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Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

Ghost stories from Darjeeling’s tea estates

Whimsical tales of spirits in the haunted palatial tea bungalows of the hills

Every old tea garden has its own fantastic tale, and, indeed,what better location for them—that chill in the air, those palatial bungalows with wispy ghosts of residents past and elderly bungalow-hands passing down stories.

The most famous legend is of the ghost of Margaret’s Hope. This 150-year-old estate in Darjeeling, now part of the Goodricke Group, was originally called Bara Ringtong. Spread over 1,450 acres, and 6,000ft in elevation at its highest point, it’s famous for some of the finest Darjeelings—and this story.

Margaret was the young daughter of J.G.D. Cruickshank, the estate’s manager between 1896-1927. She fell in love with the estate when she visited it. She went back to England, promising to return. But on the way home, little Margaret fell ill and died on the ship. Soon after, Cruickshank thought he saw a vision of Margaret on the estate grounds. He renamed the estate Margaret’s Hope. And the legend was born.

On its Instagram page, the Puri family that runs the tea brand Teacupsfull shares its own stories from the years N.K. Puri spent working as a planter (1966-2006). One such story is of the ghost of Chulsa Factory Bungalow. In the 1980s, when Puri was posted at the Chulsa Tea Garden in the Dooars, his wife called upon the wife of an assistant manager who had been hospitalized after a nervous breakdown. She returned with this story. Sitting in the drawing room one evening, the young assistant manager’s wife had felt another presence in the room.Looking up, she saw a man in the rocking chair, reading a newspaper. Stranger things followed. One morning, the sugar bowl was missing, and was found in the garden. For a few days, the sugar bowl—no matter where it was hidden at night—would be missing in the morning and would be found at the same spot every day. Then she heard music and voices, and it pushed her toa nervous breakdown. The story didn’t end there. She was treated and discharged and life resumed. But visiting her husband at the factory one day, she saw on the walls a photograph of the man she had seen in her drawing room. On enquiring, she was told he had lived and died in the bungalow that was now her home. Her husband resigned from the job shortly after, and the couple left town. The Puris spent a year in the same bungalow and report that no ghosts were encountered, nor did sugar bowls go missing.

“Margaret’s Hope was my birthplace; my grandfather worked there," says tea veteran A.K. Gomden. “My last stint was at Margaret’s Hope. I retired as manager," he adds. “Did you ever see the ghost?" I ask. “For eight long years I waited for Miss Margaret but she never showed herself to me," he says.

He sounds disappointed. Perhaps every good legend is kept alive by that slight belief that it could well be true.

TEA LEGENDS

Author Shona Patel offers a glossary of Assamese spooks on her blog, Tea Buddy. From the Nilgiris, Sangeetha Shinde’s A Moral Murder And Other Tales From The Blue Hills is another delicious read.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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