Tea tourism in Nepal often has little to do with tea itself. Nepalis and people from all over the world visit Nepal’s tea capital, Ilam, only as a pitstop in their Eastern Nepal exploration. They travel on a bus for hours, gasp at the majestic tea gardens, venture a few steps into it for a photo or two, and call it a day. I, too, am guilty of this indulgence.
On my first trip in 2010, a few meters into the garden, I remembered the CTC tea at home and wondered how these bright green tea leaves transformed into those tiny, dry, crumpled things. It seemed ironic that most local households in Nepal consume CTC tea despite being home to some of the world’s most delicious orthodox teas.
When I explored the markets of Ilam, some shopkeepers attempted to explain the beauty of the gold and silver-tipped teas they were selling, but nothing really stuck with me.
A decade later, I write about teas like they are reveries in a cup. I was hooked from my first conversation with Nishchal Banskota, CEO of Nepal Tea Collective, a public benefit corporation based in New York. For every question I had about tea, Nish responded with a story, painting a picture of Nepali tea history, characteristics of Camellia Sinensis, and the unrecognized labor of tea producers in Nepal. With Nepal Tea Collective’s relaunched immersive tours, Nish and his team invite tea drinkers to explore these very curiosities in his home country. Their tea tours had to take a halt during the pandemic, but in 2023, they came back in full swing with seven different trips welcoming over 30 people from six different countries.
“Tea tourism in Nepal is seldom about tea,” laughs Nishchal, “It usually entails guides taking people to selective gardens where they can take photos in traditional attires. People pretend to pick a handful of leaves, have a meal, and have a jolly good time. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That is surely an experience worth having for some people. We wanted to take the global tea tours formula of visiting tea gardens and tasting teas to the next level. We wanted our guests not just to see the tea but do the tea.”.
So how does one do the tea?
The 10-day tours offer varied experiences for tea lovers. They typically begin in Kathmandu with its rustic love for chiya at every step of the road. Guests get to explore local cuisines and lifestyle, from learning to cook local dishes, visiting world heritage sites, and sessions in art and ceramics… recently, one tour group with cycling enthusiasts was treated to a 16-mile scenic ride to Nagarkot, an area known for its view of the Himalayas including Mount Everest.
Guided by the spirit of exploration, Nepal Tea Collective’s tours are crafted to accommodate each tour group’s diverse interests and passions. They work closely with guests who sign up to build a custom itinerary.
“We want everyone to fall in love with Nepal for their own personal reasons. It is called a tea tour, but the brew is a sweetener to the hotpot of experience that the country is,” shares Pratik Rijal, the co-founder of the company. Pratik is preparing for the new cohort of tours he will lead in 2024. Nepal Tea Collective’s immersive tours take place in two shifts – between late March to June end and from August end to October to experience the peak tea-making season and are open to booking already.
While each tour contains elements of personalized exploration, the constant in every single cohort remains the eager exploration of teas in different forms in different milieus of Nepal.
When you go
How to access the tour? NTC has an open Calendly link for anyone interested
Costs: $3,300 for single occupancy per person and $2,900 for double occupancy per person. This covers everything included in the tour except the international flights.
Good to know: The tour can be made senior and/or child-friendly – check with the team when you speak to them.
Picture this: In Kathmandu, you acclimate to the new culture for the first few days. Tea is but an accessory to the experience. You may sip on sweet Ganesha Green as you learn how to make momos or visit the oldest tea shops in town while tasting your first dal bhat tarkari, a staple assortment of lentils, rice, and curry. You then head to Eastern Nepal, where you’ll likely meet fellow tea lovers experimenting with Camellia Sinensis, or reach the outer region of Ilam, where tea-smoked chicken and cheese are just some of the delicacies in Bar. At La Mandala Tea Factory, Sonam Paljor Lama, a tea teacher, offers a peek into the philosophy of tea making and tea drinking. From here, you head to Jasbirey Tea Processors to meet one of Lama’s former students and current contemporary, Sharad Subba, to see and experience the experimentation and the art of tea making. Then, you go to Phidim, home to Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center, the first organic-certified tea garden in Nepal, established in 1984. Here you can see how tea is made in Nepal, a rare peek and hands-on experience of plucking alongside local tea pluckers and, over two days, transforming the freshly plucked leaves into a brew of your own. While the tea is being processed, the tour resumes to the upper gardens of KTERC. Amidst organic tea gardens that have matured into small forests, you explore the tea trees that have been growing wild for over 40 years. The hike culminates at Nishchal’s parents’ house, surrounded by the first five tea bushes, symbolizing the humble genesis of a beautiful tea journey that you, too, are now a part.
As guests sip freshly brewed cups of tea, they are also sipping in the stories of the land, the passion of the people, and the history that has shaped every leaf. Through shared experiences of plucking tea leaves alongside local farmers, crafting their blends, and witnessing the alchemy of leaf to cup, they forge bonds that go beyond language and cultural barriers.
Nepal Tea Collective’s Immersive Tea Tours are about authentic connections. Beyond the picturesque tea gardens and aromatic brews, these tours bring tea lovers on a journey to the heart of Nepal’s rich culture, captivating landscapes, and the labor of its unsung heroes – the tea producers.
In a world often rushing by, Nepal Tea Collective beckons its visitors and consumers to slow down, savor, and connect— while internet connections will be available throughout the tour, a more kindred bond to the present and the art of tea is encouraged. Nepal Tea Collective’s immersive tea tours are a journey of the senses, exploring flavors and celebrating the profound ties that tea weaves between people and places.