Tumsong Tea Retreat - Ghosts and more

Tumsong Tea Retreat - Ghosts and more

Is staying in a tea plantation good idea?


If your idea of a great vacation is to be amongst nature re - living a bygone era where time slows down, then yes, nothing beats a holiday in one of the heritage bungalows that dot the landscape across India's tea plantations. And if it's The Tumsong tea retreat - it gives you Ghosts and more!

The Singpho tribe of Assam has been cultivating Camellia Sinensis since centuries on end. It took the British to come and 'industrialise' this practise, leading to the birth of the Indian tea industry. The fancy name 'camellia watchamathingamajinggy' is the ubiquitous handle for 'tea'! Since we were already in tea country, it was but natural for us to gravitate to a tea estate for the next, and last leg of our roadtrip.

After much research, we honed down on the Tumsong Tea Retreat, which is in the Ghum region of Darjeeling district. Our choice hinged on several factors. For one, this is an authentic planters bungalow. Secondly, the pricing is pretty competitive and they have a full complement of staff to take care of everything. There were other options too around Darjeeling, but either they were way too over - priced, or seemed downright dodgy.

Kalimpong to Tumsong tea Retreat road trip


Google maps told us we were precisely 59kms away from the Tumsong estate. Since we were in a hired car, we had no GPS and were dependant on Google maps. Mostly Google is pretty dependable to get you in the general vicinity of where you wish to go. Sometimes it tends to be pretty accurate too! So after a leisurely breakfast, we left around 1030Hrs for our destination, confident we'd get there well in time for lunch.

In under an hour we'd descended from the mountain range that houses Kalimpong and started ascending the steep Darjeeling hills. In no time we reached Ghum railway station. At an altitude of around 2258 meters, this is the highest railway station in India. The town was as usual crowded with a merry traffic jam on the road for some reason. Thankfully, a light drizzle helped get the temperature down. Overall the crawl through the markets wasn't as bad as it would've otherwise been. Once we were past the railway station, it was as if we'd left civilisation behind and stepped into a time warp!

The country was as beautiful and rugged as it gets, and the map had us ascending to an altitude of nearly 2600 meters. Of course this is merely an educated guess, since we had no means of gauging how much we'd ascended. In about an hour we realised that we should've reached the Chiabari (Tea retreat / house / abode / home - choose which you like) at least 30 minutes back.

Another thing that struck us was that a tea retreat would be in the middle of a tea garden. Or at least an operational one would. Try as we did, all we saw around us were dense jungles. We were without any mobile network to speak off and definitely lost. The only saving grace was that Google maps still showed we were on the right track. Except, by now I was thoroughly suspicious as to the right track to where!

Eventually, after back - tracking by a few kilometres, we reached a knoll with decent network. We called William, the gentleman who manages the Tumsong Tea Retreat. This is not to be confused with the Tumsong Chiabari resort and spa, which is another property owned by the same group. He guided us to the right road, which would get us to his bungalow. Of course I use the terms 'guide' and 'road' as loosely indicative terms. I think there was some confusion as to William's left and my right or vice versa. After a few frustrating wrong turns, we finally got onto a rutted path through the mountains. This 'road' cut right through acre upon acre of tea estates. We figured now that we'd found the tea gardens, it was a matter of time before we found the tea estate too.

Tumsong Chiabari planters bugalow is nestled amongst tea gardens in Ghum, Darjeeling
Eventually we managed to find the tea estates that led to the Tumsong Chiabari


We were right, except 'matter of time' extended to around 2 hours. Eventually, after a roller - coaster ride on non - existent roads cutting through kilometres of undulating mountains, we finally reached the much sought after (sought by us, that is) Tumsong Tea Retreat by 1430Hrs!

Tumsong Tea Retreat - Ghosts and MUCH more!

The Tumsong Tea Retreat is a planters bungalow converted to a resort. It maintains all the charm of a colonial tea plantation bungalow. I mean, even the teak flooring is polished to a gloss with years of people walking over it. Perched on the side of a hill, the bungalow is picture perfect. Within moments of arriving here we'd forgotten all about the travails of getting there!

The Bungalow is generously endowed. It features a drawing room, a study, a spacious dining room, pantry and kitchen besides 4 bedrooms. It's a perfect retreat for a large family or small group seeking a getaway amidst the calm of nature. The bungalow has beautiful sit - outs on two sides, with the front one affording sweeping views of the valley below. 4 - poster wooden beds adorn each bedroom. They even a cozy fireplace. As for the bathrooms, they're large enough to hide a small regiment of soldiers. Having said this, the plumbing, tiling and overall upkeep was stellar, to say the least!

Like all structures of the same vintage, this bungalow too sports high ceilings and panelled walls. This provides great insulation and natural aspiration to the insides. The rooms are comfortably cool in the afternoons and pleasantly warm in the evenings. Naturally, surrounded by tea plantations and forestland, the air is a delight to breathe! The backyard sports a solar heating array. This adds a nice pro - environment touch to the heritage feel of the place. In all, if you are conscious about your carbon footprint, the Tumsong Tea Retreat is a safe bet - after all, how many places offer Ghosts and more!

Tumsong Chiabari bungalow retains its colonial charm on the exterior and interiors
Front facade of the Tumsong Tea Retreat. It is as quaint on the inside, as the outside!


After a sumptuous lunch supervised by MR. William, three of us (Ritika and our friend + constant trekking partner Shraddha) put on our trekking shoes, and headed out to explore the tea estate. The rest of the gang pretended they were Burra Sahibs here on a surprise inspection. They soon proceeded to put the various couches and sofas under tremendous high - pressure testing by refusing to budge from them. The only time the budged was to change which part of their posteriors would adorn the upholstery. We found a couple of them exactly as we'd left them upon our return. It was only the fact that their belly's rose and fell with rhythmic regularity as they snored, that we were assured of their continued well - being.

A beautiful stream flowing through the Tumsong tea gardens
Trekking through the lush tea gardens was the best pick - me- up we could've asked for the after the tiring drive here!


We trekked up into the tea estate for about 3Kms. If Namchi was heavenly, this was sheer bliss! After crossing a small hamlet inhabited by the tea - pickers, we came across a bubbling stream. Picturesque is a word that doesn't do justice to the peaceful beauty of the place. It took us 3 very satisfyingly tiring hours to trek up and back the mountain. Finally, we returned around 1900Hrs, to welcoming cups of tea. Of course, before serving us the beverage William asked us, tongue firmly in cheek, if we'd like 'tea' or the the 'rubbish swill with milk' that passes for tea! I was already beginning to like this guy.

Traditional English tea setup at Tumsong Tea Estate
English tea service to serve the best of Darjeeling's first flush at the Tumsong Tea Retreat


After downing a few well - deserved pegs of malt and another sumptuous dinner comprising of Chicken curry, rice, delectable rotis, Dal fry, Aloo Gobi, and caramel custard, we retired for the day. Avantika, our 8 year old, uncharacteristically announced that she would sleep in Nitaji's room (MRS. Batra, who was travelling alone with us this time).

Next morning, I was down in the verandah for tea quite early. Actually I had the 'rubbish swill with milk', since that's what my desi physiology craved for at the unearthly hour of 0730Hrs. Just then Nitaji asked if I'd heard anything the previous night / early this morning. I simply shrugged, announcing I slept through like the 'dead', not realising how prophetic this analogy would prove!

Apparently, at EXACTLY 0400Hrs, Nitaji heard the sound of a woman crying loudly under her window. At that same exact time, Avantika woke up too, before Nitaji patted her back to sleep. The poor petrified woman started chanting the name 'Ram' and instantly the voice died down. Of course, she couldn't sleep all that well after that, although, thankfully looked none the worse for it. Now, bear in mind, this was a conversation ONLY between the two of us. Who knew that the term 'Tumsong Tea Retreat - Ghosts and more' would turn prophetic!

As I moved towards the lawn for a smoke, I encountered Quraishy bhai (QB). See me, he started off, 'please don't tell anyone, I don't want to alarm them. But there was a Djinn in my room this morning.' Djinns are evil spirits. I asked, and he confirmed the time was around 0400Hrs. Apparently the place was living up to it's nomenclature of Tumsong tea retreat - Ghosts and more!

As I was mulling over this unlikely piece of information, QB plunged into a blow by blow description of what transpired next. The bespectacled apparition he saw wore a green striped shirt with brown pants. QB took in this details as the apparition was advancing towards him, slowly but surely. Once he got over the initial shock of the unsolicited attentions of his uninvited roommate, he started reciting a Sura from the Holy Quran.

By the end of Sura 1, the apparition stopped advancing to the bed. By the time Sura 2 started, he folded his arms before him, as if caught in an invisible deadlock. Sura 3 was too much for him to handle in his transcendental state, and he fled to the bathroom. This was thoroughly confusing - why the bloody bathroom? He could've chosen the wardrobe. Or behind the curtains / under the bed / out the main door or simply fled through the windows!

I posed this incisive, analytical, razor - sharp query to QB , and he looked back pitifully at me. 'To return to 'Jahannum' (hell) through the WC, of course, he said! Why else would he go to the bathroom.' And here I was, wondering all these years where exactly does all the shit and other unmentionables go once we flush it away. It took the 'and more' part of the title 'Tumsong tea retreat - Ghosts and more' to learn this. Hell must really stink!

Now comes Act 3. Ritika is a tarot reader, life coach and has the most finely attuned sixth sense in anyone I know. Before I could recount the above 2 incidents to her, she told me that there is a 'presence' in these mountains. Not harmful or disturbing in any manner, but simply there.

By itself I wouldn't attach much importance to that statement, since the mountains do have spirits abounding in them. (Yes - I do believe in spirits and the mountains being their abode, in a manner of speaking). However, juxtaposed with acts 1 and 2, it took on a whole new perspective! I quickly recounted the key points of act 1 and 2 to her. She thought about it and said that these could be more than mere hallucinations. However, whatever these guys saw, it was totally harmless. Apparently, the Tumsong the retreat - ghosts and more was living up to its reputation and how.

Trekking through the Tumsong tea estate
Enjoying a trek through the verdant tea estate


Nevertheless, we didn't attach much importance to it, and spent the rest of the day trekking through the mountains. The only time we returned was for lunch and then again for dinner. As we stepped out around 1100Hrs, we walked down the valley this time. The first bend we crossed brought us to another hamlet. There was a crowd gathered around the edge, peering into the forests below. No tea is grown in this part of the estate. I asked one of them what the commotion was all about. He announced that an old man who had died early this morning, was being cremated.

Barely concealing my excitement, I asked around what time did the poor chap kick the bucket. A couple of men turned around from the spectacle and told me it was around 0400Hrs. Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. Unfortunately, my query as to what the bloke was wearing when he died only elicited a dismissive shake of the head. I was sorely tempted to ask if the late MR. Geriatric owned a favourite green striped shirt and brown trousers. Eventually, I thought against it. I mean, why push your luck. After all the fall from this part of the mountain was pretty steep. Certainly not a vertical journey I intended taking! Of one thing I was reasonably certain though. This death certainly had a hand in Tumsong tea retreat & it's reputation for ghosts and more!

Tea factory at Tumsong Chiabari, Ghum
Check out the rapt attention as the tea curing process is being explained


While we were away on our trek, the kids and rest of the gang visited the tea factory. They underwent through a crash course in treating raw leaves to make the delectable beverage that half the world swears by. I'm not sure how much, if at all, they learnt, but they sure came back with some cute pictures. And it kept them busy for the better part of the morning!


That afternoon Aditya, Avantika and I hiked up to try and find the source of the brook we'd encountered. Unfortunately, we couldn't proceed beyond a fallen tree, but had great fun nevertheless. Post this excursion, they announced a desire to return to the bungalow, which was around 3Kms away. None of us wanted to return. So we asked them to follow the path we'd come along and it would get them home.

Hiking up a stream at Tumsong Chiabari to find its source
Hiking up along the brook in a vain attempt to find its source


Off they went, with Ritika, Shraddha and I following at a discreet distance. Obviously we didn't want them to get lost, or worst, scared being out in the middle of nowhere all by themselves! After all, they were just 8 & 9 Years old, respectively. To boot, this was the Tumsong Tea Retreat, known for Ghosts and more!

It was the cutest sight to see them chattering away as they walked on. They didn't give so much as a backward glance to see if we were watching over them! We still followed them for about 2 and a half kilometres, taking care to always stay behind the last bend to avoid detection. Finally after 30 minutes the bungalow could be seen in the valley. I cannot describe the pride we felt as parents seeing them walk this way all by themselves! Add to this the unbound joy of seeing their expressions when they realised we were actually on their heels all this while, and hadn't abandoned them to their fate! That expression on their face was the high point of our trip, paling all else to insignificant little nothings!

That night, after much deliberation and discussion, it was decided that it seemed highly unlikely that the dead gent owned a green striped shirt. I don't remember the details, but the rum was strong. Whatever argument was put forward at that time against anyone in the mountains owning a green striped shirt, must've made sense. Though I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Nevertheless, it was decided to allow the resident spirits a free run of their rooms for the night and the sleeping arrangements were rejigged.

It was deemed that QB would jam up in our room. Nitaji decided to bunk up with Shraddha and Aditya was relegated to an extra bed. We retired around 2300Hrs, some with trepidation, and others (mostly I) with anticipation of what the eerie hours would bring. I mean, if the Tumsong tea retreat promised 'ghosts and more', I deserved my fair share of the former!

At some point as I was deep slumber, Behbe woke us up. We surfaced to her announcing at the top of her voice that she could hear a thumping sound. She said it was as if someone was ascending the stairs to come up to the bedrooms. Ritika crossly told her to go back to sleep and not wake us again. Unless of course, whoever it was actually entered our room and tried to make away with something. I couldn't agree more, especially since I simply couldn't fall asleep again!

Finally, giving up at around 0400hrs, I thought I'd check out the action outside our window. Having stood at the window for a good 20 minutes, try as I did, I couldn't even sense any presence. Let alone hear or see anyone, green striped shirt or not. Extremely disappointing. I mean, the way I look at it, I've paid my fair share for the accommodation etc., and it is only fair that the resident spirits reveal themselves to me too.

It's not like I'm imposing my attentions on them. I only expected to be treated at par and as fairly as everyone else. How would you feel if you weren't allowed to see the show - stopper, even though you'd purchased a full fare all access pass like everyone else. Disappointed and pissed off, right?

What's more, I don't even know any Suras to drive them into the loo or the pot! Alas, it was not to be. The spirits that were had had enough excitement to last them one night. They decided not to make an appearance again. Total waste of a good night's sleep. So much for Tumsong tea retreat and it's reputation of offering ghosts and more.

A cup of tea in the Tumsong tea estate parking lot
A last cuppa tea before he head down to Darjeeling. This is the real stuff, not the 'rubbish swill with milk'

Upon Ritika's advise, we checked out a day in advance from the resort. Since the rest of the group was not in the mood to continue the holiday here, we didn't want to impose on them. I think it had something to do with the fact that they'd paid for individual rooms, not those occupied by resident spirits, notwithstanding their reluctance to give ME an audience.

William and the Tumsong management was gracious enough to refund our money. To boot they also arrange a jeep (compliementary) to take us to Darjeeling. They even arranged a hotel for us there, since our flight back was the next evening.

Darjeeling was as crowded, filthy and congested as I expected it to be. Coming from the heavenly Tumsong Tea Retreat it was downright depressing! Anyway, it was just for a night. The property itself, the Cedar Inn, was quite nice, so we made the most of it before returning the next day.


View of Darjeeling from Cedar Inn hotel
View of darjeeling from our room at the Cedar Inn

Even now, as I think back while writing this, for me the highlight of the trip was our brief stay at Tumsong. I cannot get over the beauty of the place, awesome hospitality of the staff, comfort of the bungalow. It all just comes together in a rare package that is hard to find. Given an opportunity, I'd love to return here for a week or so and simply immerse myself in this magical atmosphere, forgetting all about the outside world. It really is that kind of a place. The Tumsong the retreat genuinely offers not just ghosts, but a lot more!

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