The following post is written by fellow traveller Always Friday.
Filled with excitement and anticipation we boarded our bus ‘The Darjeeling Deluxe’ from Kathmandu ready for our journey to the tea farm in Ilam (well as ready as you can be for a 20-hour bus ride). We found out about this tea farm through the site Workaway, it’s a site that connects travellers to hosts all around the world, who give up their time to volunteer in return for free accommodation and food. It was great for us on a budget but also gave us the chance to get involved and learn about the true Nepali culture. It was also an awesome opportunity to meet other travellers too, as a couple, we mostly stay in private rooms or hotels so it can be harder to socialize.
For at least the next two weeks we would be living with the Kulung family. Head of the family was Deepak Kulung, married with one son, he has been working on the tea fields for over 15 years with his brother and family, after it was passed down from his grandparents, who still live at the farm. The tea bushes we picked tea from are still the same bushes that were planted over 40 years ago. The tea farm has been hosting people through Workaway for about 4 years and is able to host 12 volunteers at a time!
The views surrounding us were some of the most incredible I’d seen in all my life, I was sold already! The air was so clean and fresh but also so much thinner, but being over 3,500 meters above sea level will do that!
All of the tea is picked by hand and is completely organic; the only fertilizer used is from the goats they have, used solely for that reason, not for milk or meat. They even had 3 baby goats that I completely fell in love with, every time I walked past I had to stop off for some baby goat therapy and if I ever disappeared Nathan knew that’s where he would find me!
We spent about 2-3 hours a day picking tea and being the clumsiest person to walk this planet, I’m proud to say I only slipped down the tea banks once! What you don’t see is how steep the tea banks are and due to the rain one morning I managed to slip and fall through the lower tea bush with my feet dangling. I just managed to pull myself up (with no help from Nathan may I add) beaming with pride, as although I had lost most of my dignity, I still hung on to my tea for dear life and didn’t drop a leaf!
We also learned how to turn tea leaves into actual tea, and the different processes used to make the tea either black, green or golden. Black is the longest process having to be dried out in the sun first before being rolled on large mats, rolling is quite literally just rolling tea with your hands, a process we quite enjoyed sitting on the mats with everyone. After rolling, the tea is then left in the sun again to dry out completely, however, due to the lack of sun during rainy seasons it can also be dried by the heat and smoke of the fire. Green tea is a quicker process as there is no drying needed beforehand, it just needs to be steamed for about 2 minutes and then rolled the same way as before, then it just needs to be dried. Now golden tea is a little bit different, as only the needles of the tea leaf are picked and used, making it the most expensive to buy, the process after picking is the simplest though, it doesn’t have to be steamed or rolled, it’s just left to dry in the sun.
Picking and rolling tea wasn’t all we did though, oh no! From the intense rallying of badminton in the garden to the hilarious games of cards and just simple story telling between each other, I felt at home. It was the first time since travelling I was in a homely environment and I loved it. We made dinner with the family over a fire and all ate together around a table eating traditional Nepalese food.
Our time volunteering on a tea farm in Nepal made me realize that the smallest and simplest things are really the most important. We were cut off from everything we had become used to in our western lives, we had an unreliable supply of electricity, no hot water, and no internet and although a cold shower took a lot of getting used to it was an incredible feeling to be so disconnected from everything apart from each other. We had a once in a lifetime experience and it’s something we will remember forever, we can’t thank Deepak, his family, the friends we made and Workaway enough!
If you’re interested in learning more about Nathan and Rebecca’s volunteering experience, check out this video from their adventure in Nepal.