What is it like to be quarantined in a tea garden?

What is it like to be quarantined in a tea garden?

The mist is falling over the Nilgiri mountains. All of a sudden, the village with colorful houses, the road and the vegetable farm disappear into a thick white cloud. The only way to know there is village down there is by hearing the loud music coming from the small temples scattered here and there. The sound of what seems to be celebration of the long awaited rain echoes in the air as it gets absorbed into the roar of thunder.

Normally, I would run up to the edge of the road to see the panoramic picture of the valley and try to spot a rainbow, but right now the furthest I can get to is the roof of the house. India has been under curfew for a few weeks now and leaving the property is plainly asking for trouble.

Just less than a month ago I used to hit these rolling hills every single morning and run until I’m out of steam (or water). Some days I would run up and down a steep hill and other days I’d venture out to the neighboring village or Doddabetta (the highest peak in South India which is less than five miles from where we are).

This is officially the longest I’ve stayed in India. With tea business coming to a temporary halt and nowhere to go, apart from the tea factory and the tea garden underneath, I’ve decided to hunker down and embrace the slow paced lifestyle of a South Indian village.

The sun rises at 6.30 am sharp regardless of the time of year. Typical in sub-tropical climate, the darkness of night turns into day light as if someone has flipped a switch. The morning sun looks like a giant red circle surrounded by a golden ring of fire, as it slowly emerges form the bright pink edge of the sky. The roosters may have crowed long before I’m awake but the sounds of the bells coming from the nearby temples announce the start of the day without fail. I linger in bed for a few minutes, partly to admire the colors of the rising sun and partly to make sure I can see clearly and do not step on a spider that could have creeped inside during the night.

The open patio downstairs is a perfect spot for morning devotions and a workout. Despite not being able to run outside I’ve been exercising religiously every morning, either by running up and down stairs and throwing a few squats, pushups and planks in the mix or by watching a video posted by my trainer back home. Working out gets me ready for the day, helps me keep my sanity and connects me to the piece of the world I belong to. This morning, however, my heart rate was up for a different reason. Shortly after I came down to the tea garden I saw a neighbor rushing through the bushes, shouting wildly and throwing rocks into what later appeared to be a herd of 30 bisons visiting our property.
I saw a pair of horns turn away and vanish behind the trees.

The wildlife comes to you, whether you want it or not
Bisons are not an uncommon scene around here. I, in fact, have my own history with these creatures which tend to appear every time I think about them (which is every time during my runs). The first time I learned about the bisons was during my visit 4 years ago when a local boy saw me running and warned me about them. I was sure he was just curious to chat with a foreigner and make an impression, until I almost bumped into a gigantic animal standing in the middle of the road. I backed out slowly and when I was out of the bison’s site, sprinted downhill as fast as I could. I’ve had quite a few encounters since then, all during my solo runs. On one of my runs to Doddabetta I was cornered between the bison and the fence that surrounded the woods. The creature kept leisurely walking towards me on the road making the distance shorter by the minute. I was getting anxious, unsure what to do in the situation. I felt a sign of relief when I saw two local guys on a motobike. I started waving and pointing to the bison. They didn’t seem to understand my concern but agreed to give me a ride 200 yards behind the animal where I felt safe to continue running. After I got home, having resolved to never run in that direction again, my husband assured me that it was safe to walk alongside a bison, as long as you don’t make any threatening moves. The very next day, as I was rather bravely running up the forest road, a huge wild bison jumped into the bushes right next to me. This is it! Bison is officially my least favorite animal right now! If there is one thing I don’t miss about running, this would be it!

Believe it or not, every day life here in the hills is not all centered around the wildlife encounters. In fact, no-one, including me, gets impressed about spotting a pair of horns here and there. And luckily, we haven’t seen cheetah yet! Though, there are plenty of colorful birds, spiders and all kinds of moths and bugs that don’t stop to amaze my toddler. I swear, a spider has taken a permanent residence in our bathroom. Keeping an eye on it when I brush my teeth helps me to feel I’m in control for a moment; but as soon as it starts moving towards me, I leave the premises.

Daily life at the hills
Every day life on the tea estate is simple and for the most part predictable.

As you may have guessed, the day begins with tea. A sweet concoction consisting of black tea, milk and sugar is a must have first thing in the morning. In fact, I remember being awoken at 6 am on a sleeper train so that I don’t miss my glass of chai. It’s that important.

After the tea and the morning devotions my mother in law puts a stainless steel jar in a small plastic basket, the kind every woman carries around here. Milk shop up the road is open 6-9 am, so it’s a busy place in the morning. The milk shop seems to be more of a men’s hangout spot, so, more often than not, she gives the basket to the neighbor and he brings it back after a little while, filled with fresh milk and eggs wrapped in a newspaper.

Just like many foods in India, milk is never consumed raw. It’s boiled promptly; a part left to cool in a stainless steel jar, a part mixed with yesterday’s yoghurt for a fresh batch of curd. Curd, a more watery variation of yoghurt, is served with pretty much every meal. Despite of the fact that South Indian dishes don’t contain milk or cream, a fair amount of it is used in tea, curd and sweets; and anything left over becomes homemade butter.

Inherent frugality

As we all have learned from the COVID-19 crisis, we can make do with very few things. Life at the hills is like that, simple and essential. Rice, vegetables, spices and lentils are daily staples, with chicken being an occasional Sunday treat. Long after I’ve declared state of pantry emergency, my mother-in-law continues to whip up meals, seemingly out of nothing!

Since single use plastic is banned in the Nilgiris, people are pretty ingenious about using rice and flour packaging as vegetable storage or trash bags. And you’ll be amazed about all the things you can do with newspaper! I doubt anyone even remembers anymore why newspapers exist in the first place. At least, I’ve seldom seen anyone reading one.

Another important commodity worth preserving is water. Unlike a big city where water comes from the pipes mostly abundantly, here in the hills you need to be strategic obtaining and using water. Well water is collected using pumps and stored in large containers high on the roof. The higher the container is placed, the more pressure is created for your shower or tap. After you’ve put such an effort into the process, you’ll think twice about wasting a drop of water. And it sure tastes twice as delicious this way.

If there is something worth splurging on, it’s clothing! It’s sort of a tradition to wear a brand shirt or sari on the New Years day, birthday and other occasion. It’s considered good tone to wear a fresh outfit each day. Hence, a lot of washing is going on. In lieu of a drier, clothes are simply laid out flat on the roof or hung on cords on the balcony. Hot afternoon sun takes care of the drying in no time. Daily washing is a lot trickier during monsoon season, I reckon.

Food culture

Similar to most eastern cultures, food is a huge part of life in India. Offering a freshly prepared meal is an unequivocal expression of love and hospitality. A large part of the day is devoted to peeling, chopping, soaking, grinding, pressure cooking one thing or another. As soon as lunch is over, it’s time to start thinking about dinner. Each meal is cooked fresh from scratch, including snacks and sweets. I remember once asking my mother-in-law for some desicated coconut. To my surprise, she took a whole coconut out of the cupboard, went outside to crack it on a rock and then scraped the flesh with a special tool. No big deal! Certainly not when compared to peeling pounds of tiny onions or garlic cloves for a dish. Needless to say, dried coconut flakes I was used to suddenly felt like processed food!

Tribal food is very simple but very special at the same time.

Breakfast usually consists of dosa (a thin rice crepe) or idli (steamed rice cakes) with sambar (spicy lentil curry) or some sort of chutney. Sometimes uppma, a dish made of wheat with onions and green chillies is served. My personal favorite is appam, a fermented rice and coconut pancake cooked on in a bowl like pan. Noteworthy, fruit or eggs are never on the breakfast table. Eggs are reserved for lunch and fruit – for an afternoon snack or custard desert.

After breakfast my father-in-law goes to the factory or the tea plantation to supervise workers. There is never shortage of work at the tea estate. Factory needs to be run, cleaned and maintained, the tea bushes need pruning and the tea leaves need to be dried and stored before the end of the day.

Mid morning is a tea break for everyone including the workers. My mother-in-law fills a thermos of piping hot sweet concoction and sends it down to the field along with some stainless steel glasses.

Lunch is the most important meal and always includes white rice, a few curries, an egg omelet and homemade yoghurt/curd. Darkened chicken curry or a special kind of beans are some of the local delicacies, along with a purple blob of raagi (millet) flour mixed with hot water. I’ve never quite acquired a taste for the latter.

Afternoon is the hottest time of the day, so it’s a good time for a little siesta, as long as there is no urgent work to be done.

Come six o’clock in the afternoon, the road fills up with women walking back from the fields carrying large baskets or metal jugs on their heads. Cows are returning from the pasture and the last tea trucks make their way to the factories carrying sacks of green leaves. This also means it’s time for tea. Late afternoon tea break is more elaborate and could almost qualify as dinner in my books. Variation of the tea snacks are truly unlimited: from spicy mix of nuts and lentils to deep fried sweets packed with jaggery (brown sugar), coconut, ghee and gram flour. Rice, lentils and sugar can be transformed into virtually anything.

With such a heavy afternoon snack, dinner time naturally falls to late night hours, usually past my bed time. Chapati (whole wheat tortillas) are a common alternative to rice (because a meal is not a meal without a carb!)

Tea vs. tea

When you live on a tea estate, tea can be experienced in many forms. I love walking in the tea garden, making a path between densely planted green bushes, observing the fresh leaves and looking for the newest white buds. The buds is the most delicate part of the tea plant and are used to make white tea and the highest quality green, black and oolong teas. You may have heard the expression “two leaves and a bud”. I pluck just enough buds for a day’s worth, to have fresh silver needle tea the next morning. Green tea requires a bit more effort: the leaves need to be steamed and rolled to extract the flavor before drying.

Each time I go out there I feel that my eyes and fingers get more adept at spotting the right leaves to pick. Yet, I’m not anywhere close to the professional tea pluckers who collect bags and bags of green leaves every day.

Plucking and making tea is no easy task and there is no better way to learn its value than doing it yourself. The fragrant and delicious brew you get as result is definitely worth it.

Time to say good night

The day wraps up as abruptly as it started. The starry sky somehow feels higher than I’m expecting it to be. The occasional growl of a wild animal coming from the woods break the silence.

Today I discovered the spider’s hiding place: under our bed.

Good night, the Nilgiris

What is happening to tea during COVID-19 outbreak?

What is happening to tea during COVID-19 outbreak?

The reality check

Truth be told, we underestimated the extend to which COVID-19 would take over the world when we planned our trip to India this year. Yet here we are: within just a few weeks things took a drastic turn. Borders are closed, schools are out indefinitely, events and social gatherings are cancelled, store shelves are empty as people are stocking up in anticipation of worse, families are isolating themselves and resolving to virtual interactions with the rest of the world. 

In this unprecedented situation businesses governments, teachers, parents and business owners have had to take measures to keep everyone safe. This spin on the worlds’ affairs certainly demands quick decision making, wisdom and a lot of creativity. Parents have to assess the risks of going to work and exposing themselves to germs against staying at home and facing income losses and other consequences. Parents have to decide to what degree to limit their children’s social interactions, rearrange their daily routines to maintain everyones’ sanity. Businesses have responded by changing their strategy and offering virtual services, online shopping and home deliveries in lieu of the physical locations being closed. The speed with which these changes are happening is quite impressive! 

While the globe is in limbo

Supply chains have been complicated by travel restrictions, port closures and production facilities being idle due to quarantine. People all over the world are worried about stores running out of basic food and hygiene products and non-essential shopping is taking a back stage. 

It feels like the universe has pressed a pause on our lives. Travel plans are canceled, families have been separated by borders, even weddings have been postponed! 

Although this a stressful and uncertain time for many people, it’s an opportunity for all of us to take a break from the daily grind, slow down and reflect on our lives. While we are in the waiting period, we can find the positive in these circumstances and use this downtime to reconnect with our families, get to know our children, play outside, take a walk in nature, refresh our minds and think about what is really important to us. Plant a garden, take on DIY projects, learn a new skill, rearrange the house, read a novel or a personal development book you’ve been putting off for months, play board games and have meaningful conversations with your loved ones. Possibilities are endless.

It’s also a perfect time to put on a kettle and brew a nice cup of tea. Rather than setting a timer and filling the time in between with another urgent activity on your list, just sit quietly and watch the leaves unfurl as the color of the liquor intensifies. Sip your tea slowly and savor the aroma and the warm and relaxing feeling it provides. To take it to the next level, how about experimenting with some fun blends using herbs and spices in your pantry? Try a chai blend with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamon; green tea with a dash of turmeric, sweet lemon tea, or moroccan green tea with fresh mint. Let your creativity and your tastebuds run wild! Do a tea tasting with family and see what they think of your blending skills!

What’s happening with GavaTea

As many of you know, GavaTea has signed up to become a sponsor of OOTYULTRA race in the Nilgiris. The race was set to happen on April 5 but got postponed to September for obvious reasons. Conducting even a relatively small race like this (just shy of a 1000 participants) still carries a potential risk since runners would be coming from all over India and overseas. To make matters worse, India has temporarily closed access to all incoming visitors which prevented the international runners from attending. Safety first, so the plug was pulled early. Despite the dissapointment, having this kind of certainty was a relief for everybody. Race or not, training never goes in vain. We too keep running to maintain our fitness and enjoy the incredibel views the Nilgiris have to offer. Climbing up these steep hills gets me every time!

With a tentative new date of September 27, 2020 we still have a lot of work to do, from securing volunteers to preparing tea samples and prizes for all the runners. 

While the world is seemingly standing idly, tea bushes keep growing, the leaves still need to be plucked and processed. Tea plucking is naturally a pretty isolated job. Women work solo or in groups of two or three and leave the sacks of tea leaves on the curb side to be picked up by the factory trucks. Most factories in the Nilgiris are run by micro  growers and manufacturers with just a handful of workers. 

For the last few weeks we’ve been visiting tea estates in search of the perfect blend, reviving our own factory by installing new machines, flooring and building additional rooms for the workers to live in. We’ve been also finalizing our licenses, certifications and packaging and building relationships on all levels of the supply chain. And best of all, we’ve been tasting a lot of different teas to bring you the best seasonal varieties! We are also trying to support the local tea workers by giving them additional earning opportunities working on construction and cleaning. 

How is the Nilgiris District coping with COVID-19

Just like the rest of the world, the Nilgiris and the state of Tamilnadu are treating the disease seriously. Quarantine and social isolation are in full action. Schools, parks and hotels are closed and public gatherings are cancelled. The authorities are ordering all tourists to leave the district, since the virus is thought to have been brought in by foreigners. Technically not a foreigner but still looking like one, I oddly feel responsible and more compelled to stay away from questioning looks. 

Meanwhile, in the village surrounding the tea estates, the ladies go to the fields and come back in the evening carrying totes with empty lunch (or tiffin) boxes on their heads, the milkman opens the shop every morning, the children keep running wild and worship at the temples continue with even more rigor, as people are asking the gods for relief. 

Free from the uniforms and classes, local boys and girls play with the village dogs or roll self-made buggies constructed of paint cans and colorful ribbons down the road. Teens are barely to been seen. With their parents having no time or capacity to “homeschool”, older kids will be helping with farming or other household duties.  

A message from GavaTea to our customers

So, this is here we are. Stranded on the mountains in one of the most beautiful places in the world, among the farms and tea plantations, is not the worst place to be. With orders and events being suspended, we are definitely affected and our launch may be delayed. We are making the most out of the situation and praying for the safety of our customers and families around the world. 

If there’s one thing the world needs now, it’s a little more joy. With our encouraging social media posts and progress updates we at GavaTea want to help keep your spirits up and brighten your day in every little way we can. We continue to work towards getting the best quality Nilgiris teas to you all. 

Thank you for sharing our passion for tea, for your patience and ongoing support!

Stay safe!

Your GavaTea team

Latest update:

The Indian government declared a nationwide curfew on Sunday, March 22, 2020 as a preventative measure. Join us at 5 pm Indian time for a cup of tea and a moment of solidarity!

6 best places for tea tasting around Ooty

6 best places for tea tasting around Ooty

Ooty is well known as a tea destination (oo-tea!) It’s pristine forests, tranquil green valleys, lakes, waterfalls and endless tea plantations offer perfect getaway from the city noise. When you drive through the winding roads with hundreds of hairpin bends, walk under the eucalyptus trees or stand on a balcony overlooking the lush and colorful valley, you instantly forget the business of life and immerse yourself into the beauty of nature the Nilgiri has to offer. 

Ooty is incomplete without its tea & tea estates, so make sure you check out all these *tealicious* places!

The hills are home to numerous tea plantations producing the purest & richest variety of teas. Nothing provides a more authentic tea experience than exploring the estates, farms and homesteads and conversing with people who grow and make tea. Local tea makers are true masters of their craft and have a lot of stories to tell. 

You can start your educational journey by visiting one of the local tea factory museums.

Dodabetta Tea Museum & Factory and Benchmark Tea Museum offer a great overview of the tea history in India and beyond. You will also learn about the tea grades, processing steps and witness the art of tea making in action. The best part, of cause, is tasting! Benchmark factory has a few samples of white, green, black and masala tea. You can certainly purchase some tea, local sweets and spices at their extensive gift shop, but do save some room for some truly exclusive single estate teas you can find just outside of Ooty.

1. Ooty tea museums

Dodabetta Tea Museum & Factory and Benchmark Tea Museum offer a great overview of the tea history in India and beyond. You will also learn about the tea grades, processing steps and witness the art of tea making in action. The best part, of cause, is tasting! Benchmark factory has a few samples of white, green, black and masala tea. You can certainly purchase some tea, local sweets and spices at their extensive gift shop, but do save some room for some truly exclusive single estate teas you can find just outside of Ooty.

If you are looking for a more authentic, tranquil and non-touristy tea experience, Nilgiris really does have a lot more to offer here!

2. Chamraj Tea Centre

A scenic drive slowly climbing up towards Kundah valley is certainly away from the tourist path and is worth it for so many reasons! Enjoy the beauty of the landscapes covered with tall thick forest and emerald green tea bushes as you are approaching the world’s highest tea estates: Chamraj and Korakundah. All the tea plantations, the factory, the schools and the hospital buildings you see belong to the Chamraj group and the local community. It’s a true tea world in its very essence. Everything here lives and breathes camellia sinensis. The simplicity and unhurried way of life on the tea estates convey certain beauty and mystery. 

Before you know it, you have arrived! Chamraj Tea Center is right outside the gates of the tea factory. It’s tiny but mightily stocked with pretty much all the teas Chamraj and Korakundah have to offer: from regular black and green teas to specialty teas, to organic teas and unique teas like the Frost Tea and Golden Tips, their expansive repertoire can cater to pretty much every taste. They even have herbal teas like organic camomile and peppermint.

Nestled at the height of 6,000 to 8,000 feet in the pristine blue mountains of the Nilgiris, Chamraj Tea Estates has been producing the finest teas to invigorate discerning tea drinkers around the world since 1922! Korakundah estate is also known to be the highest organic tea estate in the world! 

Sipping hot Tulsi green tea while soaking in the sun and the amazing views and chatting with your travel buddies – what can beat that?

3. Tea Nest

Happiness comes in leisurely sips at Tea Nest, a tea-themed homestay! Wake up to the quaint smell of tea at this charming space embedded in glistening tea plantations and lush forests. Visit the Green Shop and check out the selection of unique tribal products you won’t find anywhere else. Check out the Highfield tea factory and embark on an interactive tour where you get to see the entire tea making process and everything that goes into it. Round off the tour with the tea tasting followed by a tea-menu lunch at Tea Nest for an indulgent experience!

Tea is to be enjoyed in an unhurried way. When you take a pause to observe the leaves slowly opening up in the cup, then close your eyes to take in the aroma and look for subtle notes, the magic of this amazing plant really comes alive. 

This tour is about learning to appreciate tea in the finest nuances of the art of tea preparation. The unique in-depth tea tasting session explores the myriad colors and flavors of the world’s most popular beverage. The tasting focuses on a selection of speciality teas of the Nilgiris.

This is then followed by a 7 course tea menu lunch at Tea Nest, a unique meal created by their own master chefs. Every course is flavored with some element of tea. Tea braised spaghetti anyone?! We are intrigued!

4. The Club House By Tranquilitea

Located in the Grays Hill, this club house is built in the shell of an old tea depot and is spread over an area of 3,500 square feet. It has two large, spacious and extremely comfortable suites, each with its own individual living room, bedroom, a luxurious bathroom as well as a fully functional kitchenette and even a miniature garden. 

The properties are private, fully furnished in teak and rosewood furniture and come with their own team to take care of all your requirements including meals, organizing a walk in the woods, a sight seeing tour or whatever else you may fancy. 

Even if you are not there for the tea, do take a guided tour through the tea estates on the slopes of Tenerife Hill and take part in the gourmet tea tasting session. Held within our tea estate, the experience is designed to take you on a sensory journey through the myriad colors, aromas and flavors of the premium high grown Nilgiri teas. This is a unique opportunity to experience first hand what goes in to making some of the worlds finest teas. 

You can even continue your tea exploration after you leave: the estate will also ship their specialty teas to you wherever you are in the world. How cool is that?

5. O’Land Plantation Stay

Get away from it all to a hidden gem in the Nilgiris where nature reigns supreme. This 120-acre eco-friendly retreat in the Nilgiris grows tea, coffee, cloves and pepper on its premises. So you’re right in expecting tasting sessions and walks around the gardens. 

Originally built in 1851, the Estate House offers panoramic views of tea estates, and has two bedrooms, a dining rooms and kitchen. The Hornbill House is the most romantic stay in the resort, with two bedrooms overlooking the waterfall and the valley, along with a small pantry. You can choose one of the three cottages, all with big French windows overlooking a lush green carpet of tea bushes and the valley with spectacular views of the sunrise and sunset. Built with naturally sourced materials, this luxury stay is also eco friendly for those who feel a special connection with nature. Yet, it offers all the modern comfort and convenience you need for a relaxing stay. 

Early risers and adventure lovers, it’s your time to go bird watching, trekking through gently undulating hills intercepted by cold streams and waterfalls. Watch tea bushes glistening in the dim morning sun as the leaves are being plucked by careful and nimble fingers. 

Experience a tea tasting session and discover the aromas and taste of different varieties of green teas, black teas and white teas. Visit to a local tea factory to see the tea making process in real time. 

They are currently running a special promotion through the end of March

6. Red Hills Nature Resort

If you are looking for something even further from the beaten path, Red Hills Nature Resort is the place to go! 

A 45 minute drive from Ooty will take you up to this charming British bungalow overlooking the Emerald lake and backing to the Western Ghatts. The resort consists of several rooms and separate cottages scattered around the property. Whichever option you choose, you’ll feel like a part of the family. Step on the patio for a touch of gentle rays of sun, enjoy the 360 degree view of the valley with the emerald green lake nested in the middle like a pearl in a deep green shell, and be ready to get licked by one of the friendly dogs. 

You’ll always see the owner Vijay Kumar standing on the lawn right outside the main bungalow, greeting the guests or simply looking far into the horizon or his wife Banu interacting with the friendly and hospitable staff in the dining room. They radiate kindness and hospitality are very easy going to ready to engage in a conversation.

The food at Red Hills is simply the best we’ve had in the entire Nilgiris! Almost everything comes from the organic farm right next to the house, apart from the fresh fish which they bring from Kerala on ice. The dishes feature continental cuisine, Indian fusion and badaga (tribal) inspired dishes. The staff will be happy to make to order and accommodate your wishes and preferences. Did we mentioned they bake their own bread!? Their rosemary bread is to die for!

The estate is surrounded by tea bushes. Just like all the produce, the tea is grown organically with just the run and the water from the rains and streams. Mr. Kumar has passionate about everything tea: making it, tasting it, talking about it and educating others. All the teas there are handmade using the most delicate leaves and buds. The leaves are left to wilt in the morning and are hand rolled in the afternoon and dried in a small oven. Each tea is truly exceptional and unique in its aroma and taste.  

Inquire about a tea tasting and you’ll be in for an in depth, all encompassing session with the tea master himself. The tea tasting includes a variety of black, green, white and oolong teas and borders in art with a touch of alchemy. 

You’ll go home with new knowledge, wonderful memories and a pack of delicious Red Hills tea that can be purchased right at he estate. Should you decide on the way back that you want to buy more tea, you can also find it at a Lazy Mongoose cafe in Ooty.

Nilgiris – the Blue Mountains

Nilgiris – the Blue Mountains

The Nilgiris District is in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There are many theories how Nilgiris (English: Blue Mountains) got their name. It may be due to the bluish color of the valley during the early morning hours before the haze has lifted, or due to the turquoise water of the lakes nested on top of the platoes, or because of the purple ‘kurunji’ flowers that cover the mountains and bloom once every 12 years. But regardless of the origin of their name, the combination of the green mountain peaks and the high blue sky on a clear day is timeless and stunning beyond description. 

The Nilgiris – an eye candy of the Southern India

The Nilgiri Hills are part of a larger mountain chain known as the Western Ghats. The height of the hills in the Blue Mountain range averages 2,290 meters (7,513 ft), the highest peak being Doddabetta at 2,623 meters (8,704 ft).

High above the sea level, situated at the junction of the two ghat ranges, Nilgiri district provides a fascinating view: Kerala on the west, the Mysore State on the north, and Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu on the east and south bound it.

Nilgiris derives its charm from its natural setting. The steep hills and narrow valleys with numerous rivers and streams running in all directions and a few waterfalls compose beautiful scenery. Nilgiris is the major tea growing area in the South and the tea gardens are majestic and beautiful to watch. It’s the natural beauty of the landscapes, the crisp mountain air and the climate which is cool and pleasant year round, that attract thousands of Indian and foreign visitors here every year. There isn’t really a bad time of the year to visit the beautiful Nilgiris.

The land of tea and…lettuce

Tea and coffee plantations and farms characterize a large portion of the territory and the local economy. Fertile soil and the abundance of rain during monsoon months result in high yields of carrots, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, different kinds of beans, fruits and even strawberries. The area also produces Eucalyptus oil, ginger, pepper and other spices, as well as rubber. There are no irrigation schemes here. The crops are mainly rain-fed. Dams have been constructed wherever possible to exploit natural springs.

The hills boast a diverse ecosystem of trees, medicinal plants, wild crops, animals and birds. The Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri langur, blackbuck, tiger, gaur, Indian elephant and marten are some of the animals found here. More often than not you’ll see monkeys, bisons and wild bore. If you look really closely late in the evening, you can spot a pair of eyes belonging to a cheetah.

The Nilgiri Mountains is home to many tribes such as Todas (the kettle farmers), Badagas (the farmers and tea growers), Kotas (doctors and musicians – quite an interesting combination, don’t you think?) and Kurumbas (gardeners and sourcers – pottery makers).

Lace up your hiking boots

The Nilgiris are a true trekker’s paradise. Landscaped by nature, the hills offer an abundance of trails for adventure lovers. Enjoy the thrill and excitement of exploring the nature in all its beauty and splendor (but watch out for those bisons!)

If you are up for a challenge, try Dodabetta. The views from this peak are worth taking the climb. Make sure to stop by tea estates to sample new flavors and spot different bird and animal species.

Getting around the hills

The principal town of the area is Ootacamund, also known as Ooty or Udhagamandalam, the district headquarters. It has several buildings designed in the British style, particularly the churches, many of which were designed by architect Robert F. Chisholm. A road junction became known as Charing Cross (after famous intersections in London and Lahore). The other main towns in the Nilgiris are Coonoor, Kotagiri, Gudalur and Wellington (the southern military base). 

Just a short drive from Ooty, Coonoor offers a little bit of escape from the crowds. Get there early morning to experience the famous fog and mist – it’s truly refreshing! You may even need a hat! Several tourist spots in Coonoor include Lambs Rock and Sims Park, where a Fruit Show is held during each summer. Doddabeta, the highest peak in South India is worth a visit. iIf you not up to trekking, climb up the observation tower for a 360 degree view of the valley. 

Ooty Botanical Garden and Rose Garden are open all year round and the annual summer flower show attracts visitors from all over India. Another must do attraction is the steam train (make sure to get your tickets in advance)!

What about tea?

What about tea? We had to save the best for the last! Ooty offers numerous opportunities to learn about tea and see the tea making process in action. Tea lovers, make a plan to visit the Tea Factory and Museum and Benchmark Tea factory for some amusing tea facts and samples. Drive up to Chamraj and Korakundah estates for a breathtaking scenery and bring cash to purchase some fresh tea in the factory store. Some local tea estates may let you in for a private visit as well. It’s certainly worth asking.  

OOTYULTRA – an epic blend of tea and running

OOTYULTRA – an epic blend of tea and running

Merry Christmas to all!

In case you missed the announcement, GavaTea is now the proud title sponsor of the OOTYULTRA endurance race! We are absolutely thrilled to be a part of this epic event!

I know you may be curious: how did it come about? why running and tea? 

I’ve mentioned a bit of the story in the earlier blog post OOTYULTRA. But the long story short, it all started when I saw sign on a tree o:) 

We are gearing up (literally and metaphorically) for the event that takes place on April 5, 2020 in Ooty, Tamil Nadu in South India. I plan on running a part of the distance myself while our team will be hosting aid stations, arranging food, coordinating volunteers, greeting runners and guests at the expo, sampling our upcoming collection of premium teas and having a great time connecting with the local community and sharing our passion for all running and tea. So much fun and many great opportunities will be brewing for the next couple of months! 

While we are working hard to have the tea prepared, packaged and to get our shop up and running, the main reason behind the partnership with OOTYULTRA is far beyond selling tea or getting PR. When we met Coach Kay, the race director of OOTYULTRA and Bison Ultra, in April 2019, we instantly connected. His ingenuity, hospitality and the enthusiasm his family had were contagious. After a short conversation we realized we had the same mission of giving back to the local people, spreading the message about active and healthy lifestyle, as well as educating and empowering the communities to be true stewards of the beautiful land they live in. 

What is OOTYULTRA?

OOTYULTRA is a tough ROAD running event, with steep up/down gradients, for the regular amateur runners to the serious ultramarathon lovers. Running OOTYULTRA is a great way to test your endurance and physical and mental toughness. With four distance categories 90k, 60k, 30k & 15k, OOTYULTRA offers an opportunity for everyone to experience this beautiful ultramarathon. 

The challenging OOTYULTRA route is designed to take you through the streets of Ooty town, key landmarks, green wooded forests, and innocent village roads. As you run, you will quickly escape into the mountains, reaching the second-highest peak in south India and also view breathtaking sceneries. Every year, OOTYULTRA attracts many local runners and runners from across India/abroad along with their family members to the Nilgiris district. 

The first edition of OOTYULTRA took place in 2018 with a couple hundred runners. It grew to over 700 runners in 2019 and is expected to attract about 900 in 2020.

While growing popularity of the event is undeniable, the organizers try to keep it low key and free of commercial interests. All the race partners are selected based on close personal relationships and a similar passion for running and the community. The course is challenging enough to warrant pre-qualification for longer distances (60K and 90K, which is invitational only), yet it’s a friendly non-competitive event. No prize money is offered but the participants and winners in various categories get a surprise goodie bag and cool prizes. 

OOTYULTRA has attracted dedicated runners from all over India and is increasingly getting the attention of international runners. OOTYULTRA acts as a perfect timed mountain training run to prepare for Comrades Marathon and other Indian and international ultra races. OOTYULTRA is a great way to connect with the local tradition, history, natural beauty, culture, and the people of Ooty and the Blue Mountains. Running in such a beautiful mountain will also provide a unique opportunity for the runners to experience the gift of nature.

Why sponsor a road race?

GavaTea is a family owned tea company with a big mission to be an ambassador of the Nilgiris tea to world. We started the company with a purpose to help tea growers in the Nilgiris to market and sell their tea in other parts of India and overseas. Needless to say, the Nilgiris tea is just too good to be kept a secret! 

Rooted in the tribal communities and in our love for tea and adventure, we wanted to do something for the people there. When we met coach Kay, the race director of Ooty Ultra, earlier this year (at a tea plantation, of all places!) we instantly connected. As avid runners ourselves, we share the same passion for growing the sport and making the Nilgiris an attractive running destination.

Looking into the future of our partnership with OOTYULTRA, we are seeing more runners from all over the world coming to Ooty to experience some of the most beautiful landscapes and, of cause, more Nilgirians taking on running and active lifestyle. From our experience participating in many road and trail races,  running community consists of the most fun, positive and selfless people. They always stand for each other and give back to the land that carries their feet. 

Running on tea?

Being avid runners having done multiple marathons, ultras and overnight relays, we know a thing or two about the runner’s high. Hardly anything can compare with the elation of completing a challenging race or training run. The endorphins, the sense of accomplishment, a boost of confidence we get from a tough track or hill workout carries us through the day (because everything else seems easy after that!). The added benefits of running are nothing short of amazing as well. Greater endurance, stronger heart, muscles and bones, improved immunity, weight control, stress management and better mood – just to name a few – are all worth lacing up your shoes and getting out there for a morning stroll. Having experienced the joy and the benefits of running and active lifestyle in general, we are excited to share them with others. 

Things that are good for you don’t have to be dreaded, unpleasant or boring. 

     Intimidated by taking up running? – Find a fun and supportive running community. 

    Think green tea tastes bitter? – Try GavaTea and you’ll never look back!

Although tea as running fuel may not be a thing, we often have a cup of green or black tea before the long runs. The caffeine in tea serves a much needed energy boost for those long miles or for a post-run afternoon slump. Unlike coffee however, the release of this energy is more balanced and long-lasting so you’ll be able to pull through your workout. Tea is also packed with antioxidants which help boost the body’s immunity and aid is muscle recovery.

Lastly, the antioxidant, L-theanine in green tea has been known to help with focus and concentration which is essential in an endurance race.

 Science aside, what better way to celebrate your accomplishments than sipping freshly brewed Nilgiris tea while admiring your hard earned medal?! Trust us on that!

Where can I buy GavaTea?

We are currently in the process of getting all the licenses and setting up the shop. Once it’s up and running, we’ll let you know and hook you up with a specials race participant discount. In the meanwhile, please sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and instagram to get the updates and the early bird offers. We’ll also be sampling our teas at the expo and are looking forward to seeing you all there. 

Which ever part of the world you are in, we believe that a freshly brewed cup of Nilgiris tea has magical powers to transport you back to the Blue mountains.

Look for our aid stations around kilometer 54 (right next to the Kanmalai tea factory at Moradakombai).

What’s next for the OOTYULTRA – GavaTea partnership?

Our goal to make this sponsorship and ongoing relationship. Together with OOTYULTRA and the Kay Academy, we would like to:

  • make running a thing in The Nilgiri
    • make it more appealing to the locals 
    • showcase the benefits of running for physical and mental health
    • facilitate forming running communities for men and women of all ages
    • promote running safety in the hills
  • educate and promote health among local men, women and children
  • bring people from all over India and the world to Ooty and introduce them to the beauty of this region
  • give back to the local communities at the same time mobilizing them to take ownership of their land
  • make our contribution to the tea culture and make Nilgiris tea more accessible in India and abroad  

GavaTea

GavaTea

GavaTea offers premium quality tea that is grown sustainably, plucked carefully, processed thoughtfully, delivered speedily and enjoyed cheerfully. All teas are handpicked from single estates and processed in small batches, so each batch retains freshness and its unique flavor profile.

GavaTea stands by the quality, ethical sourcing and genuine service, from bush to cup. All teas are specially curated and shipped fresh directly from the gardens – no middle men. 

The word “gava” originates from the Badaga tribal community in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India. “Gava” means “love” or “caring”, which perfectly describes the essence of the tribal people. Badagas are known for their unique customs, incredible hospitality and a century-long tea growing tradition.

OOTYULTRA is a tough ROAD running event, with steep up/down gradients, for the regular amateur runners to the serious ultramarathon lovers. With four distance categories 90k, 60k, 30k & 15k, OOTYULTRA offers an opportunity for everyone to experience this beautiful ultramarathon.

The challenging OOTYULTRA route is designed to take you through the streets of Ooty town, key landmarks, green wooded forests, and innocent village roads. As you run, you will quickly escape into the mountains, reaching the second-highest peak in south India and also view breathtaking sceneries.

OOTYULTRA is a perfect way to connect with the local tradition, history, natural beauty, culture, and the people of Ooty and the Blue Mountains.

Learn more about and follow OotyUltra at:

www.ootyultra.com

 

OOTYULTRA

OOTYULTRA

What happens in India doesn’t stay in India!

One of the reasons I like visiting Ooty, my husband’s hometown in India, is because I can run in the most beautiful setting on the planet! Winding mountain roads framed by tea bushes, sounds of music coming from the temple nested in the rock and the smell of eucalyptus trees after the rain penetrate the senses and offer a distraction from the pain of running up the endless hills. The scenery of mountains and valleys never gets old!

Running in the Nilgiri mountains is challenging in many ways:

  • Altitude (the obvious one): we were staying close to the second highest peak in Southern India at 6,500 ft!
  • Hills, hills, hills – they never get easier.
  • Wildlife – after almost running into a bison once and seeing more of them later in close proximity, I had to be cautious and wait until after 7 am to start my runs.
  • People – running later in the morning, when the villagers are out, is a better option than being out there alone with the wild animals, but it’s quite annoying. At times I just wanted to be invisible. And it gets pretty hot too later in the day.

As much as I love running, I have to admit I wasn’t really in a race training mode. I felt so slow on those hills that I hadn’t even thought of checking if there were any races in the area.

During my last Sunday morning run in India I noticed kilometer markers on the trees: 52, 53, 54… for the ultra race which was happening – well – that same day! I felt an instant wave of curiosity but also disappointment that I had missed it, especially knowing that it would pass right by our house around kilometer 54. I hadn’t been contemplating 60K, but a 30 or a 15 would have been manageable.

After I got back to the house and talked everyone’s ears off about the grand event happening out there, I headed back to the main road to look out for the runners (already planning it’d be me next year).

When we went to visit one of the local tea estates the next day, I was still lamenting the missed opportunity. When talking to the factory manager we found out – to my surprise – that they were one of the race sponsors and had a booth at the expo. A tea company?! But of cause: if you run among the tea plantation, why not try some green tea for fuel? As we were talking, a guy walked in, clearly looking like a runner. He was the first other runner I had seen in the Nilgiris so far. “Clearly an ultra-racer coming to check out the tea plantation”, I thought.

To my surprise, again, the runner introduced himself as Kannan Sundararajan, aka Coach Kay, the Race Director. He also happened to know my husband’s family (totally common in a small county like India o:) ). Kay had quit his corporate job a few years before to pursue his passion for running and coaching and founded the first edition of OOTYULTRA in 2018. Year 1 attracted 280 runners across 10 states in India and abroad. The race grew to 717 participants this year with more and more local and international runners taking interest. Kay also runs KaysFIT Academy and coaches ultra runners from all over the world. His wife and two children support him in all the running and racing endeavors: crewing, setting up aid stations and distributing race packets. Talking to Coach Kay and his family about all things running was enlightening! To encounter a runner in the land of mandatory sitting and food worshipping almost felt comparable to finding life on the moon!

Despite living in Bangalore, Kannan and his family are truly devoted to the running community in the Nilgiris and spreading the joy of running among the locals, kids and adults alike. Because my husband and I share the same love for running and have basically started our tea business to help the local communities of tea growers, we immediately connected with coach Kay’s mission.

While some exciting things are coming out of this encounter (woot-woot!), here is the moral of the story: always read signs on the trees when you run. You never know where they may take you.

If you are looking for a new and exciting race destination, definitely consider the Nilgiri mountains!  It’s a perfect way to connect with the local tradition, history, natural beauty, culture and the people of Ooty and the Blue Mountains and to experience the gift of nature. Plus, Ooty is one of the most popular vacation and honeymoon destination in India (because the weather is perfect, and the views are gorgeous!)

With interest towards running slowly picking up in Ooty, Conoor and the surroundings there quite a few events that take place there every year. I’ll probably need a separate post to tell you all about the running clubs, races and other running related events in the Nilgiris, so I’ll do just that! 

OOTYULTRA is a tough ROAD running event, with steep up/down gradients, for the regular amateur runners to the serious ultramarathon lovers. With four distance categories 90k, 60k, 30k & 15k, OOTYULTRA offers an opportunity for everyone to experience this beautiful ultramarathon.

The challenging OOTYULTRA route is designed to take you through the streets of Ooty town, key landmarks, green wooded forests, and innocent village roads. As you run, you will quickly escape into the mountains, reaching the second-highest peak in south India and also view breathtaking sceneries.

OOTYULTRA is a perfect way to connect with the local tradition, history, natural beauty, culture, and the people of Ooty and the Blue Mountains.

Learn more about and follow OotyUltra at:

www.ootyultra.com