A road-trip to Himachal Pradesh – Part 1 of 3, The lodge at wah & wah tea estate (Palampur, Himachal Pradesh)

In a nutshell:

The trip turned out to be an intense, not so logistically smooth (due to unexpected heavy rains, landslides & resulting diversions to village roads off from highways), bordering adventurous & deeply insightful & highly enjoyable.

Long traffic queues on middle village roads – good company kept us going. Enjoyed conversations with our guide Mr. Passang Sherpa

The lodge at Wah is surely a 5 star among home stays we have ever stayed – for the honesty with which the traditional concept house has been made, the extreme attention to detail in every element of the stay, fabulous food every time, the unbelievably warm hosts Upasana & Surya & deep, insightful conversations with Mr. Prakash (Surya’s dad)

Dining hall – the lodge at wah

We would anytime want to revisit this place vs another tea estate stay – Taj Chia Kutir

Trip to Himachal Pradesh planned by Vana Safaris, whose unique cultural tours we have got addicted to.

Address & other details: The Lodge at Wah

Wah tea – website

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Cuisine type : vegetarian & non vegetarian

Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.

YUMMRAJ rates all the food items & then gives a final overall rating, which is a simple average of the individual item ratings. What the ratings stand for: 5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Good, 2 = Fair, 1 = Disaster

We paid an overall trip cost to Vana safaris & they in turn paid the home stays, guest houses & the guide

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

Over the years we have got addicted to the trips conducted by Vana Safaris. So this time our brief was as lazy as it could get – ‘we have travel dates from xx to yy. Please suggest locations & detailed plans.’

Avijit, the founder of Vana Safaris, suggested Himachal Pradesh & we agreed. We left the planning to him. We covered 3 places in a week – Palampur, tirthan & shangarh.

It took us almost 13 hours of driving on day 1 & subsequently another almost 12 hours from Palampur to Tirthan. While Avijit suggested that we take an Innova , we chose to self drive our Jeep from Gurgaon. The positive outcome of the unusual experiences of the road trip is that I got used to driving in the non-touristy mountain roads (including mountain village roads) throughout the trip. Absolutely loving the driving experience, in hindsight & we did enjoy the drive in most cases during the difficult driving situations as well.

The drives through lush green mountains was spectacular. The rain did magic at times & played havoc with the roads at other times.

Section 1 – Here is a glimpse of different aspects that we learnt about the people & culture of Himachal Pradesh.

A group of shepherds of the Gaddi tribe collect animals from all houses in the villages & take them to higher altitude mountains in the summer. They do this for a fee. Semi nomadic. Same concept as the bakarwals of kashmir.

Food & dialect changes every 50km in Himachal

Boti – a group of kangra Brahmins come to cook in wood fire at marriages. Food is Cooked in 20kg kansa pots lined up, on wood fired kuccha ovens, all dishes cooked simultaneously. Similar to wazwan of kashmir.

In most traditional kaath kuni houses, Cows/ goats are housed in the ground floor & the people stay upstairs. Reason – Heat is generated by the animals that keep the first floor warm. Cooking also happens upstairs – that additionally keeps the house Warm.

People in village are also Safe from wild animals (at night) in first floor.

For most villagers we met during the trip, Kul devta (family deity) or gran devta (village deity) is more important than mainstream devatas like hara, hari & devi.

For different people in the village kul devata & village deity will be different if someone from another clan has settled.

Some villages have Temples. Other villages have the devta residing in one of the houses in the village.

Everywhere we saw masks denoting the face of the Devi/ devta, in place of full body idols.

Gram devta is taken out of the temple to someone’s house, on invitation. The reason can be fulfilment of a Mannat / start of new work or business (any other event). Devtas are also taken to melas (village fairs).

Dev milan – all devs from Kullu come together at one place in a certain time if the year.

Villagers walk from one place to another, in a procession , carrying on their shoulders, a a beautiful, colourful palki in which the devta / Devi is seated. This event is accompanied by live local music. Someone from every family goes to join the procession.

The Gaddis offer meat & alcohol to kul devas/ Devi & consume the prasad.

It was a common practice to see metal being offered to the village deity ‘लोहा चढ़ाया जाता है’- in all forms, from cooking utensils, to farming equipment to parts of motor vehicles!!!

99% village people of Himachal we met, eat meat (mountain goat). There are usually two occasions to eat meat – when there is a Dev/devi movement or a periodic religious festival (animal sacrifice) & on other occasions,


The mountain goats are an average of 30kg weight. The meat is a much darker shade of red red than than goats we buy in delhi NCR

he mountain goats are an average of 30kg weight. The meat is a much darker shade of red red than than goats we buy in delhi NCR

Villagers contribute money, buy a goat, share the meat & eat at respective homes.

Sur is a local alcohol, made from Chawal atta roti. Very very potent, we were told. Effect of 1 cup of sur is equivalent to to 1 bottle of regular alchohol, we heard.

Himachal is one of the few places in india where there is a temple dedicated to rakshasi Hadimba & her son ghatotkach (father – Bhima of Mahabharata).

It was refreshing to see many Women traffic police all over the state. Must mention that all the people from traffic police force that we met on the roads were genuinely helpful & nice (as if we were guests to their place).

Walking back from a waterfall. Started raining . We took shelter. A lady came out panchayat office & offered us a place to sit in the main panchayat meeting room. Sat with us & chatted till rain stopped.

The hilly state is almost universally electrified, with 99.5% of households having electricity as of 2016. The state was declared India’s second open defecation free state in 2016. According to a survey of CMS-India Corruption Study in 2017, Himachal Pradesh is India’s least corrupt state.

Palampur is a place famous for Kangra tea – the plants were brought by the British to these hills in mid 1800s. Read more about how tea plants came to India & more about tea in general, in the last section.

We stayed at the house of the owners of wah tea estate. They built a beautiful stay in traditional Himachal kaath (wood) kuni (stone) style – frame of the house is made of wood, walls made by stacking stones, layer of mud & other natural ingredients make the outer layer of the wall. The roof is made of slate stone tiles!! They have 3 cottages. They stay in one & the other two are let out to guests.

Section 2 gives you detailed description of the below:

1. The Wah tea story – history

2. Wah tea garden & factory tour

3. The Lodge at Wah

4. Food at The Lodge at Wah

6. History of Tea in India & all about different kinds of tea

Detailed description – in case u hv the time to njoy reading:

1. The Wah tea story – history

Like I mentioned before, the British planted Chinese tea plants Camellia Sinensis at Palampur. They managed the estates for half a century.

In 1905 there was a massive earthquake – almost Richter scale 7 . The British families who lived here, went out overnight & abandoned the fields. Sikander Hyatt khan, son of nawab of Wah (now in Pakistan) bought the tea estate from the British & ran the garden till partition. After partition he left & went back to wah, Pakistan.

Through ‘Displaced persons act’ the government gave the estate to some family who had moved from Pakistan. However since the family had no experience in a complex business like tea, they ran into losses & returned the estate to government.

In 1953, the Prakash family took over & have been running it since. They had years of experience in tea, holding almost 20 estates in Dehradun & Assam.

2. Wah tea garden & factory tour

Anyone can request & get a tour of the tea garden & factory. Since we stayed at the lodge, ₹ the fact that we were lucky, we got the privilege of Surya himself showing us the garden & factory & explaining everything himself.

The 525 acres tea garden is organic. That means No use of pesticides & insecticides. Neem oils & apple cider vinegar are made in-house to fight pests.

2 leaves & a bud
Fruit of tea plant

The trip to the tea factory & understanding the whole process was just so enriching.

Cooperative factories buy leaves from miscellaneous gardens & mix them based on grading. Single garden teas are considered better as there is a certain kind of uniformity. 100% tea produced by wah tea factory that we visited, is from own plantation.

Harvest of tea leaves happen between March 15 to October. No new leaf grows after that in the climatic conditions that prevail.

More than 30 acres of garden can’t be uprooted.

At the factory we saw the making of Green tea – the idea is to stop the process of oxidation so that the tea has antioxidants.

We saw two processes of processing green tea – Roasting / panning – by hot air OR by hot steaming .

we also saw steps like Rolling, Twisting, Bruising the skin etc.

We saw the last stage of processing where the different sizes of leave had been separated. The larger the processed leaf, the higher the price. The smallest one is usually bought by companies selling low to mid end tea bags.

We also got to know that the tea plant seed (inside fruit) has an oil that is sold. We heard that tea seed oil helps in treatment of certain skin conditions or just to improve the overall appearance of human skin.

Overall the trip to the factory was enriching & the conversation with Surya was very informative.

We immensely enjoyed the tea tasting session. We discovered that we like green tea processed manually at wah, way over any green tea we have ever had.

3. The Lodge at Wah

The owner of Wah tea estate, Mr. Prakash (Surya’s dad) those days had many tea estates in Assam & Dehradun, in addition to Palampur. He would do rounds of the estates. On one such visit, he saw the traditional kaath (wood) kuni (stone) homes of the Gaddi people of Himachal. He was fascinated by the concept & decided to make a home using the same principles – wood structure & stone walls, plastered with a mix of soil & other natural ingredients.

Thus was built what is now the main building at the lodge at Wah. It was built as a second home for the Prakash family. Later all of them decided to shift to this home from kolkata.

As friends & relatives started visiting, they built two more buildings. As of now the two other buildings house the guest rooms.

The attention to detail in everything is of platinum standard – use of traditional methods, while keeping in mind the modern lifestyle needs.

From the rough grainy handmade floor, to the plastered natural coloured walls to the wood structures & the natural slate stone tiles on the roof, the wooden staircase, the niches on the walls – just marvellous. We kept repeating ‘so great, so amazing, unbelievable’ etc etc.

The washroom attached to guest room
Tea collecting basket in washroom, to keep used clothes

While physical infrastructure was par excellence, what made the difference is the warmth of the Prakash Family – a dinner conversation with Mr Prakash got etched in our mind – the variety of subjects, his enthusiasm, his curiosity – everything was uncommon.

We chatted with Surya & Upasana every time we went for a meal. It was as if we know each other for ages while the reality is that we had just met. Breaking ice happened as if there was no ice!!!

The staff members were extremely well trained in terms of behaviour & also efficiency. They looked happy being at Wah.

We have stayed at Taj Chia Kutir, Darjeeling, inside Makaibari Tea estate. We loved it but will unlikely revisit. We lived at the lodge at Wah, next to Wah tea estate, Palampur. We will surely look forward to revisit.

The lodge at Wah is by far the best home stay we have ever stayed at. We call it the 5 star among home stays.

You would be wondering – there must be something that was not up to the mark. Well either there wasn’t anything suboptimal or we did not get to experience anything as such by luck.

4. Food at The Lodge at Wah

Loved every meal. Here is a meal by meal detail during our stay at wah lodge

Dinner day 1

We were served Dham. For the uninitiated, in Himachal, a certain variety of food is cooked in festivals & gatherings. The exact dishes vary from village to village but certain dishes seem to be there in most. All the curries together with rice was served to us in a kansa thali with small bowls.

Kala chana khatta – black Bengal grams with a predominant taste of sour.

Khatta meetha kaddu – sweet & sour pumpkin was just outstanding.

Chana daal – very enjoyable.



Mattar paneer Madra – green peas & paneer

Roongi Madra – lobia

Chhuara raita – dried date raita

Loved every item of the dham. Rate it 4.5/5 overall.

Pahadi mutton was served separately. This too had a sour & salt taste. Very well cooked mutton pieces in an intense robust gravy. Rate it 4.5/5

Meethey chawal was the dessert. Loved it.

Breakfast day 2

For breakfast there were various kinds of options. We had some mangoes & really good ripe papayas.

The muesli had been prepared Inhouse – crisp & just right

‘Eggs Kejriwal’ at the lodge at wah was delicious & we loved every bit of it – egg atop a super crisp bread. It was however totally unlike the Parsi eggs Kejriwal that we have had at Mumbai.

The fabulous jam served with bread was made in-house from fruits grown at Wah orchard!!!

Poori & aloo ki subzi were just perfect. Superb balance of taste.

Loved the poha

Rate the breakfast 4.75/5

Dinner Day 2

The theme for this dinner was Tibetan cuisine. Himachal has a huge Tibetan connection, thanks to The Dalai Lama.

We enjoyed the hot thin chicken soup thenthuk, chicken momos, sesame noodles, kewa datshi with rice, phing salad & pahadi chicken curry.


The chicken soup thenthuk was super refreshing.

Chicken momos were juicy & really good

Sesame noodles was cold & had strong flavours of sesame – very enjoyable

Kewa datsi had a lovely cheese flavour.

Chicken curry was very good

Dessert was apple crumble with ice cream. Outstanding.

Rate the dinner overall 4.25/5

Breakfast day 3

We repeated what we liked on day 2.

5. Village walk

This was organized by Vana safaris in collaboration with a local trekking company. A Maruti gypsy came to pick us up.

The driver took us to the village outskirts & there we met our guide.

Our local village guide

We started the walk with a steep ascend towards the village, on a road that was predominantly mud & had remains of an earlier metalled road earlier. Our guide told us that they were happy with it because this road was broader than the earlier narrow road & the fact that this will become better in future.

We walked with him through the lanes in the villages, stopping by & understanding the local concept of construction using wood frames, stone walls, mud plaster & slate tile roofs. We also spoke to few ladies in the village, got permission to peek into their kitchen as well.

At one place children were doing a picnic. They had collected money from elders & were cooking food. They would then have the food together & also give some to the elders.

In another place we met a guy who had a rubber truck horn in his hand. He was a travelling ice cream salesman. Children were flocking to him.

In the middle of an open area we’re the idols of Devi, represented by a large stone covered with vermillion , a Devi face mask. The overall idol was covered with bright cloth.

We went to a Village government school. Total there are 35 children who study here. They are in Different classes. However, they Sit in the same hall. They have One teacher who Teaches all children one by one & also does administrative job of the school.

It was raining profusely when we did the village walks. That itself was quite an experience.

At the end of the walk we went to a village home to eat lunch organized by the local tour company partner. Yes, we ate the food cooked by the travel company appointed cook. It was delicious. We were familiar with Rajma & khatta Kala chana. A lentil cake curry was totally new for us. Loved it.

The village home where we had lunch was beautiful. Absolutely loved the open balcony overlooking the greens. The kitchen cum dining room had a burning chulha in the center that krit the room warm.

6. History of Tea in India & all about different kinds of tea

• tea plant is a full grown tree (not a bush, not a shrub, not a creeper) that can live about a 1000 years.

• While the tree is full of leaves, all leaves aren’t good to make tea.

• For most teas, a combination of two leaves & a bud attached to the tip of a single stem is selectively plucked. When you look for a bud (leaf), it has to be logically new. So the moment a leaf crosses the bud stage, it is no longer plucked. So plants are trimmed from time to time, to get fresh leaves.

• White silver needle tea is made from just the bud.

• White tea is made from newest 2 leaf & the bud or 1 leaf & a bud. White tea has 800g yield vs 15-20 kg of other tea. No wonder it is very expensive.

• No animals eat tea leaf. Probably they find it bitter. That helps because there is no threat to the tea crop.

• The same leaf is processed in different ways to make green tea (minimal processing), white tea, oolong, black tea (most processed) etc etc.

• green tea is high on antioxidants (slows ageing) but it has caffeine. White tea has high antioxidants & has negligible caffeine. Like cut apple kept in open air becomes brown, due to oxidation, so do tea leaves. However if one Steams the Apple , heats it, the colour of Apple will remain the same. The same logic is used to stop oxidation in green & white tea.

• Story of tea leaves – the Chinese have been drinking tea for 4000+ years. Tea arrived in Europe about 500 years back from China. The British got hooked to tea over the centuries & in early 1800s they decided to grow tea in india. The Chinese refused to sell tea seeds.

• The British found a variety of tea in Assam that the tribals used to drink. They sent that tea sample to london auction houses & were told that it was inferior quality.

• So, with no other option in their mind, the British sent a group of people (spies) to go to the interior tea growing regions & smuggle tea seeds.

• Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, (trained in the art & science of spying) & his men made multiple trips to the interiors citing botanical trade. They would buy flower plants from villages & would put tea seeds on the soil & cover that with more soil. So these were never caught at the customs.

• The seeds would germinate by the time they reached calcutta port. The saplings were then sent to the Himachal in the north (Kangra tea), Nilgiris in the south, Assam in the east & many other places.

• Robert Fortine also learnt the whole process of processing & perfectly brewing the tea leaf in detail & transferred the technology & process to the British.

• Darjeeling was mostly uninhabited those days. So the British planted here as well.

• In the uninhabited Darjeeling of mid 1800s, the British needed people to work in the fields. A Nepali nobleman named Dakman Rai solved this problem & relocated people from other areas (mostly Nepal). From the money he received for this service, he set up 3 tea gardens – Soureni, phuguri & Sampripani.

• The same plant gave very different kind of leaves in different areas due to difference in soil, altitude, moisture in air, amount of sun (over exposure or under exposure), which side of the mountain etc.

• Nilgiris & Assam plantations have tea with more body & less flavours. Darjeeling tea however is high in Flavors & low on body. Kangra tea is a notch below the best Darjeeling tea but at par with the usual Darjeeling tea.

• Flush – there are multiple crops of Darjeeling tea from the same plant. December to February no plucking happens. March-April the first harvest happens. This is the lightest in body & highest in flavours. Then comes the may-June that gives second flush. Monsoon flush is july-September. This is low on flavours & is used to make flavored teas like earl grey, lemon tea etc etc. last is autumn flush – October & November.

• The flush months are different for Kangra tea as compared to darjeeling. Here is a recap: March 15 to April 30 – first flush, May-June – second flush, July august – monsoon flush, September October – autumn flush.

• Tea leaves are processed in factories & sold thru auction.

• Darjeeling tea is brewed ( steeped at hot water, temperature between 85-90 degree Celsius) & best enjoyed without milk & sugar. People with lighter food habits enjoy this subtle flavour.

• The granular doodh chai that most of us drink is none of the above. It is Assam / Nilgiri leaf CTC cut trim & curl (processed). This is mostly not brewed, but cooked with milk & sugar (sometimes spices & ginger).

• The tea industry today is many times larger than what the British left is with. There are 40000+ tea gardens in Assam, 60000+ gardens in Nilgiris & 85 gardens in Darjeeling. The words ‘Darjeeling’, ‘Darjeeling logo’, ‘Assam logo’ & ‘Nilgiri logo’ are registered under geographical indication (GI) of goods act of 1999.

Overall – a very memorable trip. Very inspired.

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