Nepal, the drive
On one of my journeys, I was sent up to a northern location of Dehradun, in the state of Uttarakhand, a green and vibrant state, a land of hills, forests, and great scenic beauty. It was decided that we would drive from India over the border to Nepal, I was warned that it would be a long drive and that stopping would essentially be impossible once we reached the mountain path, to make matters more interesting there would be little to no phone reception on much of the drive and potentially at the plant as well.
My driver, a veteran of the hills, spoke no English, he seemed very jolly and for a while, I relaxed and continued my usual schedule of learning in the cab, around us the fog began to cloud thicker as we reached up onto the road carved out of the mountain, other vehicles around us discernable only by the red lights dancing in the fog and the regular toot of horns that is typical with Indian road etiquette, we began to see small villages in the wild jungle. As the sky darkened the fog became an opaque world of smoke, shapes of the roadside indiscernible shadows and blurs.
My driver sang chants to radio in Nepalese and I sat in the back marveling at the glimpses of the mountain through the mist and was taken aback by rural villages, still without electricity or generators carved out of the fertile soil of the cliffs and plateaus.
Suddenly, the driver slammed the brakes hard and brought the cab to a screeching halt and began to wildly point and holler at something in the road.
The jolt smashed me and my books against the front the seat and I was for a moment winded and my head spun around me in shock.
It was a small one man tea stand with a bright green neon light.
My driver rushed out and proceeded to excitedly speak to the Chai Walla and then as the fellow began to prepare his tea, my driver lit a cigarette and he showed me that beyond the small Tea stop the road abruptly ended leaving a great chasm. A descent into the oblivion the bottom hidden behind the clouds.
This Tea stand was a reminder to the drivers to slow and bear west along this road, all the regular drivers would stop and have tea and a cigarette if possible.
The border between India and Nepal was a surreal office where I was to present my passport and my purpose to visit Nepal for a day, after various documents I was escorted across the border by the police to the Nepalese side and proceeded to go through the same experience again, filling ancient-looking books and stamping my passport.
On this particular visit, we journeyed north towards a tea plantation to oversea the flavorings and additives used in some of their flavored teas, I was taken by the stark contrast of Nepal and its cultural differences with India, the factory was located in a fairly remote rural area and we past by small villages and farmlands.
The stark poverty and wonderous scenery was breathtaking, the general warmth and mood of the people was colorful and full of mirth. Markets consisted of no more than 3 or 4 men families with spread out sheets of onions, potatoes, leafy vegetables. An old lady with bags of rice and a brass weighing scale and a man with a improvised table strapped to a bike selling tea and cigarettes.
We continued up the thin, winding mountain roads until we reached the Tea Plantation, the nearby terrain became all of a sudden dry and rocky and around us were fields and agricultural and we managed to burst a tire on the approach to the factory.
The actual audit itself consisted of (after a cup of tea) a plant tour and time to document the natural flavorings used in many of the tea blends, I saw the cleaning and mixing process and was able to confirm it was clean and well managed, the following rooms where bagging rooms, where small ladies worked the automatic tea sachet folder and boxed the finished tea bags into boxes for export.
After the audit was completed we hopped back in the car and began our drive back to the Indian border, watching a country in reverse now, this country of such expansive wilderness.