A savouring day-out at Halda Valley
As the winter is lazily setting-in with crisp sunshine in early December days harbingering bone-chilling cold days and thick blanket of fog eclipsing the blazing sun for short-lived January days, murmurs of falling leaves from the branches of standing trees are heard and seen by the men and women of mind intuitively wafting in the patches of wandering white clouds of imagination.
Craving minds walking the arbour of imagination yearn to go for a day-out a few steps from home to savour an ambience drenched in splendour and exalted beauty of nature. The exciting moment to fulfil the desire of mind in the deluge where nature appears in all pomp and grandeur in the sun-drenched crisp wintry days, came when our great friend Nader Khan invited a few of his old college-days buddies like Ali Ahmed, S M Jamal Ahmed, Golam Rabbani Babul, Jebunnessa with her daughter Fouzia and granddaughter Mehek, Qutub Uddin Ahmed and myself on Dec 07, 2019 to visit and relish the sublime beauty of his Halda Valley Tea Estate.
Beginning our journey by a SUV by the courtesy of Nader Bhai in the early dew-soaked morning, we reached the Halda valley at Fatikchari after a two hours long drive covering 65 kilometres from the city of Chittagong. After an early morning-hour drive with an empty belly flickering hunger pinch, we landed at a beautifully crafted Tea-Estate Bungalow where a sumptuous breakfast offering hot paratha, bhaji (mixed vegetable) chicken curry and poached egg with different flavours of garden-fresh tea were waiting for us.
After containing the demanding bellies with all mouth-watering breakfast goodies we were now all set to go round the Estate on board a four-wheel-drive SUV. The vehicle cruised through the meandering pathway of the garden in a speed giving a roller-coaster-ride feeling where with ornamented in riot of colours of wild flowers lovingly leaned and craned their necks through the windows of vehicle presumably to offer a platonic welcoming hugs and kisses to the guests visiting their world absorbed in the flood of tranquilly.
On our cruising round and round in the zigzag pathway of the garden, we watched happily how meticulously Nader Bari arranged showers, for tea-leaves covered with winter dusts, by installing good many numbers of water sprinklers drawing flowing waters from natural 'Pahari Shara'. The innovative arrangement of sprinkling on leaves and buds make them look fresh and shinning. Indigenous women folk and their men called Santal whose roots stretches longer back in the pages of history, with bamboo-weaved baskets hung majestically on their back, pluck 'two leaves and one bud' add to the beauty of a traditional tea-garden. Leaves and buds plucked afresh from the garden go through the different processes of blending and finally come in the tea-cup at the refreshing hour of the civilized men and women. When you turn yourself engrossed in an aura and imagine smelling aroma of the garden and view it in the back of your mind; girls of indigenous roots plucking the leaves & buds through the meandering alleys and slopes between the tea-shrubs shimmering in lush greenery with their rhythmic steps.
Beginning the day in a sun-drenched morning with glistening dew-drops on the tips of tender grasses and meadows, till looming dusk at a spot overlapping the horizon stretching hills & hillocks under the canopy of blue skies, was savouring in deed
A septuagenarian by chronological age but an youth in spirit and vigour and down to earth man having absolutely not infested with the scourge of false vainly and with impeccable urge for entrepreneurship in his trait, Nader Bhai did not remain content with owning and managing a huge tea-estate producing 100% clone tea of different flavours and tastes only, rather with his all innovative ideas, he developed cultivation of Dragon fruit, Malta and Chinese orange in the different selective slopes and terrains of the garden with tender care & nurturing to add to attract the exquisite ambience of the garden nestled between wonders of nature's splendour. Besides that, the garden produces Vermi-Composed earthworm based eco-friendly organic manure for agriculture.
After the tour in the garden was over, we were quickly backed to Bungalow for luncheon. The table was laid with all gastronomical delights offering fresh fish from ponds, deshi murgi bhuna, beef rezala cooked with fresh potato and kitchen-garden-fresh vegetables, lal shakh with green chilies and of course with sliced cucumber and tomato carefully blended with sky-soaring priced piaz (onion). After the lunch was finished, it was then our time to heave a hiccup of satisfaction and be engrossed in mid-day gossip and adda among the old friends as essential digestive after meal. In course of gossips, in one stage, recapitulating the lost memories of bygone days, leg-pulling to each other began with cheers & laughter. In a cool temperament, the host Nader Bhai presided over pulling string to our good friend Shafiul Karim Bahi, who with carrying the legacy of Zamindars, retorted to Nader Bari's 'attack' with his own arguments and logic. Fondly rubbing an extra salt to the wound of Shafiul Karim caused by Nader Bhai's benign 'attack', a tall, handsome and witty man, Engr. Ali Bhai came up with his own version of string-pulling which Shafiul Karim Bhai, who was hard nut to crack to give a walk-over to Nader Bhai and Ali Bhai in any circumstances, equally retorted with his expressed friendly rage and anger.
Our ever agile and nimble friend Qutubuddin Ahmed with his ubiquitous presence casually ventured to take part in leg-pulling bout, but was immediately silenced by Ali Bhai with the strong plea that Qutub came from an area in Chittagong named Bakolia (Boaillah) metaphorically famous for stalking and bullying. But Qutub with his inborn art of never ending garrulity was not to be stopped and continued to defend himself with his own unflinching arguments and logic. Lady Jebunnessa, Jamal and Babul stood witness to all that was fondly taking place among old friends in impish smiles while this writer listened all that interestingly and devoured the stuff with his mouth open wide to deliver the episodes in this write-up for the consumption of discerning readers.
As darkness was about to be descended with the sun going down in the west-skies with the tender leaves and buds of the garden closing their eyes and falling asleep in myriad silence and with birds flying back to their nests in warbles and euphonious tone at the grey of gloom, Nader Bhai, amids friendly giggles & laughter of old buddies, declared adda ended and offered us to pay a visit for a while in his resort-house nestled in one corner of the Estate coming up with all elegance & grandeur replicating a castle with greenery abound overlapping a small lake where fishes were found playful at that twilight hour.
Before we kicked off our heels, we had a tea at the resort-house supplemented with hot Singara, Piazoo and Moori and called it a day with drawing a curtain to a day-long pleasant visit to Halda Valley Tea-Estate leaving behind us the lingering memory in the recesses of imagination of a savouring day at the awe-inspiring spot two steps far from our home.
The writer is a former Civil Servant