Raj Vable, founder of Springfield-based Young Mountain Tea Company, wanted to find a way to cover the costs for his company’s necessary trips to India to meet with tea growers, who supply the company with the tea it sells in the U.S.
The company’s mission aims to create jobs in Indian villages by buying tea from sustainable Indian growers. But Vable wanted to involve the rest of the household — like the women who run it. And he says he wanted to provide a chance for people from U.S., Nepal and India to interact across each other’s culture.
So why not just invite a group of paying travelers to join him, Vable thought. He could deal with creating the itinerary, making the reservations and ensuring a safe trip.
In what he calls a “cultural immersion through the lens of tea,” he takes travelers, who range in age from “affluent millennials to young retirees,” on a South Asian gastronomical tour of tea and food — and an experience of scenic views and cultural exchanges.
“We are a tea company moving into trips,” he says.
The company had its first trip to India in 2015. Since then, Vable says he’s realized there aren’t other companies that use tea as the central lens. The company’s tenth trip to Darjeeling and Nepal will run Oct. 9-21.
Other companies might quickly skim through Indian tea gardens, but Vable says his company offers travelers a more in-depth learning opportunity about tea growing, cultivation and processing, seeing as these tea growers sell their product directly to Young Mountain Tea.
The trip starts with a few days in Kolkata, which Vable says offers a chance to buy some textiles and spices to ship home. Of course, it’s also an opportunity to have a safe experience with eating authentic Indian street food (you know, to avoid any of those pesky food-borne illnesses you can sometimes get).
After Kolkata, the group travels to Nepal, which takes about seven hours — between flight and drive time. The driving, though, is what can be a polarizing experience, Vable says.
“You get these all these incredible views, but it’s also like windy roads — so a lot of motion sickness,” he says.
When staying with locals in Nepal, travelers see how tea is harvested and how they work in tea factories to understand what it’s like being a tea farmer, Vable says. Of course, in addition to learning about the tea making process, they fall in love with local food.
The trip also includes a few nights in a hotel in Darjeeling, a city that has lent its name to the tea grown in the area. The land was also attractive for the British, who set up a hilltop retreat for soldiers who needed rest from the heat, Vable says.
Unless climate change has a say, an October trip means that travelers have the opportunity to avoid a monsoon as well as weather that is too cold or too hot. If that is the case, the trek through Singalilia National Park, which will have a total elevation change of about 3,000 feet over five days, will offer views of two of the world’s largest mountains, Vable says.
“We have seen Everest from that location before. I hesitate to overdo it because there’s no guarantee, but yeah it’s in the shadow. You can see it as well as Kanchenjunga,” he says. Kanchenjunga is the world’s third largest mountain.
India’s population is more than 1.3 billion people and its land spans over 1.26 million square miles — not to mention its many cultures and places of historical significance to visit. Vable says travelling to India with no clear direction can cause one’s trip to lack a meaningful experience. His trip, on the other hand, offers travelers a way to get acquainted with the country.
“One thing that people have done in the past is use our trips as a primer for India and then go and travel on their own for like a week or two afterwards,” Vable says. “We go to the places that we know are going to be the kinds of experiences that people want, which is basically like finding like the right level of stretch outside of someone’s comfort zone without it being dangerous.”
The trip, as Vable says, has tea as its central lens, which means that even if someone has an interest in more high-end teas, South Asia’s most popular drink, chai, will probably steal the show.
“Chai is omnipresent,” he says. “At the high-end tea gardens, where they’re producing these frou-frou teas that are world class and selling in the auctions for thousands of dollars per ounce, they still serve you chai.”
Young Mountain Tea is located at 418 A Street, ste. 220, Springfield. For more information about the trip, visit YoungMountainTea.com.