carrying seven khukris (small daggers) with him.” Not so happy a valley, indeed!
It’s one thing for humans to decide to stop working for a day, but the tea doesn’t stop growing. It’s on a different cycle. It’s what supports their livelihood, and it’s also one of their biggest bargaining chips. Fortunately, despite the dire emails that have been floating around about a potential lack of first flush 2011 because of the political unrest, they managed to compromise enough to begin the harvest on time. Apparently the supply is limited- lots are selling fast and the prices are high. I managed to secure 40 pounds for us at Zingerman’s from the growers that I met and stayed with three years ago. This years harvest is a bit more floral than last. I always love how lively and vibrant the first flush tastes, but it’s best when it’s fresh. I’m excited for it to arrive, hopefully by the end of the month. Then, the drama over the second flush begins, for harvesting in late May.