Mistaken monkeys for humans as Tea pickers

It is eminent that some tea fields in Darjeeling are more at a 45 degree angle as shown in the photo. Or is it more? Today as I was browsing through some of my photo archives for a post on different social media platforms, I found this tea garden photo which hilariously reminded me of a story which I once heard narrated by one of the researchers at Darjeeling Tea Research Center located in Kurseong town. Its one of those amusing stories about Mr. Robert Fortune’s trip to China.


Mr. Robert Fortune to China

A short historical story of Mr. Robert Fortune who was sent to China to obtain the finest variety of tea plant by the then East India Company in 1848. I don’t know how far its authenticated, but its kinda funny. Mr. Robert Fortune was a Scottish botanist to the Royal Horticultural Society. He visited China in order to obtain the tea seed or plant in disguise, as a Chinese merchant (don’t know how he did that) because during those days most of the doors were closed to Europeans. Only priests and missionaries were allowed. Guess it was their secret and didn’t want to share the knowledge. Buying of tea plants was restricted by the then Chinese Government. However, during Mr. Fortune’s two and a half year stay, from 1848 – 1851, was successful in studying some aspect of the tea culture and the ways to grow and manufacture tea.


Rather a funny tea story narration

While his stay and according to the story, the Chinese peasants grew tea on high elevations and steep terrains. The low and gradual space was used for growing cereals and also gardening. When it was impossible for humans to pick tea on those steep land or face, they lowered trained monkeys via chains to do so. Mr. Robert Fortune might have mistaken the monkeys for humans due to his short sightedness and thus the planting of the tea plants which he introduced to Darjeeling was implemented on steeper gradients :). But when thought the other way round, it was a indeed a boon for Darjeeling as the type of land was apt for achieving fine quality Darjeeling Tea.


The knowledge he brought with him was for that particular type of plant and the soil it thrived in. So, the very initial stage of tea growing and manufacture on a foreign soil was basically a trial and error case. The early planters had a tough time learning. And not to forget that the seeds which favored growing on Chinese soil was not of any success when implemented on the soils of Assam. It was Darjeeling that showed sign of success in growth in those early testing period. Hence, the commencement of the now known and famed Darjeeling Tea industry.


Indeed tea picking in these areas can be a daunting task, but Darjeeling tea pickers, mostly women, have been picking tea for decades now. Not only they have a skill to pick the finest “two leaves and a bud”, but also are expert in balancing themselves by adjusting their bodies to a certain angle. You can well imagine the task of balancing oneself while picking tea, that too the finest leaves. Appreciate! Cheers!

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