In India, a group of students and faculty trekked through the tea and vegetable plantations in Munnar. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and only the second time Semester at Sea has offered it as a field program. This trip gave students a taste for life in India outside of the cities as they camped in the forest, learned how to cultivate and collect tealeaves, and mingled with the locals.
Students were dropped off at the tea plantations where they began their trek. They walked for two hours through the rolling green hills of tea bush plantations as the sun glistened through the clouds, they kept an eye out for the wild elephant that inhabit and cross through that area, and made their way to the campsite.
On the second day of trekking some voyagers spoke with the locals and learned about how tea trees grow at different altitudes. The bush and altitude determines the quality of the tea. Darjeeling, which grows in West Bengal, NE India, near the Sikkim border, is the best quality tea, then Assam, Assamica, and the rest. Semester at Sea visited the Assamica level.
Students watched the process as workers collected tealeaves from the bushes. All levels grow green, white, and black teas. Green has the most vitamins. The black tea comes from the biggest leaves and the white and green come from the smallest leaves on the sprout.
The leaves are delivered to a weighing station where all the leaves are dumped out, re-bagged and weighed than loaded onto a truck and taken to refineries. You get different types of teas in their dried form and powdered form. As the teas all come from the same plant the way they are processed is different to make the different tastes.
After three hours of trekking students came across locals playing a game of volleyball. Some SASers sat within the bushes and along the road watching as others joined the game. The friendly game with the locals made our voyagers feel welcomed into this small village, these locals represented the heart of India.
As they trekked voyagers spotted one section of the tea plants being pruned. Upon asking the guides some learned pruning is a vital operation for tea management to limit the top growth and to stimulate the growth of the bush. Pruning is a necessary procedure to the tea bush at a certain height to control the vertical growth and allow it expanding horizontally for comfortable plucking with renewed and vigorous branching pattern. Training is aimed at modifying it to form a low bush of good spread and of appropriate height for plucking.
At the end of the second day students made their way into the vegetable plantations where cabbage and other vegetables were being grown, they were delivered traditional Indian food for lunch in the middle of the plantations. Following Lunch voyagers hiked down the hills and into a small village where they were greeted with smiles and kindness. Goats roamed free, children ran out to see their foreign visitors and men and children posed for pictures as they greeted their guests.
For those who got up early to watch the sunrise coming up behind the mountain on the last day found an interesting astrological surprise. Saturn is one of the four planets that can be seen throughout the night, the others being Jupiter, Mars and Venus. If you are lucky enough to spot the second largest planet in our solar system, you can see the rings of Saturn with binoculars.
I have learned that while the port cities are beautiful and other surrounding cities have many things to see and visit you really feel the culture of a place when you visit the small towns and villages, the places that are not tourist attractions necessarily but give you a true feel for the country and the culture. These places and people tend to be much more welcoming and less overwhelming. These types of experiences have made my trip all that much better.