Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Tea Fields of Ilam

A day or so ago we came up from the heat and dust of the Nepali Terai to the misty green tea fields of Ilam in the Himalayan foothills.

We arrived in the middle of market day, and quickly tired of carrying our packs through the bustling stalls full of colourfully dressed women. For the first time the Limbu are a noticeable minority, with their heavy gold nose piercings.

Ilam is a prosperous town, famous also for its ginger, cardamon and round chillies. The town is located on a high spur and extends several hundred meters in each direction from its main square. The tea gardens are found just outside town and roll like a wellkept lawn over the top of the spur and down the northern facing slope. We are staying now at a guesthouse amongst the tea. The Dance guesthouse gains in location and the feelings and sounds of rural Nepal what it loses in cleanliness and smokers coughs.

Yesterday, Penny started work at the Ilam Community hospital, which is unfortunately located on a dirt track 20 minutes out of town. The hospital is currently staffed by an Australian ED consultant, a Nepali house surgeon and a British GP trainee. Really friendly bunch which will make the next week really enjoyable for Penny. While Penny worked I roamed the town looking for different foods and places to sit and watch people. I gorged myself on Indian sweets, the best of which was a coconut ice creation, and ate plates of momos, the staple Chinese dimpling like dish.

I met Penny after work and we explored some roads and tracks, finding our way to the lodge and restaurant at the top of the tea gardens. This has been set up for tourists and has that vibe that comes with pagodas and English menus, but what we really appreciated was the atmospheric view down over the tea gardens then out as if into space over the ridgelines descending onto the planes of the Terai and then I guess India. From our height we looked into the top the cumulus storm cloud over the plains and were impressed by the distant lightning display. Good tourism endeavours are worth supporting and we will be back here to sip ginger teas and munch on parathas.

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