"Tripathy Babu, want to stop here?” asked Tamang, my cab driver, waking me up from my brief trance. I was so engrossed in the sweeping tracts of the resplendently green organic Temi Tea Estate, deep gorges and spellbinding views of the Eastern Himalaya that I didn't realise that the vehicle had almost stopped moving. We had entered the obscure village of Tarku. I was on my way to Ravangla, and not only was Tarku not on my itinerary, I’d never even heard of it.
Situated at a height of 6,000 feet, Tarku is about 60km from Gangtok, tucked onto one end of the tea estate. This tiny village boasted of a higher secondary English medium school, a small hospital and warm welcoming residents. I decided to stay here for the day, on Tamang’s insistence, and went looking for a hotel. I found the Cherry Resort, the only option in Tarku. After I checked into my room, I decided to explore the surroundings. I started walking through the tea plantations shrouded in mist, getting occasional but disinterested looks from the tea garden workers. Loitering through small, winding dirt roads within the plantations in glorious loneliness with only the misty fog and the occasional sound of the elusive chirping cicada for company was an exhilarating experience. Lost in my thoughts, trying to find my way through the hanging veil of clouds, I suddenly stumbled upon a pebbled path leading to a stairway up the hill. Rows of prayer flags fluttered in the distance and the hill was thick with a dense canopy of oak, chestnut, maple, alder and sal trees. The prospect of a small uphill trek to some beautiful, little-known place made me feel like an eager kid waiting for his turn to hop onto a carousel. I slowly climbed up the stairs, with the sound of my laboured breath keeping time with the crush of freshly fallen leaves under my feet and carefree chirping of birds and the buzz of insects in the forest. The stairs soon ended at a steep dirt road heading further up. A hint of incipient rain made me return to my hotel, where Iearnt that I’d been trying to climb up to the village’s cemetery!
Just off the Gangtok-Ravangla state highway, Tarku hides inconspicuously amidst the verdant green tea plantations. Most tourists stop to spend a few moments to explore the tea gardens and take some photos before resuming their journey. Little do they know that staying here for a few days can indeed be therapeutic. I woke up the next day to a gorgeous scene of mist rolling off the mountain tops to drift over the tea estate’s green carpet, gentle rain and the distant sounds of morning chit chat between tea workers. After a steaming cup of black tea, I ventured into the village. I took a greedy gulp of the fresh mountain air and started walking down the red muddy paths crisscrossing the endless tea estate. My first encounter was with a happily inebriated man called Pemba, who was grinning at me from his doorstep. When I smiled back at him, he took it as a sign to jump to my side in the wink of an eye. “It’s my day off,” he said, “My wife is working in the fields. Can I show you the village?” Although I could imagine why he was taking the day off, I couldn’t fathom his enthusiasm for being my tour guide. I suspected that he might ask for something in return, but my apprehensions were soon laid to rest when, thanks to having Pemba by my side, I was invited for a cup of tea by a kind matriarch in one house and offered a steaming plate of momos in another. “Life may be monotonous, but we are content with what we have. The tea estate takes good care of us as at least one member of each family in the village is employed with the company. Our small but close community takes good care of each other”, said Medina, a proud mother of two delightful kids. The village seemed fairly prosperous and there was a touch of gaiety in the air of the village that was evident in the way people greeted and talked to each other. Giggling school girls and shabbily dressed children chased roosters through the narrow lanes and village elders discussed the news around a bonfire. Common, but charming, scenes like these could be seen all over Tarku. I still rhapsodise about the experience, the memory and the warmth of real connection.
Once the village tour was over, I started searching for places to see nearby. My Google Maps indicated a small temple on the eastern side of the tea estate, atop a hillock. Undeterred by my previous day’s unsuccessful trek, I started asking for directions. It was a small temple under a thatched roof which doubled up as the home for the priest and his family. Instead of idols, an array of flickering oil lamps and home-made candles adorned the images of various deities. Praying there in utter silence, with no chants, no bells, no queues of other devotees and no pestering vendors, was a visceral experience.
My next stop was the Temi Tea Factory, where I recieved a crash-course in the tea manufacturing process, from plucking the leaves to its final metamorphosis into being packaged into boxes containing three types of tea– green, black and white. I was curious to learn more about the process. I must have come across as a nerdy, overenthusiastic kid to the tour guide at the factory, because his expression eventually turned into an unintentional frown.
Needless to say, after two days at Tarku, my travel plans had been turned on its head. Two days of sojourn in this quiet settlement had completely detached me from the outside world. I felt an inexplicable warmth and understanding of the place. There is not much to do here in terms of activities, but isn’t that the point of a perfect holiday? To truly unwind in tranquil surroundings, nap, read a book, walk, explore, absorb and disengage from everything else? Tarku was perfect.
Tarku is a 60km drive from Gangtok and you can book a taxi to get there. The nearest airport is Bagdogra which is 125km from Gangtok. The closest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, 120km from Gangtok.
WHERE TO STAY
STDC (Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation) run Cherry Resort (from Rs 3,000; cherryresort.com) is the only hotel in Tarku. Situated right in the middle of the Temi Tea Estate, almost every room has a great view of the tea gardens.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Watch the verdant green tea gardens and sip a cup of freshly brewed tea from the balcony of your room. Walk through the endless rows of perfectly manicured tea plants. Loiter in the village and chat with the friendly villagers. Visit the factory and become a tea connoisseur. Trek up the various hills and soak in the splendid views of serpentine roads wriggling across the emerald green tea gardens. Do visit the small temple on the hillock located on the eastern side of the hotel. On clear days you will be treated to the majestic view of Mt Kangchenjunga to the north and the 8,000 ft Teesta river gorge to the south.