As the U.S. and Canada celebrate National Hot Tea Month, our thoughts turn to Ilam’s nineteenth-century tea estates and the beautiful landscapes of Shree Antu in East Nepal. Ilam lies very close to Nepal’s border with India, lying just on the other side of the Darjeeling district. With similar climate and geography, Ilam produces teas akin to the more famous Darjeeling, yet this area of Nepal is little known and one of the least visited, meaning it’s ripe for exploring!
Delve into the region’s culture first and foremost by visiting a working tea factory or participating in the harvest, travel between mid-April and mid-November when the crop is in season. The small town of Shree Antu is surrounded by tea fields and travelers can learn about every step of tea production, even walking through the fields with local farmers to pick tea leaves and learn about the terroir. Tea tastings can be as complex as wine tastings, with different varietals and distinct flavors.
Stay in the Ilam Community Homestay in Shree Antu to learn more about the farming lifestyle here. While tea is the community’s cash crop, guests will surely be drawn to the flower gardens dominated by orchids outside each wooden homestay building. The countryside offers easy hiking or horse-back riding and amazing views of the sunrise over the world’s third-highest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga. Visitors should also keep their eyes on the horizon to spot the many birds that live locally, with some 450 species endemic to the region.
Ilam offers a welcome change of pace from the busy energy of Nepal’s large cities and even a different vibe than many of the small communities on popular trekking routes. Travelers who seek Nepal’s untamed beauty will be happy here. Easily combined with a trip to Shree Antu, Mai Pokhari offers even more natural wonders, including a star-shaped lake, lush jungle that is home to red pandas and Todke Waterfall, the second-longest waterfall in the country at nearly 279 feet.
Travelers who want a taste of Ilam combined with even more of the country’s eastern region, can follow our “Eastern Nepal Road Trip,” which is layered with cultural experiences, UNESCO World Heritage sites, beautiful scenery, immersive stays in local villages, hiking — and of course, plenty of tea.
While many travelers seek to combat “overtourism” by going further off-the-beaten path, Ilam is one of our top recommendations. Visitors will be taken with its beauty and surprised by how much good their investment in homestays and locally guided tours can do to support the residents here.