We don’t typically associate Himachal Pradesh with tea estates. We think of mighty mountains, meandering rivers, dense Pine and Deodar forests, and endless meadows, but not tea gardens. I recently learned that the Kangra valley in Himachal has been growing some of the finest green and black tea since the mid-19th century! The Wah Tea Estate, located on the foothills of the Dhauladhar range in Palampur, is the largest manufacturing tea estate in Kangra valley and was established by the British in 1857. With a cozy homestay lodge and tea room within the same estate, it makes for a perfect getaway from the hustle-bustle of big city life.
I stayed at the lodge for a night on my way back from a pottery retreat in Dharamkot. Albeit over my budget, I convinced myself it was a treat-to-self after what had been an intense month of job interviews and freelance work. I’ve visited tea gardens in Assam, Nagaland, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu before, but a tea estate in the Himalayas is a whole different ball game!
A quaint tea room surrounded by tea gardens
The estate was named ‘Wah’ by Sir Sikander Hayat-Khan, the son of the Nawab of Wah of Pakistan, who took over the estate from the British. It was eventually bought by the Prakash family, the current owners, in 1953.
I arrived on a Monday afternoon and went straight to the newly-constructed tea room to grab a bite. It was my last day in Himachal Pradesh and the fag end of my sabbatical, so my only plan for the day was to relax. One of the caretakers guided me through the estate to a small semi-open area with tables overlooking the tea gardens. I ordered a delicious burger and iced chamomile tea from what was a simple but mouth-watering menu. I then walked over to the tea shop and manufacturing unit where I was given a tour around the tea factory by the owner himself. Mr. Deepak Prakash, whose grandfather purchased the tea estate, was extremely generous with his time and explained every step of the tea manufacturing process.
A tour of the tea factory
I got to see how tea leaves are plucked, weighed, withered, dried, sorted, graded, and brought to their final packaged form. Many of the machines in the factory are over a hundred years old, including one by SIROCCO, the same company that made the propellers of the Titanic!
The tour ended with a tea tasting session at the tea shop where I got to taste 17 varieties of green and black tea!
A sunset to remember
My day did not end there. The tea tour and tasting was followed by a walk through the tea gardens with one of the caretakers. We crossed over to the other end of the estate from where we could get a clear view of the sunset and the silhouette of the Dhauladhar range at a distance (as it was a cloudy day). With hot homemade pakodas, marble cake, freshly-brewed tea, and chatter — while being surrounded by lush green tea gardens — I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last evening in Himachal!
An evening at the Lodge
The best thing about the Lodge at Wah is that it’s constructed and run with a lot of love and thought. The entire property is built with eco-friendly materials in the traditional Kangra style and the doors and windows are from the Old Palampur Courthouse! Meals are cooked by local chefs using organic vegetables grown at the estate, while the gardens and outdoor spaces have a variety of flowers, including the ‘Dutchman’s pipe’ flower!
I’ve stayed at countless homestays, hostels, and hotels to date, but there’s something special about the Lodge at Wah. From the moment I arrived, I felt completely at home. This is largely due to the warmth and hospitality of the hosts – the Prakash family – as well as the staff, most of whom hail from the nearby villages and have lots to share about the region and local culture.
The much-awaited Dham
The night was full of music and chatter, as the other guests staying at the lodge were celebrating the 70th birthday of a person in their group and had arranged for a local singer to perform some covers. The singer had a lovely voice and a nice selection of songs, and I soon lost track of time listening to him and chatting with the hosts, who were most kind to spend their evening with me. We swapped travel stories and they were more than happy to answer my questions about the lodge and how it came to be. I devoured the best beetroot chops and momos, but the highlight of the evening was the Himachali Dham!
Dham is a feast prepared on special occasions like weddings and festivals across Himachal. Every region (Kangra, Shimla, Mandi, Chamba) has its own variations. Folklore has it that the king of Himachal visited Kashmir where he was offered the Kashmiri Wazwan. Impressed, he decided to introduce a similar feast in Himachal consisting of traditional dishes like madra, kadhi, maa ki dal, chana dal, khatta, etc. Dham typically consists of 6-8 dishes with a side of steamed rice followed by meetha chaawal (sweet rice).
I have been in love with madra (legumes cooked in curd and ghee) ever since I had it in Chamba last year, but the spread at dinner at the Lodge at Wah left me in awe! Made lovingly by the in-house chef, every dish was delicious. This was followed by the best homemade kulfi I have had, and I felt like I’d eaten enough for the rest of the week!
Interestingly, the popular vloggers Rocky and Mayur have an entire episode dedicated to the Dham at the Lodge at Wah, in case you want to know more about the dishes:
Like all good things, my time at the Lodge at Wah ended too soon. Although I spent just one night there, it was so memorable and soothing that I had to write about it, and I can’t wait to go back!