Landing in the bustling town of Bagdogra in early afternoon, the team began to assemble to embark upon the picturesque climb up into the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling. With excitement sparking off of what was to come, and surrounded by the panoramic views of the fantastic West Bengal scenery, we quickly found ourselves arriving at our destination. Nestled in the Ging Tea Estate is the beautiful Ging Tea House. Built in 1864, legends say that it was one of the first colonial tea planter’s bungalows. With sumptuous gardens and jaw dropping views, it was hard to believe this was where we would be staying for the weekend.
Over greatly anticipated cups of the famous Darjeeling tea, introductions were made and friendships created. Our group was an eclectic mix of social influencers, marketing and operation heads from Yauatcha, including a nationally renowned bartender, photographers, and representatives of Pernod-Ricard India.
After a quick freshen up the festivities began with a whisky appreciation held by the Ballantine’s Brand Ambassador Dom Fitzgerald. The session covered the historic story of George Ballantine and his sons and how they created a whisky to last the ages. Of course, it is impossible to talk about whisky without a tasting, and three expressions were enjoyed by all. The journey started with Ballantine’s Finest, then on to the refined 12 year old, before finishing with the definitive 17 year old expression.
With the whisky flowing and spirits high we were completely spoiled by the generous hospitality of the staff and treated to an exquisite dinner featuring homemade Darjeeling classics. Talking as if the group were old friends catching up after years, nighttime quickly descended, and with the promise of a day of adventure ahead, happy heads went to cosy beds.
Keen not to miss the stunning morning views overlooking the tea estate and the valleys below, it was an early start for all, again being greeted by another luxurious breakfast spread. Walking boots laced up, we set off down the slope through the plantation with regular stops to take photos of the incredible surroundings. Upon reaching the factory, we were met by the estate head, Sanjay Singh, who took us on an exceptionally knowledgeable tour explaining how tea leaves made their way from plant to cup, ending with a tasting of different seasonal flushes and a variety of types that are produced on site.
Whilst in Darjeeling we wanted to take the opportunity to explore the city. Stalls lined the roads overlooking the slopes of the hills selling everything from the warmest gloves to local delicacies with enticing smells drifting along the path. Eventually we settled in a local restaurant to take in the sunset as it disappeared behind the snow-crested mountains.
Eager to return for another night of frivolity, we arrived back at the house to find a local band playing in the foyer for guests. The evening started with an educational and fun presentation from Yauatcha representatives Abhishek Bindal and Pallavi Singh, explaining why our lucky party were in partnership and what we were hoping to achieve from the experience: essentially, the new Yauatcha cocktail, the Gold Ging. This led into a short presentation from myself, discussing how Ballantine’s Finest works with the different season flushes and why second flush was chosen for the cocktail. I also discussed how Yauatcha, Ballantine’s and Ging Tea Estate all work with the same ethos of sustainability and of staying true. The presentation section of the evening was finished with renowned cocktail bartender Uttam Singh displaying his talents, mixing some outstanding creations using Ballantine’s whisky infused with Darjeeling tea.
Sanjay Singh, the estate head, joined us for another perfect dinner, with conversations and whisky lasting long into the night under the mesmerising star-filled sky.
Sadly, all things must come to an end and our third day in Darjeeling saw lots of fond farewells as our experience drew to a close. As our party departed to all corners of India, we shall all think of our time at the Ging Tea Estate fondly, as a time when strangers became fastened friends through our shared experiences up in the hills.
Slàinte mhath! (Good health!)
Words by Dominic Fitzgerald. Photography and videography by Assad Dadan.