Monday, April 1, 2013

Ooty, or Ooh Tea!

It is getting hot here in Coimbatore so a few weeks ago ISP headed for the hills. Ooty is a hill station a few hours away where the British used to escape from the heat of India. Given the current heat here in CBE where it has been hovering around 100F (40C) for the past week, we were excited for cooler climates. 

Catching a cup of tea on the way up.
 Our first stop was the Toda tribe, one of the few remaining hill tribes in the Nilgiris. We sat down to talk with them and learn a little about their community and how it differs from wider Indian society. Their lives are closely tied to buffaloes, which not only produce the ghee and dairy products that they sell but are also revered in their worship. Even in the afterlife, the Toda believe that their buffalo journey on with them to sustain them.
Chatting with the Toda Tribe.
 Then we headed over to the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary for a safari ride! This continues to be a highlight for students as they look forward to peering out the windows for any signs of wild creatures. That evening we spotted a multitude of peacocks and sambar deer (which made us wonder if there were also rasam deer lurking about) and even a few wild elephants. No-one has seen a tiger yet though. Perhaps batch #5 will have better luck?

Seeing the elephant feeding at Mudumalai.

The next day we went back up the mountain to the town of Ooty. Aside from being renowned regionally for its homemade chocolate, Ooty's climate lends itself to some of the country's best tea. So off we went to learn about how tea is grown and picked!

Learning how tea is picked by hand.
Picking tea is an arduous process. The higher qualities of tea are plucked by hand and only new leaves are taken. A single plant also produces different grades of tea based on changes in its environment such as seasons or the age of the leaf when it is picked. It was amazing to wander through steep tea fields with tea workers and gain a new perspective on tea.

On to the manufacturing process!
From there we moved on to the factory, where the leaves are taken from the field. We learned that there's a whole hidden side to making tea. When we drink a cup we rarely think of the days that the leaves must dry before being rolled, chopped and fermented. We definitely came away with a greater appreciation for the many cups of chai that we consume here!

Hearing about Sisters International.
Another highlight was hearing from Rebecca Park who co-founded Sisters International, a non-profit dedicated to empowering young Indian girls and teaching them about social issues facing Indian women around the country. She saw that there were many organizations around India addressing social problems but few working on preventing them and was inspired to start her own organization. Now they run several conferences a year to inspire young women and are hoping to begin a similar project for boys soon as well. We left feeling inspired by the great work that she is doing for so many youth.

Enjoying the view of the tea fields.

All in all, it was a great weekend trip filled with tea, chocolate and inspiring visits!

Stay tuned for more updates from our travels.