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LUXURY HOTELS: Glenburn Tea Estate, Dajeeling, India
Style: Last days of the Raj
Scene: Surrounded by gently sloping tea gardens
Seen in the lobby: Well-connected Brits, those with class as well as cash
 
Around Darjeeling in North Eastern India the tea gardens blanket every gentle slope and valley. So it is only fitting that a stay there should be on an old tea plantation. One of them, Glenburn, is possibly the most beautiful tea estate in the world. Darjeeling is a the former hill station which was called Queen of Hills by the British Raj who liked to spend the Summer there to escape the heat of the plains. Another favourite colonial summer escape was Shimla.
 
Glenburn is a two hour drive from Darjeeling; on the last portion we approach Glenburn by navigating a potholed road. Even though our complimentary air-conditioned 4WD comes complete with picnic hamper it is not a comfortable drive. It is a 10 kilometre white-knuckle ride down the side of a mountain and the track is broken, dusty, rocky and downright perilous, but it's worth the discomfort, for at the end of the track, all is calm.
 

kanchenjunga
kanchenjunga
simbong butterfly room
barra bung
bungalow
detail
tea

 
Glenburn lies in a gently sloping valley ringed by the Himalayan Mountains. Each morning dawn creeps along the massive range illuminating each summit in turn, till Glenburn is encircled by snow-lit light. The tea bushes, glossy and sun-buttered, are planted in long orderly rows, attended by an army of pickers whose families have lived and worked on the estate for three and four generations.

Guests are accommodated in two bungalows each of which has four suites open to wide colonial verandahs where one can sit and watch an old world go by. One 1858 photograph on the verandah of the Burra Bungalow of a family group is captioned, "I took the view one morning when we were starting for a picnic, the ponies are ready saddled and the men are waiting to take up the sedan chair".

Each suite has dressing rooms, modern bathrooms but suitably claw-foot style bath tubs and five have walled-in rain showers. All suites have sitting areas and mind-blowing views. The Luxury Travel Bible loves the Darjeeling Green Tea toiletries. Names like The Planter's Suite, The Rangeet Suite The Rung Dung Suite, all conjure up last days of the Raj images and grand beds and antiques complete the colonial feel. The Luxury Travel Bible finds The Simbong Butterfly room especially romantic with its glass cases of butterflies and pretty wings embroidered on everything from cushions to the flimsy muslin that drapes the four- poster bed.

Three chefs are at the disposal of you and just 11 fellow guests, and you'll feast on vegetables, fruit, salads and herbs freshly picked from Glenburn's extensive gardens. The chefs are skilled in Indian, Indonesian A and Italian cuisine. One pre-lunch fantasy they presented to us was nasturtium flowers enclosed in a light tempura batter then deep fried, served with ice-cold wine. Bliss.

If lolling about is not your bag there's plenty of action to occupy you - Glenburn stretches down approximately 1200 metres to two Himalayan Rivers - the Rangeet and the Rung Dung where you can raft on the waters, fish or hike, by way of a spectacular suspension footbridge, the forests and villages of the old royal kingdom of Sikkim. Glenburn is also the proverbial bird watchers "paradise" much sought after by 'twitchers' from all round the world. Even if you don't know your eagle from your roller you'll enjoy the orchestra of bird calls which waken you each morning.

Glenburn has its own school, communal hall and health clinic available to all (its workers are provided with pensions and housing for life) which you can visit.

You might also feel like a change of scenery from the main bungalow, and then staff will arrange for you to spend the night in Glenburn's own river lodge. You can also take a lavish picnic or barbecue down to the river for a daytrip. Ask Sanjay Sharma, Glenburn's Estate Manager, to show you the plantation too, because one is, after all, on a tea estate.

Whatever you decide, Glenburn offers to travellers the extraordinary luxury of exclusivity and privacy coupled with downright sybaritic experiences. Most guests stay for three or four days, but some become so seduced they've extended their stay to a month. This I totally understand, but next time, rather than motor down, I'll take the helicopter which one can charter on request from Bagdogra airport.

Set in the centre of all this beauty lays Glenburn itself, no wonder Tatler magazine included Glenburn Tea Estate in its list of  '101 Best Hotels' in 2007. Started by a Scottish tea company in 1859, Glenburn has now passed into the hands of one of India's pioneering tea planting families, The Prakashes, who first worked on the estate and after independence from the British took over Glenburn and now call themselves the "Chaiwala family' - which literally means "tea planters". They have turned these classic Indian bungalows into the most luxurious of lodges. The kind of boutique hotel only India could offer.
 
Luxury Insight:

Our The Luxury Travel Bible correspondent also passed through Kolkata (Calcutta). when researching the above article.   For those who are looking for character rather than the ultimate luxury hotel (then stay at the Oberoi Grand) she recommends the "seriously dotty' Fairlawn, a small hotel run by an Irish couple for six decades, where Mrs Violet Smith, now in her 80's is still about making sure everything runs to schedule. The Fairlawn played home to Dominique La Pierre when he was writing City of Joy, and Felicity Kendall is another regular.   Our writer says, "Its eccentric cosiness may not attract everyone, but its terraces and gardens will'. Those in search of a little more luxe should try the Heritage wing of The Kenilworth (ask for suite 115).

 
Check in:  Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India
Ultimate Luxury:  A helicopter ride in and out.
Most Indulgent Moment:  Coming soon Glenburn Tea Direct so you can get a taste of the estate at home too.
Insider Secrets:   One of the children of the original British family who lived here now resides in Sydney, Australia. A friend of The Luxury Travel Bible she grew up at Glenburn and tells us, after a recent visit, that she is delighted to find that the estate still has the special atmosphere she remembers as a girl.
The Little Things:  Hand-embroidered bed linen, vases of fresh flowers from the garden. Hot water bottles and/or electric blankets for chilly hill station nights.
Junior Luxies: Littlies are not best catered for but some suites have adjoining rooms where older children can stay with parents
Dress code:  Relaxed yet gentile, women should pack a "frock' - remember those?
Perfect luggage:  A  portmanteau
Dent in the platinum:  
Luxury Hotels Link: www.glenburnteaestate.com www.incredibleindia.org
 
Jill Mullens 1/4/10
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