India - Tea and Tourism. Denis Gray, Associated Press - December, 2012
BC-AS-INDIA-TEA AND TOURISM
SAVORING INDIA’S TEA TRAILS
INDIA’S TEA TOURISM: GRACIOUS LIVING, GREAT BREWS, ECHOES OF BYGONE DAYS
BY DENIS D. GRAY
JORHAT, India (AP) -- ``This is your own home now,'' announces our host,
welcoming us to Thengal Manor. And we wish it was, this gracious residence
of one of India's great tea dynasties who have opened their villa, its
idyllic gardens and an impeccable 15-strong staff to overnight visitors.
Read the story
Thengal Manor marked the start of a two-week journey through the world's finest tea growing
areas -- India's Assam and Darjeeling -- where we mingled with nimble-fingered women as they
plucked a green sea of bushes with astounding speed, drank pink gins by the fireplace in
colonial-era parlors and were very easily seduced by the pampered lifestyle of tea planters.
And of course we drank many a cup of Assamese -- ``bold, sultry, malty''-- and Darjeeling --
``the champagne of teas, the color of Himalayan sunlight''-- that would send aficionados into ecstasy.
Let me however confess that I am not particularly tea-addicted.
Too much tannin does funny things to my tummy. But my wife, a Scot,
more than makes up for it. So that, plus our love for northeast India,
sparked our interest in a niche but very much growing trend -- tea tourism.
It's not a particularly organized affair, but more tea estates,
also called gardens, are opening their properties to guests interested
not only in their product and how it comes to be but in the unique world
of tea planters, the ``burra sahibs,'' and their domain. Most are
charmers dating back to the British Raj.
Both locals and foreigners are taking to the tea trails of northeast
India, regions of the south and Sri Lanka, including an increasing
number of Americans, apparently because of a percolating interest in
the United States in the art and taste of quality teas (my wife insists
American tea culture still consists of ``hot water and a tea bag'').
The four of us had Thengal Manor to ourselves, its five acres (two hectares)
of lawns, a chandeliered dining room with elegant silverware, bedrooms with
soaring ceilings and four-poster beds and a gallery of portraits of the Barooah
family going back to BisturamBarooah, whose son built the manor in 1929 after
becoming the richest Indian tea planter in Assam.
The family began to take in visitors in 2000, but it remains very much their
personal place. In a serene enclosure behind the manor stand 19 temple-like
tombs, one prepared for the current patriarch.
During our time at Thengal, ringed by rice fields, bamboo groves and neat
village homes, we visited the nearby factory of the Gatoonga Tea Estate to
observe the five stages of black tea making and tour two contrasting tea trail
options -- Gatoonga's Mistry Sahib's bungalow and the Burra Sahib bungalow
on the Sangsua Tea Estate.
The century-old Mistry is the ultimate getaway, almost smothered by the
surrounding greenery, a classic bungalow with a wrap-around verandah
shaded by an immense banyan tree. Burra Sahib has been modernized and
features an 18-hole golf course meandering through the tea gardens.
Our second stay in Assam was on the Addabarie Tea Estate near the city
of Tezpur, where a tourism enterprise has leased a luxurious onetime
residence of the tea estate manager, the three-bedroom, 1875 Heritage
Bungalow, and five more modest houses.
``The tea planter's lifestyle is this,'' said manager, Durrez Ahmed,
with a wave of his hand. ``Lovely bungalows, sets of servants attending
to your every need. So visitors who want to enjoy this kind of lifestyle
come.'' It also was and remains a hard-working, lonely lifestyle in a
world onto itself. Addabarie and most other larger estates have their
own clinics, schools, shops and day care centers (almost all tea pluckers
are women, far less nimble-fingered males need no apply).
Ruling over estates is the manager, described as a benevolent despot who like
his British antecedents still retains a large staff and observes strict protocol.
His bungalow, in the words of one Indian author, ``is to the garden folk what
Windsor Castle is to British citizens.''
``And why did tea tourism get started?'' we ask Ahmed.
Smaller, private estates began welcoming guests in the 1990s as a marketing strategy
to help pull them out of a worldwide tea glut. Another slump followed in the early
2000s when India opened up its markets to cheaper imports, forcing some growers to
seek alternative sources of revenue. There's been no looking back.
From the lowlands of Assam, we ascended 7,000 feet (2,100 meters)
to the Olympus of tea - Darjeeling, where altitude, soil, slope and sunlight come
together to concoct magic. Among the hill stations the British founded to flee India's
blazing summers, Darjeeling's gems include
haunt of tea people past and present and often cited as one
of India's finest colonial-era hotels.
Originally a hostel for bachelor tea planters dating back
to the 1880s, the hotel is owned by
the Tenduf-las, a prominent Tibetan family with close
ties to the Raj
who maintain the aura of those bygone days.
There's afternoon tea with scones, served daily since
1939 in Daisy's Music Room where family albums are stacked
atop a piano lighted by candelabras. Hot water bottles are tucked into beds each
evening, and real English porridge dispensed by white-gloved waiters at breakfast.
Around Darjeeling are nearly 90 tea estates, including Makaibari, producer of India's
first organic tea and a pioneer in tea tourism, offering 21 homestays with estate
workers and an upmarket residence. Its factory has changed very little since it was
erected in 1859, and barely relies on modern technology to produce high-end tea for
export to the United States and Europe.
``We need the human touch -- and nose -- not a robotic arm or an aromatic sensor,'' says
production manager Sanjoy Mukherjee inviting us to sample six of his teas, including Silver
Tips Imperial which fetched a record $455 a pound ($1,000 per kilogram) at an auction in China.
Back at the Windamere, we dine by candlelight with music of the 1920s and 30s softly in the
background. Served is honey glazed lamb and chocolate souffle which our two French friends
pronounce ``delicieux.'' Before dinner, SherabTenduf-la, the hotel's owner, offers us
pink gins, the quintessential colonial drink, by the fireplace as cold mists veil the
looming Himalayan peaks.
The gentleman, exuding charm of another era, tells us that the last of Darjeeling's
British tea planters, Teddy Young, died earlier this year. But along the
subcontinent's tea routes, much of the style and substance they created remains firmly implanted.
If You Go:
-- Getting there:
Kolkata has the best air links to both Assam and Darjeeling region.
Taxis can be hired at most larger towns.
-- When to go: Weather-wise,
October through February is best in both Assam and Darjeeling
but tea production takes a winter break toward the end of November.
-- Where to stay: Thengal Manor, Jorhat, doubles $120.
The Heritage Bungalow, Balipara, double occupancy including all meals $460.
Other bungalows are $156 including meals. www.wildmahseer.com
Windamere, Darjeeling, Colonial Suite, double occupancy, goes for $210 including meals.
Maikabari, Kurseong, homestays are $11 per person including meals. The tea is free.
Right Place, Magic Results
'Right Place, Magic Results' - Denis Gray, Associated Press & Times Colonist, Canada.
Ruling over estates is the manger, described as a benevolent despot who like
his British antecedents still retains a large staff and observes strict protocol.
His bungalow, in the words of one Indian author, "is to the garden flok what Windsor
Castle is to British citizens." "And why did tea tourism get started?"
'Head for the Hills' - Jet Wings in - flight magazine
- October, 2012
Join us as we revisit northern India’s all-time favourite Hill stations.
The British had the right idea - hill stations, far from the searing heat of the plains, make for
great summer retreats. But while it was the British who gilded these small towns with an
inviting halo of difference, it was Bollywood that clinched the deal. Once sealed with a stamp
of approval from the likes of Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, there was no looking back - every
lover must sing a song in Shimla, romance by the lake in Nainital, cosy up in a Kullu shawl in Manali,
take the toy train to Darjeeling and get a picture taken with Ruskin Bond in Mussoorie. In the
following pages we explore those familiar woods through different perspectives, each with its own
tinge of nostalgia, its own dappled sunlight, its own crisp breeze, and its own childhood stories.
Easter Retreat in The Himalayas
“This is to say a BIG thanks for being such wonderful, gracious and generous
hosts during the Wellness retreat. As I mentioned to Elizabeth, your hospitality
wasn't just satisfactory, it was beyond our expectations.
Read the story
Not just me and Rujuta, all our clients felt so much at home at Windamere and
they all have rated Windamere 5 out of 5 in their feedback. This I feel is the best
testament. The front desk, the kitchen staff, the housekeeping, everyone has been
exceptional. We would love to extend our relationship with Windamere and make the
retreat an yearly (if not bi-annual) affair. Will be in touch very soon regarding
this. In the meanwhile, please check this link for some of the pics of the retreat:
GauravPunJ: on behalf of RujutaDiwekar
‘WELL- BEING RETREAT IN THE HIMALAYAS’
Easter at Windamere: a Well-Being Retreat
A group wellness retreat with Rujuta Diwekar in the Darjeeling Himalaya, hosted
at the Windamere hotel. 10th‒16th April '11.
Kangchendzonga. Crisp air. Yoga. Run. Hike. Tea. Lots and lots of food. Got the
idea? You are going to be with Rujuta, in the Himalaya, and its going to be anything
but regular. A one of its kind retreat with structured activities, learning sessions
about your body and its ever-changing nutrition requirements and a peak into the
life in the Himalaya. And all this while staying at the only truly authentic Colonial
Hotel in the Darjeeling Hills. You will come back with a fitter and toned body,
a customized eating plan and an inner calm that only Himalaya can give.
The world's best colonial hotels
Jeremy Lazell and Richard Green pack their linen suits & panamas for a tour
of the world's classiest colonial hotels
from The Sunday Times, October 28, 2007
Whisper it, but are hotels becoming dull? Frette-Egyptian-cotton this, widescreen-plasma
that ... close the curtains, crack open the minibar, and you could be anywhere from
Khartoum to Kowloon. Where's the history? Where's the magic? Where, frankly, is
Read the story
Step forward the colonial hotel. One hundred years after the abolition
of slavery, Empire may not have left a lot to be proud of, but the hotels scattered
in its wake are a start. How about staying where the British surrendered Hong Kong
to the Japanese in 1941? Or in a hotel still boasting TE Lawrence's unpaid bar bill?
A tea-planters' boarding house in Darjeeling?
A hotel that inspired Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile? Now, there's romance...
OLD CATARACT, Egypt
On the banks of the Nile, south of Aswan, where big, grey boulders emerge from the
water and give Elephantine Island its name, is the Old Cataract Hotel. Built in
1899, it immediately became a postcruise haven for all well-heeled travellers to
Egypt. Agatha Christie was a guest on numerous occasions, setting several of the
scenes in Death on the Nile here.
Then – as now – the summer temperatures soared into the 100s, and Aswan remains
famous for its energy-sapping bustle, but inside the jealously guarded Cataract
you can find an oasis of shade and sophistication.
The Moorish dining hall is fantastically atmospheric, and the sunset views over
the Nile are unbeatable, either while smoking a shisha or sipping a cocktail.
The 131 rooms are high-ceilinged and atmospheric, despite a creeping tendency towards
Details: Old Cataract Hotel (0870 609 0964, www.sofitel.com ) has
doubles from £101.
Contact Mediterranean Experience (0845 277 3304, www.medexperience.co.uk ) for packages.
WINDAMERE HOTEL, India
A 19th-century boarding house for bachelor Brit tea planters in
Darjeeling, the Windamere is an unashamed slice
of starched Victoriana. Chambermaids slip hot-water bottles into your bed as you
sip G&Ts in the piano bar; lampshades in the "new" wing – formerly Loreto Convent
– predate Vivien Leigh's time here as a girl; while fellow guests inevitably include
sun-dried chief constables stationed here before the war. Best, though, is the view
from the gardens as you take tiffin: tea plantations below, with
28,169ft Kangchenjunga – third-highest mountain on earth – above.
Details: Windamere (00 91 354 225 4041,
www.windamerehotel.com) has doubles from £106, full-board. Contact TransIndus
(020 8566 2729, www.transindus.com ) for packages.
BARON HOTEL, Syria
After climbing the ramparts of Aleppo's magnificent citadel and strolling through
its covered souk, there's no finer spot for a recuperative G&T than the bar
of the Baron Hotel. It was built in the early 1900s for Orient-Express passengers,
who at that time pushed on to Baghdad, and the old settees sag from the seats of
Charles Lindbergh, Yuri Gagarin, Charles de Gaulle and Theodore Roosevelt. Agatha
Christie started Murder on the Orient Express on the terrace, and King Faisal proclaimed
Syrian independence from a balcony.
But it's Lawrence of Arabia, with his casual attitude towards settling a tab, who
gets pole position in the roll call of fame: his unpaid drinks bill is framed above
The hotel may have clanky plumbing and creaky corridors, but it's a treat, and it's
still run today by the family who opened it.
Details: Baron Hotel (00 963 212 110881) has doubles from £27,
B&B. Fly to Aleppo from Heathrow with British Airways, from £714.
GREEN HOTEL, India
It was built in the 1920s as a bijou palace on the outskirts of the city for the
maharaja of Mysore's three daughters, and later became a film studio; now it's a
ravishing small hotel, with 31 quirkily decorated rooms and all profits going to
local charities. It's the perfect place to relax and play a board game – perhaps
by the croquet lawn, sitting under a ceiling fan on the ivy-clad veranda, or in
a nook by stained-glass windows. The little restaurant in the garden does superb
south Indian specialities, from £1, and be sure that you book into the original
building for its pukka patina.
Details: Green Hotel (00 91 821 425 5000, www.greenhotelindia.com)
has doubles from £40, B&B. British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com ) flies
nonstop from Heathrow to Bangalore, from £409, a 2½hr train ride away.
DOS TALAS, Argentina
South America is almost creaking with converted estancias and palacios, and Cuzco's
La Casona ( www.inkaterra.com/cusco ), an 11-suite, 16th-century mansion opening
in December, is just the latest in a string of colonial hotels fit for a conquistador.
For now, however, our favourite is Dos Talas, two hours south of Buenos Aires, near
Dolores, and run by the fifth-generation descendants of Pedro Luro, the Basque pioneer
who built the estancia in 1858. Set in nearly 4,000 private acres, with a foreverness
of pampas beyond, Dos Talas has a stable of horses, and a tick list of more than
300 species of birds. That's if you even make it outside: bedrooms here are whitewashed
and littered with original antiques, with vast picture-window views from the bed,
and a turret snug just begging you to curl up with a glass of malbec.
Details: Dos Talas (00 54 224544 3020, www.dostalas.com.ar ) has
doubles from £125, full-board, including activities. Contact Last Frontiers (01296
653000, www.lastfrontiers.com ) for packages.
PENINSULA HOTEL, Hong Kong
The Peninsula has held court over the southern tip of Kowloon ever since opening
its doors in 1928. The grand ballroom was the hot ticket of Hong Kong society until
the Japanese interrupted the dancing, and in 1941 the British actually surrendered
the territory by candlelight in room 336. The service is immaculate, the rooms supremely
tasteful, with European elegance and Chinese flourishes. The hotel is on its sixth
fleet of Peninsula-green Rolls-Royces, employed to glide guests on airport transfers,
and is one of the few colonial classics to have added an extension that actually
works. The 28-floor tower brings the Pen bang up to date too, with the Starck-designed
Felix restaurant: famous for fabulous harbour views, and the floor-to-ceiling windows
behind the gents' urinals.
Details: The Peninsula (00 800 2828 3888, www.peninsula.com ) has
doubles from £233. Contact CTS Horizons (020 7836 4338, www.ctshorizons.com ) for
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS' CLUB, Cambodia
The art deco-style residence of the former French governor has been reinvented as
a boutique hotel-cum-hip nightspot. The mansion's makeover includes 31 cutting-edge
rooms – the beige and cream calm that you'd expect – plus bold contemporary art,
a spa and a beautiful black-tiled swimming pool perfect for dusting off after a
day at Angkor's temples.
Whether you stay here or not, you have to drop by in the evening, when the large
pond is lit by candles and the ceiling fans are at full tilt. You can grab a steak,
play on the black billiard table, watch the sky darken over a cocktail, or salute
the many skittering geckos with a cold bottle of Angkor beer.
Details: The FCC ( www.fcccambodia.com ) has doubles from £59,
B&B. Contact Bailey Robinson (01488 689777, www.baileyrobinson.com ) for packages.
MOUNT NELSON, South Africa
This place makes a powerful first impression. There's an Athenian-style gateway
of pillars and an avenue of tall palms to be whisked through, and the magnificent
pink-painted main building has the elevated horizon of Table Mountain right behind.
We've been saving our grande dame epithet for Nellie, as she is known. Opened in
1899 and a destination for new arrivals from the Union-Castle steamships, she's
been a crucible of Cape society ever since. The 201 good-sized rooms are sprinkled
with antiques and Union-Castle memorabilia; there are suitably grand public spaces,
a vast pool, high tea on the lawn and plenty of dining options.
Details: Mount Nelson Hotel (0845 077 2222, www.mountnelson.co.za
) has doubles from £282, B&B. Contact ITC Classics (01244 355550, www.itcclassics.co.uk
) for packages.
STRAWBERRY HILL, Jamaica
More than 3,000ft above the Caribbean, with veranda views from all 12 private villas
over the Blue Mountain coffee estate, this one-time plantation house, complete with
the only full-service Aveda spa in the Caribbean, is an almost painfully romantic
Purchased 35 years ago by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Strawberry Hill
was where Bob Marley convalesced after being shot in 1976, and it's easy to see
why: hummingbirds buzz by your hammock, butterflies flit in and out of your airy,
teak-floored rooms, fireflies flicker above your muslin mosquito net as you drift
off in your mahogany four-poster. There's hiking and yoga, a 60ft pool and sauna,
but rum punch in a teak armchair on your veranda takes some beating.
Details: Strawberry Hill (01895 450731, www.strawberryhillresort.com)
has doubles from £199, full-board. Contact Seasons in Style (01244 202000, www.seasonsinstyle.com)
CORSTORPHINE HOUSE, New Zealand
Built in 1863, this Palladian-style mansion overlooking Dunedin harbour was once
the family seat of the well-to-do Sideys, only becoming a hotel in 1998, when it
was restored to within a high-arched inch of its 19th-century grandeur. However,
while downstairs it's all iron-lace verandas, chandeliers and white-panelled ceilings,
upstairs the bedrooms look like something an eccentric Victorian collector might
have cobbled together with lottery funding. There are eight bizarre but utterly
seductive rooms themed along Egyptian, Japanese, Scandinavian, French, Scottish,
Indian, Moroccan and art-deco lines. Only five minutes from the centre of South
Island's second-biggest city, Corstorphine House – with 12 landscaped acres, a fruit
orchard and herb garden – feels a million miles from the humdrum modern world.
Details: Corstorphine House (00 64 3 487 1000, www.corstorphine.co.nz
) has doubles from £159, B&B. Contact Bridge & Wickers (020 7483 6555, www.bridgeandwickers.co.uk
) for packages.
NORTH BUNDALEER, Australia
Nearly 120 miles north of Adelaide, set in 400 acres of bush and farmland on the
edge of the outback, North Bundaleer is a bizarre, obstinately luxurious triumph
of pioneering can-do. Dating from 1901, but restored only a few years ago, the four-bedroom
hotel has lost none of its outrageous pioneer chic, with antiques everywhere: William
Morris wallpaper and a mahogany partners' desk in the library; freestanding baths
and 1740s Chinese toile wallpaper in the bedrooms; and a French rose-marble fireplace
in the drawing room that wouldn't look out of place in Versailles.
This far from Adelaide, with views of the unforgiving wilderness from the verandas,
the sense of folly is intense – and completely exhilarating. Fabulous food, exceptionally
friendly hosts – it's a house party and Peter Carey novel all rolled into one.
Details: North Bundaleer (00 61 8 8665 4024, www.northbundaleer.com.au
) has doubles from £150, B&B. Contact Audley Travel (01993 838800, www.audleytravel.com
) for packages.
RAFFLES HOTEL, Singapore
Standing, in the words of Somerset Maugham, "for all the fables of the exotic east",
the Raffles – named after the founder of the colony, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
– is a 120-year-old icon of eastern colonialism at its most shamelessly grandiose.
The last wild tiger on the island is said to have been shot under the bar and billiard
room in 1902, and the Singapore sling was invented here at the Long Bar not long
after; while Japanese soldiers are said to have found guests enjoying one last waltz
when Singapore fell in 1942. From Coward to Conrad, Chaplin to Kipling, the ghosts
of guests past are everywhere.
After a £52m face-lift in 1991, the Raffles today has inevitably lost a little of
its original eccentricity, but there's still the odd glorious echo: 14ft-high ceilings,
overhead fans, the largest collection of oriental carpets in the world, and peanut
shells on the floor of the Long Bar.
Details: Raffles Hotel (00 65 6337 1886, www.raffles.com ) has
doubles from £404, room only. Contact Western & Oriental Travel (0845 277 3355,
GALLE FACE, Sri Lanka
Built overlooking Colombo's seafront in 1864, Galle Face has a guest list – Mountbatten,
Tito, Hirohito, Nixon, Nehru – that reads like Who's Who (try to wangle a look at
the guest book). Refined service at the Peninsula in Hong Hong It's not hard to
see why they came: frangipani fills the air, teak floorboards creak underfoot, epaulettes
and handlebar moustaches are standard issue among the staff – it's not a hotel,
it's an institution. And it's magical. They may have refurbished the south wing
two years back, but make no mistake, the GFH, as it is known by locals, is still
the grand old burra memsahib of colonial hotels.
Details: Galle Face Hotel (00 94 11 254 1010, www.gallefacehotel.com
) has doubles from £52. Contact Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000, www.coxandkings.co.uk
) for packages.
EASTERN & ORIENTAL, Malaysia
Hogging 800ft of Penang's George Town seafront, the E&O looks like a liner moored
on the strait of Malacca. When it opened in 1885, the island's other establishments
were lost in its wake, with all of high society hightailing it to the E&O. Malaysia's
breakneck progress spotlights the changeless calm of the E&O's classy exterior,
with its busy, whitewashed facade, and delicate minarets sprouting from the red-tiled
You'll be greeted by a topi-toting doorman, and ushered into a world of bygone style
– wicker and rattan, marble and crystal. It reopened in 2001, after a loving yet
ambitious refurbishment, with 101 suites and 24-hour butler service.
Details: Eastern & Oriental Hotel (00 604 222 2000, www.e-o-hotel.com
) has deluxe suites from £77, B&B. Contact Magic of the Orient (0117 311 6050,
www.magicoftheorient.co.uk ) for packages.
NORFOLK HOTEL, Kenya
The mock-Edwardian frontage of the Norfolk Hotel is a Nairobi landmark; its red-roofed
portico has shaded the arrival of every colonial chancer before they settled into
their Happy Valley homes. Grandee and coiner of the term "white hunter", Lord Delamere
is still remembered in the eponymous terrace and bar, a traditional meeting place.
The hotel has fine public spaces, a good pool and the renowned Ibis restaurant,
and there's an ox wagon, a rickshaw and a 1928 A-model Ford in the garden. But fate
doesn't seem fond of the Norfolk, which has been burnt down, blown up and brutishly
extended. Let's hope that the new owner, Fairmont Hotels, makes a better job of
the current overhaul.
Details: Norfolk Hotel (0845 071 0153, www.fairmont.com/norfolkhotel
) has doubles from £153.
Contact Somak Holidays (020 8423 3000, www.somak.co.uk ) for packages.
An article by Simon Courtauld on www.spectator.co.uk
Wednesday, 14th May 2008
Simon Courtauld pays homage to one of the world's great sights
'Road is hilly, Don't be silly' was the advice by the roadside as our Nepali driver
safely negotiated yet another hairpin bend and yet another pothole on the way up
to the old Himalayan hill station of Darjeeling. Its tea gardens
are still flourishing, its Planters Club is still there (though
not flourishing), the air is fresh at 7,000 feet and for India relatively clean.
Read the story
We had come here principally in the hope of seeing the great Himalayan peaks at
sunrise, and in particular Mount Kanchenjunga, at more than 28,000
feet India's highest mountain. Having arrived in Darjeeling in a cloudburst, we
wondered whether a prayer to a Hindu god (which one?) might increase the prospects
of clear weather at dawn the following morning. Meanwhile, it was time for tea.
In Daisy's music room at the Windamere Hotel (endearingly so spelt),
there are cucumber sandwiches for tea. The bread, of course, is white, crusts cut
off, and the cucumber peeled and thinly sliced, with a little white pepper added.
We are also offered homemade muffins and a lemon sponge cake. Around the walls of
the music room are framed photographs of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, and
a picture of Rupert Brooke with his words about a foreign field that is for ever
For ever English the Windamere may be, but it is now run by a Tibetan family who,
among other accomplishments, have perfected the art of making cucumber sandwiches
— the equal, at least, of any to be found at the other Windermere in the Lake District.
In case any uncouth European or American travellers should decide to take tea at
the Windamere, a notice on the mantelpiece asks visitors 'not to take off their
footwear, or put up their feet on the furniture, or lie supine on the hearth, or
sleep behind the settees, lest unintended offence be given to others'. Quite so.
Fires were lit in the bedrooms before dinner (vegetable soup and roast chicken),
hot water bottles put in the beds, and we were woken with what in India
is called 'bed tea' at 3.15 the following morning. A 20-minute drive in a jeep brought
us up to Tiger Hill, above the village of Ghoom, where we hoped
to see the mountain reveal itself at around 5.30. There was a sharp frost and a
starry sky; but would there be cloud covering the high tops?
Huddled together on a wooden platform, almost all our fellow mountain-watchers were
Indian. There was a collective gasp as the outline of Kanchenjunga,
and the range of peaks on either side, slowly became visible, icy white against
the dark sky. Then a blob of pink appeared on the summit of the great mountain.
Rosy-fingered dawn had broken at 28,000 feet. It was spectacular, breathtaking and
Now the area of pink was expanding, the rising sun appeared, away to our right,
and soon the mountain was bathed in a creamy-orange glow. The whole panorama of
peaks was now alight, while the valleys below remained in cold blackness. The morning
was so clear that we were even able to see the top of Mount Everest
nearly 100 miles away. But it looked rather unimpressive, at that distance of course
much smaller and lower than our mountain. In the state of Sikkim, to which the heights
of Kanchenjunga belong, the mountain is sacred and no one may climb to the summit.
It is not only majestic but, unlike Everest, undefiled.
By about 6.30, as our driver said, the show was over, and we knew that porridge
and eggs and bacon would be waiting at the Windamere. Later that morning, a collar
of cloud appeared below the summit of the mountain; but it was still looking magnificent
as we left Darjeeling for Kalimpong, east towards Bhutan and beyond
the Tista river which flows from the Himalayas into Bangladesh.
Kanchenjunga also dominates the landscape around Kalimpong, though
we were now viewing it from a few thousand feet below Darjeeling. A school, Dr Graham's
Homes, is almost as much a part of the Kalimpong scenery, standing on a hill above
the town. It was founded by a Scottish missionary in 1900 for orphaned Anglo-Indian
children, and today educates and looks after well over 1,000 students.
Having admired the extensive school grounds and the Anglican church, we took a last
look at the mountain, imperious against the sky, and began our descent to the plains.
How lucky we had been: a cyclone was forecast to hit west Bengal, clouds were gathering,
and Kanchenjunga would not show itself again for several days.
An Affair to Remember: Today's Traveller
Cover Story : Best Colonial Hotels Across the World
By: Sundeep Murthy
Today's Traveller, June 15 - July 15, 2008
As a traveller, let this be your credo: Thou shalt never cease to explore and discover…
many faces, spaces and places in life…
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Ghosts of the Raj are Alive and Well in India
From Daily Express, Saturday June 16, 2007
Last night saw the start of a new BBC2 documentary series, The Lost World Of The
Raj. In a country where change is a constant, STEPHEN McCLARENCE
visits Darjeeling and discovers a charming hotel where rituals are still very much
alive in India.
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They have finally pensioned off the old visitors' book at St Andrew's Church
in Darjeeling. It did sterling service – started in 1926,
replaced in 2006, full of memories of this breath-catchingly high Indian hill station
when it was a little Haslemere in the Himalayas.
Miss Strickland, Miss Sword and Miss Macdonald, lodging at the Villa Everest, were
the first entries. Then visitors from Kidderminster and Sevenoaks, staying at Marigold
Villa, Eden Chine and The Dingle.
They signed in blue-black ink, long faded to grey, like so many memories of the
days when British planters spent their lives on tea estates up here near the borders
of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.
"Ferdinand Baker-Baker" says a brass plaque in St Andrew's, a grand Victorian church,
utterly English on its own little hill. "For 32 years a planter in this district
from 1878 to 1909".
The setting sun casts a rich glow through the stained glass windows, the caretaker
locks up behind us, and my wife Clare and I stroll back down the Mall.
There are plenty of pockets of the old charm that justify the long switchback journey
up from the plains. The romantic way to come is on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
The narrow gauge "Toy Train", which puffs and wheezes its way up
to 7,000ft, was given World Heritage status in 1999.
It is defiantly slow. You set off at 9am and you don't arrive, after much twisting
and turning, until 4pm. The plains, with their palm trees and paddy fields, gradually
give way to tea plantations and rough forest, with ice-blue mountains stretching
across the horizon.
The little blue engine, pistons thrusting, lets out piercing shrieks that echo over
the hills, scattering goats from the track.
On arriving in Darjeeling we take a taxi for the steep, half-mile drive to the
Windamere Hotel, a spelling mistake cherished for generations.
This is a hotel like no other.
Breakfast (with porridge), coffee, lunch, afternoon tea (those cucumber sandwiches)
and a candlelit dinner merge seamlessly into each other.
The luncheon menu cards, with their sketches of Buddhist lamas and Tibetan dancing
girls, offer watercress soup and chicken and vegetable pie, and then another whole
course of Indian dishes.
In the Forties-style dining room, with its spectacular view of the mountains, the
other guests include an elderly Raj enthusiast quietly humming Elgar, the children
and grandchildren of tea planters tracing their roots and backpackers taking a break
from cheap lodgings and food.
The Raj-era rituals have been studiously maintained. While guests down cocktails
in the chintzy music room, with its upright piano, room boys light fires in the
bedroom grates and chambermaids slip hot water bottles into the beds. The flames
flicker and you doze off into comforting childhood dreams and awake to the distant
chiming of Tibetan prayer wheels.
Fitting other activities around the meals at this oasis of charm can be a challenge.
We generally settle for an undemanding routine. Before breakfast, we stride out
round the Mall. Cocks crow in the mist, children's songs pipe up from the valley
and every so often the clouds part like a theatre curtain to reveal Kanchenjunga,
the world's third-highest mountain, dazzling white with snow and unbelievably vast.
After breakfast we stroll down to Chowrasta, the square where Indian holidaymakers
promenade, children play Ring 'a' Roses and swarthy hill men offer ponies for riding.
We browse at the Oxford Book & Stationery Company (Sherlock Holmes always in
stock) and in Habib's antiques and curios shop, with its various buddhas and bangles.
We have coffee at Glenary's tearoom, with its "Fruit Cake (big)" and "Cherry Cake
(small)" or at the Planters' Club, where the secretary, Major JS Rama (Ret'd), talks
fondly of "British times, nostalgia, memories,
forefathers and all those things". We are then driven down the valley to Glenburn
Tea Estate, where a manager's bungalow has been stylishly converted into a luxury
guest house. Pansies and snapdragons in the garden, planters' chairs on the verandah,
a house party-like atmosphere in the evening.
And peace and quiet.
Returning to the Windamere for afternoon tea, we meet Bob Albert from Redditch.
A Darjeeling policeman's son, he left 60 years ago and has come back as a 75th birthday
"The town's nothing like I remember it," he says. "But this hotel is just how it
was. It's ideal." He sips his Darjeeling tea and it's as though
the sun has never set on the Empire.
- GETTING THERE:
The Lost World Of The Raj is on BBC2, Fridays at 9pm.
Western & Oriental Travel (0870 499 0678/westernoriental. com) offers a 15-day
tour through the Eastern Himalayas from £2,156pp (two sharing), including two nights
at the Windamere Hotel, one night at Glenburn Tea Estate, touring
to Calcutta and Sikkim, a ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, most meals and
flights from Heathrow.
Jet Airways (0800 026 5626/jetairways.com) flies to a range of destinations in India.
India Tourism: 020 7437 3677/ www.incredibleindia.org
10 Top Colonial Hotels in the Asia-Pacific
Asian Geographic Passport : 02/2009
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UFO in the Himalayas
By: Valentín Alejandro Ladra von Pepin
About 9 pm. As I seldom eat at night when I travel, I decided to seat comfortably
at the magnificent terrace of the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling, over 2100 meters
high, just to stare at the dim house lights at the other side of the valley and
do nothing, which in this uncanny world is a pleasure in itself. The fresh air and
the silence of the night, with the glow of the distant moon –not full yet- over
the mountains makes one, I assure you, feel very human again.
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I returned after several days from my trip up north, to Sikkim, not far away from
the border line with Tibet and Nepal to the west; and later to Kalimpong to the
east, near Bhutan. All those places are magnificent, full of mystical marvels and
natural beauty everywhere.
At the Windamere I was enjoying the invitation and hospitality of the noble Tenduf-La
family, of Tibetan origin. The hotel is a reminiscence of the fading glory of the
British officers who at the times of the Raj took refuge from the awful heat of
Calcutta –today called Kolkata-, a fascinating piece of history upwards toward the
powerful snowy Himalayas. The Windamere is part of the World Heritage, and by all
means very well deserved.
Well, this is just a small introduction to an unexpected experience with a visitor
from another world… in the Himalayas!
But that is not all, because about one hour before ‘I knew that something strange,
odd, was going to happen in my last night before the next day flight from the Bagdogra
airport to New Delhi'. It was very deep in my consciousness, an unanswerable feeling
as it used to happen throughout all my life; in different places in the world, from
Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Amazon jungles.
That sudden whisper, an inner voice, made my head turn up to the left and gaze at
the stars. And there IT was: very high above the over 7000 meter high mountains
a UFO. How did I figure it out that this bright flying object was not from this
world? The answer is easy: no human device can maneuver backwards, go up and down
and sideways at different uncanny speeds in the same motion… and, gosh! Stand still
for several minutes. And start all over again. The light was potent, very bright,
moving north by south west: a ghostly cosmic ballet dance.
In split seconds I thought of running to my room up the wooden stairs, open the
door with my key, take the video camera, the same one I was filming with all over
India, Nepal and the Himalayas, but I realized it would take a lot of time doing
it. The UFO might be gone. So I called the attention of two of the ladies who were
gossiping behind me, unaware of what was happening. One of them was a young manager
of the Windamere and the other a piano player and music teacher from Kolkata, who
used to entertain visitors and guests at tea time and dinner.
In the uproar the attention was also attracted to some hotel workers and Hindu guests.
That space vehicle –what else to call it- was not from planet Earth. Its velocity
was outrageous and did not change after several 90 degree turns, north by southwest
and viceversa. Constant 90 and 45 sig sags. Hard to calculate the time, but I assume
the strange space dance went on for more than 4 or five minutes, not 2 or 1. That's
lots of time in most of UFO sightings. The object was huge, for it almost could
be confused with some of the stars, very high almost in deep space. And then...
it stopped, disguised as another bright star in a very clear night. And it stood
still for more than an hour. I guess we all got bored watching it.
And then it was gone: unthinkable velocity.
Here are the testimonies of both ladies of the strange Himalayan UFO event, which
I made them write down on a paper. First of the manager of the Windamere Hotel,
Miss Vasundhara Subaiya: "in an unusual clear night in Darjeeling I saw this unusual
sighting for several minutes, in the form of a bright star moving across the sky.
It seemed to be a drunken star looking for its lost space. I frankly do not believe
in flying saucers or the kind, but this strange incident has somehow changed my
Let's see now what Miss C.Kannade, the talented elderly lady piano player, had to
say: "I, C.Kannade, by name, saw late at night the strangest vision. The night was
unusually clear, with a full moon, and suddenly what seemed to be just another star
was moving with great speed, very bright and doing all kind of strange maneuvers.
¿A UFO, what everybody calls a flying saucer? Not a human device? And then it just
stopped, fort a long time. What was it?"
The other witness, a hotel employee of Nepalese origin living in Darjeeling, Naresh
Thami, just bubbled his name out of the surprise but said nothing. It was 16 of
June of 1992.
The next day I send the report to El Mundo newspaper for the Cadena Capriles, the
huge Venezuelan press emporium for whom I was the director of one of the magazines
some years before, with photos of the Darjeeling area and a humble sketch of the
sighting, and a few months after my return I also wrote it in my weekly column "Orbita
Cero" – Cero Orbit -. But still in India some days after, in a local newspaper it
was mentioned another similar sighting.
Darjeeling is all the Raj
Journeys: The Spirit of Discovery: Michael Gebicki
has a frightfully spiffing time at the time-stalled Windamere Hotel | August 01,
Article from: The Australian
BECAUSE of a mix-up with my bags at Bagdogra airport, because the Toy Train has
derailed and blocked the road, because it takes us 30 minutes to drive through the
bazaar, when we finally reach Darjeeling's Windamere Hotel, it is just in time to
catch the tail end of afternoon tea.
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I make my way along the corridor to Daisy's Music Room, stopping briefly to read
testimonials from previous guests (including Diana Cooper, Jan Morris and Jawaharlal
Nehru) and enter a room full of people quietly scoffing lemon sponge cake and crustless
cucumber sandwiches, little fingers crooked as they silently sip tea from dainty
cups. The loudest sound is a ticking clock. This is truly remarkable.
Darjeeling sits in the northern part of the Indian state of West Bengal. The people
in this room are mostly Bengalis, for whom restraint usually is a foreign virtue.
Yet Windamere, with its flowery chintz and parlour-room airs, has reduced them all
to the sort of embarrassed quietude that usually applies among strangers in provincial
Surveying the town from its flowery slopes on the flanks of Observatory Hill, Windamere
is an absolute hoot, a world of make-believe where the clock stopped ticking circa
1930. It began life as a chummery, a boarding house for single colonial chaps sent
out as managers on local tea plantations. In the late 1930s it was acquired by Tenduf
La, a Sikkimese of Tibetan extraction who turned it into a hotel and chose the name
Presiding over the hotel these days is his son, Sherab Tenduf La, a man of impeccable
manners, style and perfectly modulated vowels who could charm the hair off a yak.
I first encounter Tenduf La in the hotel's restaurant, where he is dining with an
elderly gent. "Are you still having a monkey problem?" asks his companion with a
roar that rebounds off the walls."It's the same down at the club, you know. You're
smothered in greenery and you can't see the devils. Nearly got away with my kedgeree,
one did, before the bearer spotted him."
At the end of my meal, Tenduf La comes over and we are introduced. His guest is
Teddy Young, a "relic of the Raj", says Tenduf La. Young is the last of the British
planters, a former plantation manager who stayed on after his employment ended and
now finds himself more at home in India than he could possibly be in contemporary
Britain. Tenduf La packs me off with a whisky and soda to watch The Himalayas: Other
Times, Other Places, a 1998 documentary in which Young stars.
The hotel has 37 rooms in several separate lodges, and to fully appreciate the Windamere
experience, nothing but a Heritage Room will do, complete with clawfoot bath and
hot-water bottle tucked beneath the covers when you turn in for the night.
In mine, named Princess of Siam after a former guest, is a Bakelite dial phone of
the cradle type in a lurid shade of green, and beside it a note that sums up the
faltering steps with which Windamere staggers about in the modern world.
"Our telephone intercom service was Windamere's pride and joy when it was installed
in 1950," the note begins. "It gave reliable service for 20 years and then went
wrong. Several telecom experts in succession succeeded only in making patchwork
repairs. The last expert, 12 years ago, did some serious repair work, and as a consequence,
when certain numbers are dialled, three phones ring simultaneously in separate rooms,
causing alarm to guests who value their repose. We have been keeping this deficiency
in our intercom service under review, and meanwhile, crave your indulgence."
Needless to say, there are no television sets in the heritage rooms, although they
have infiltrated Annandale House and Observatory House, which together make up the
The Snuggery Wing. As for Wi-Fi internet, only a fevered imagination would lead
you to request such a new-fangled service.
Happily, Windamere and Darjeeling are made for one another. Spilling down from a
high ridge surrounded by tea plantations at 2100m, Darjeeling is the most scenic,
the subtlest and most satisfying of Indian hill stations. In the morning I am woken
by the sound of bells and chanting coming from the temple that is shared by Hindus
and Buddhists on the hilltop above me.
For entertainment, all I need do is saunter up the narrow lane to the crown of Observatory
Hill to find a convergence of peoples drawn from the snow-browed valleys of the
Himalayas. There are Nepalese, Tibetans, Bhutias and Lepchas, the forest people
who were the original inhabitants of these hills. It is also misty, which only heightens
One moment I am adrift in a white sea that blurs the rooftops and the deodar trees
just 10m away and then, without warning, the mists slyly creep and turn, a hole
appears and shining in the distance is the summit of Kanchenjunga, the Five Treasures
of Snows, a cresting wave of ice and the third highest peak on the planet. It is
thunderous, too. Darjeeling means Place of the Thunderbolt, and earth-shaking rumblings
accompany me as I march back down the hill to my princely breakfast at Windamere.
Nostalgia is Windamere's trump card. Raj aficionados will find endless delight in
the Snuggery, or library, which is filled with works from the period, and a substantial
collection devoted to India's railways. Tenduf La embraces railway culture with
enthusiasm, and there is no truer Brit than a steam buff.
Previous guests have included Edmund Hillary, Heinrich Harrer, prince Peter of Greece
and the Queen. In the 1960s, Hope Cooke, a 21-year-old socialite from New York,
met the crown prince of Sikkim in Windamere's bar, and ended up becoming the queen
of Sikkim. "Vivien Leigh was a student at the Loreto Convent Girls School in Darjeeling,"
Tenduf La says, "and when it closed down the nuns gave us a lamp from the dormitory
and pointed out that Vivien Leigh would have walked under its beam. It is a very
"We get a constant stream of people who were either directly associated with Darjeeling
or with family connections...(Playwright) Tom Stoppard came, retracing the footsteps
of his mother. She was the manager of the Bata shoe store here during the war.
"Don't be impressed," Tenduf La urges when I confess to an admiration for Windamere's
time-warped ways. "It happens automatically. People here don't like change. I once
instituted some very big changes at Windamere, went away for a few months and when
I came back I found that everyone was doing things exactly as before."
Michael Gebicki was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent.
For information on private journeys and insider-access experiences in India, contact
Abercrombie & Kent,
1300 851 800; www.abercrombiekent.com.au;
Abercrombie & Kent was voted by Travel & Indulgence readers as best tour
operator in our 2008 Travel & Tourism Awards and is a member of the inaugural
Indian Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Im Spielzeugzug zum Himalaya
Eine Stück Eisenbahngeschichte: Eine Fahrt mit der legendären Schmalspurbahn muss
nicht am Ziel enden
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Martin Parr, Revisited Windamere Hotel after 25 years
Returning to the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling after 25 years, photographer Martin
Parr is delighted to find it still redolent of the long-gone days of the Raj...
– Emma Hagestadt
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Martin Parr first stayed at the Windamere Hotel
in Darjeeling 25 years ago. After revisiting the hotel and the
nearby Tea Planters Club to capture the last vestiges of Anglo India, he is happy
to report that nothing much has changed. It's really how you imaging a hotel in
the 1930s', he says, brandishing a picture of the hotel's parlour complete with
fringed lampshades, Axminster carpets and a framed portrait of the Queen. Ina hill
station originally built to look like the suburbs of Guildford, it's easy to see
why this Surrey born documentarist might feel at home.
Originally a boarding house for English Tea Planters, Windamere
was turned into an Edwardian-style hotel in 1939. ow owned by the Tenduf-la family,
a quixotic clan with links to Sikkim and Tibet, it is patronized, Parr says, largely
by tourists and wealthy Calcuttans'.
Parr has long been preoccupied with Englishness. Although he thinks of himself as
a romantic, his photographs immortalizing Tory summer fetes and Scarborough sun
worshippers often suggest mockery than affection.
The trials of eating in public-from seafront fish and chips to cricket teas – are
a recurring in Parr's work. The Windamere's retro-dining arrangements
fill him with school boy glee. Breakfast is served in a turret shaped room with
views of the mist shrouded Himalayas, Porridge, bacon and ‘rumble tumble' eggs are
wheeled in by waiters decked out in white frock-shirts and Lepcha caps.
Raj favourites such as mutton hash, grilled kidneys, and raisin muffin – Madras
fritters may have gone but the toast remains reassuringly leathery and the coffee
At every meal, guests are offered both "international" and Indian dishes, which
means new arrivals often end up with shepherd's pie, butter naan and egg curry on
the same plate. "Look at the gravy!" Parr enthuses, pointing out a shot of the marooned
slice of the Yorkshire pudding. There is still the comforting din of the One O'clock
lunch gong and on Sundays roast beef and plain vegetables are on the menu.
Matt Westrup reports on
A slice of old Britannia in Darjeeling...
Accommodation is often one of the priciest parts of any trip and sometimes you don’t
get what you paid for; you’re promised character and get shoddiness or pay for intimacy
and end up with small and pokey!
Matt Westrup reports on a slice of old Britannia in Darjeeling...
Read the story
I have never thought that a "colonial-style" experience was something worth aspiring
to. Why on earth in 21st century, modern India would it still be relevant? The
Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling prides itself on the
fact that it has changed little since it was built as lodgings for tea plantation
managers from Britain at the height of the British Empire. So, I was curious to
discover if it was clinging onto a bygone age, attracting a clientele that rued
the passing of the Raj.
Darjeeling, 2000 metres up in the foothills of the Himalayas, was
created by the Raj as a very British mountain retreat where the imperial administration
in Calcutta could take refuge from the fierce Indian summers of the plain. All the
reasons why the British chose this spot – its soothing climate, the fresh air and
heavenly views of the Himalayas – remain the exact same attractions for the modern
tourist. The British also found out that if you grew tea here, it proved to be quite
splendid. But if Darjeeling is British in character, it is Himalayan
in essence, defined by the surrounding mountain kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim
So it’s a hill station, and the first thing you should know is that once you have
arrived at the nearest town in the plains below, you have the choice of either a
three and a half hour uphill slalom in a 4X4 on crumbling mountain roads or eight
long hours on the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or
"toy train", a glorious feat of engineering that appears to defy
common sense. As the heat slips away however, and the views becomes more and more
breathtaking, it all begins to make more sense.
If Darjeeling is a perfect spot in the Himalayas, then the
Windamere is the perfect spot in Darjeeling, on Observatory
Hill. The hotel is spread out between the main square (a fascinating window on local
life), and the flag-covered temples at the peak of the hill, which is sacred to
both Hindus and Buddhists.
On arrival it was evident that the Windamere was not going to be
a slice of the Raj in stasis or a stuffy museum piece with a Victorian attitude
problem. Instead, what I found was a faultlessly run, elegantly comfortable, tranquil
and surprisingly romantic hotel. It looks Victorian and feels Edwardian and the
atmosphere is one you can slowly sink into like a favourite armchair. Its sense
of history and ceremony is part of its identity rather than an attitude, largely
because the Windamere has been a central part of what Darjeeling
was, and is.
The furniture is all period and immaculately cared for, there are no televisions
and the phones were only put in as a grudging concession to modernity in 1954. In
any case, they have never worked properly. There are 37 rooms housed in a handful
of lodges that were originally designed as lodgings. The result is plenty of space
with fabulous cast-iron, claw-footed baths, real fires and possibly the most comfortable
hotel bed my weary head as ever experienced; all this for $165 per night for room
Now as you might expect, drinking tea is not a flippant act in these parts so everyday
at four o’clock, the champagne of teas is served with cucumber sandwiches from silver
tea pots borne by Tibetan staff in crisp linen. It’s strange. Tea’s never been a
ritual for me but you don’t half miss all the fuss once you’ve left. And yes, the
Darjeeling tea is the best tea you will drink in your life.
The food at the Windamere is unashamedly comforting and traditional.
A typical day would be porridge for breakfast and roast beef for dinner, followed
by apple crumble and custard for pudding. An Indian menu is always offered as well
and this was simple, tasty – and my preferred choice.
You can tell a good hotel from its staff and here the staff are relaxed yet formal,
unpretentious. This is because the Windamere is not trying to be
anything other than what it is. It isn’t hip, cutting edge, lavish or at all intrusive
– thankfully. In all honesty, it might not have changed much over the years, but
that might be because they knew what was good for you the first time round. When
you’ve got it right, why change?