The bungalow on Goomtee Tea Estate in Darjeeling
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In the wow zone at the Goomtee cottage

There is a very apt word in modern English to depict amazement – “wow”. It is pithy, to the point, and packs a punch.

Of course, the inflection when uttering it is what matters. For instance, much like the “Oh my God”, the “wow” whispered softly portrays hushed awe, a more dragged-out delivery conveys growing comprehension, while a brisk variety reflects instant surprise.

When writing, one is much more fettered. Adding an exclamation mark to the “wow” helps, but not much. The wow quotient is heightened, but it is not the same.

Also, many writers – especially the prolific “posters” on Facebook – spoil the effect by spelling it “whoa”, which is of course silly, unless one is in the process of reining in a runaway horse. Or, for that matter, restraining me now.

So before I run away further, let me explain my obsession with “wow”. You see, what I am trying to convey is my state when I first saw the visitors’ bungalow at Goomtee tea estate in Darjeeling.

I feel cramped by my inadequate vocabulary, so let me put it this way – the moment I laid my eyes on the cottage, I was tossed into the wow zone. The inhabitants only added to the wowness of it all.

First Site

I reached Goomtee the first evening of a weeklong trip to the tea gardens; it was also the first garden on my itinerary. I had been on the road for 20 hours and suffice it to say, I was in a foul mood. The drizzle frayed the spirits further.

But the clouds within lifted the moment we – my colleague Uday and I – stepped on the polished floorboards in the visitors’ bungalow. The cottage was, as my 15-year-old would say, “like wow!”

The entrance to the entrance is equally wow-evoking but to be honest, I did not notice the surroundings in my hurry to get out of the cold drizzle that made my shirt clammy.

It was only in the morning that I saw the covered steps leading up to the cottage, the plants flanking it and the flower gardens beyond. In the early hours, it was breathtaking.

The first few minutes in the cottage that first night had been surprisingly therapeutic. I guess it was the soft lights that proved an instant salve. But I also believe padding around bare feet on the soft pinewood floor helped.

That’s how I reconnoitred the sprawling cottage – without any footwear, just as Bruce Willis did in Die Hard when he lands at his wife’s office and walks around unshod; he is so invigorated thereafter that he kills all the bad guys.

I did not kill anyone, but my bruised self pepped up immediately after I pattered around the place minus shoes and socks.

The interiors of the bungalow with the famed wooden floors.

The interiors of the bungalow with the famed wooden floors. Pic by Uday Bhattacharya

Hills Retreat

Goomtee’s owner Ashok Kumar later told me he lets out rooms in the cottage to tourists. “They come for a quiet getaway, I have many return visitors,” he says.

I met one such visitor, a Korean businesswoman who runs a tearoom in Seoul, of whom I have I written earlier in Still Steeping. She was there checking out the first flush from Goomtee and neighbouring Jungpana.

Da-Hyoung Chung – for that was her name – may have been on a business trip, but the first time she visited Goomtee was three years ago and it was to spend her honeymoon here.

 

 

Goomtee is a beautiful retreat to be sure, and eight people work almost through the day to keep the cottage that way.

I could look down into a valley below through the windowpanes and the tall pines; it was uplifting.

The dining room and one of the three bedrooms open on to the lawns overrun with flowers, and there is a table tennis board lest one is stuck indoors in the rains and gets bored with the TV and the books.

Ah yes, the books. The well-appointed parlour at Goomte is a treasure trove of books, and there were more in the corridor, a cozy passage with French windows and potted plants.

In a nook that makes up the prayer room, lies a fat volume of Hindu scriptures. “It is from my grandfather’s collection,” says Kumar, who – according to his nephew and Jungpana owner Shantanu Kejriwal – handpicked each of the other titles.

I went to bed with a paperback on tips on winning a lottery; it was a fascinating read.

Dinesh, the general handyman at Goomtee's bungalow arrives in the morning. Photograph  Uday Bhattacharya

Dinesh, the general handyman at Goomtee’s bungalow, arrives in the morning. Pic by Uday Bhattacharya

Happy Inmates

I met Kejriwal the first night, when he was watching television and I was on the prowl. He comes over from his base in Delhi to the hills every few months during harvesting at Jungpana, which abuts Goomtee. Plus, he is family.

Kejriwal was godsend. First, I did not expect to run into the owner of Jungpana, one of the most extolled teas from Darjeeling, to be there. Second, I got to learn all about his garden from the man himself.

The chat ended only when Prem, the genteel waiter at the cottage, let it be known ever so politely that if I had my dinner, he could go home. He is right up there with Jeeves, I conclude.

Kumar tells me Prem had once been mentioned in a New York Times article. I am not surprised; he is a man who leaves an impression.

The general handyman at the bungalow, Dinesh, too, features in Goomtee folklore; apparently, as a young man, he quit his position at the plantation when someone had lured him to Delhi, promising him a job in the house of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

It was a hoax and he returned, and has been a fixture at Goomtee ever since. In fact, he was a fixture by my side when I accompanied Kejriwal to Jungpana – always one step behind.

I can’t decide what I liked the most during my stay at Goomtee – the serenity, the rooms, the lawn with its flowers, or the staff.

Maybe I will visit again to decide.

Featured image by Gautam Virprashad

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  • Anik Basu
    Anik Basu has a Diploma in Journalism from the Times School of Journalism, Delhi and in a career spanning nearly three decades, has worked for a number of leading mastheads including The Times of India (Delhi, Patna and Jaipur), The Telegraph (Calcutta) and Mint (Delhi), apart from wire service Indo-Asian News Service. Currently, he writes in various print and online magazines such as Business Today and International Finance Magazine.
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