The Assam Tribune
16th September, 2006
A hot steaming cup of tea at your bedside & then the silken rays of the sun that is how your day begins and the world moves. Every drop of this golden brew is exciting and the excitement is as long lasting as the bushes themselves. One hundred years. No for an even longer period than these bushes - these perennial mines have gone on yielding golden pikos, golden excitements across deserts and seas plains and hills . Such ever fresh more than one hundred years old tea bushes are scattered across Assam - The state which has been giving to the world the warm and unique of matchless Assam Tea.
Beautiful landscape diverse flora and chirping of local birds in the tea estates have been the fulfilling combination. A tinge of colonial charm colours of the lives of those who oversee the gardens. Many bungalows are beautiful reminders of the best of the raj period. These large homes built on stilts to withstand nocturnal visits from wild animals are usually surrounded by deep shady verandahs. The huge room speaks of a bygone era.
A century old plantation lay out with acres of rolling tea bushes that virtually appear like a lush green carpet . The sunny slopes and the misty valley, a beautiful heritage bungalow with well appointed rooms that has played host to generations of tea planters since the days of the British Raj Stay there for a night or two and experience the luxury of being pampered - colonial style. Relax in the garden over a proper traditional high tea and while away your time amidst the collection of books on tea and other topics.
For the jaded traveler treading the conventional tourist route, a brief sojourn in an Assam tea plantation looms as a novel experience. A tea plantation in Assam offers to a casual visitor a subtle ambience a mental and sensory quietude- rarely to be experienced elsewhere.
Realizing the tremendous tourism potential that these tee gardens offered many tea companies are now coming up with an exciting tourism product. That is Tea Tourism. Many a planter is now engaged in tea tourism particularly in North Bengal and Assam. Makaibari and Glenburn tea estates in North Bengal are pioneers in this sector.
As Indian tea manufacturers try to fend off competition from China, Kenya and struggle in an indifferent world market, entrepreneurs in North Bengal and Assam are capitalizing on the available infrastructure to tap the novelty hungry tourist, both the high-end and back packer variety.. The revenue generated from these plantation holidays was a relief given the steep fall in prices of tea that the plantations are growing. The concept of Tea Tourism or plantation holidays has only gone from Strength to strength. Amitabh Kant Joint Secretary Ministry of tourism explains "In some areas where plantation crops are hit by fluctuating prices, home stays are an important source of income. Manager's bungalows are now being converted into highly rated accommodation facilities."
Though lately tea planters in Assam are also now coming up with converting their age old tea heritage bungalows to a tourist bungalow. Nature loving tourists interested in the history of India would relish their stay at these gardens that offer the charms of British legacy.
Hemendra Prasad Barooah a former chairman of the Indian Tea Association was the pioneer in Tea Tourism in Assam. His tourism venture 'Heritage North East Pvt Ltd promotes two burra bungalows at the Gatoonga and Sangsua tea estates near jorhat in Upper Assam. Built some 110 years ago, each it is the most attractive part of the tea estate it belongs to. The bungalows are with the British colonial exterior soak in the sprawling interiors of carpeted wooden floors, high ceilings, large verandahs and a panoramic view of acres of greenery. You can pluck the tea leaves of your choice and even watch tea being manufactured.
Heritage North East mostly targets Europeans, especially those who have old links with Assam people whose parents and grandparents worked in the tea plantations in the 19th century Recently WelcomHeritage Group tied up with these two properties.
Manjoj Jalan of Purvi Discovery calls its tea tours Tracking Down Virgin Tea Dibrugarh based Jalan transformed gis family tea estate into tourist resorts way back in 2001 its well appointed mid-19th century old chang bungalows constructed on stlits, just twenty minutes away from Dibrugarh airport. Tourist here can experience luxurious heritage of Raj period hospitality that the British managers and his memsahib enjoyed. These chang bungalows are associated with a unique and graceful lifestyle.
These properties are known for their quaint, British colonial architecture, wooden floor, high ceiling, verandahs with sloping roofs and a panoramic view of acres of carpet like tea bushes. The chang bungalow, where in most cases the tea estate managers still lives, have been carefully restored to their former glory with modern amenities added on for better comfort. They have got good responses both from domestic as well as over seas tourists. Apart from their heritage tea bungalows, they have many exciting and adventurous tour package offered to the tourists such as cruises on the river Brahmaputra; visit the oil town Digboi, hourse ride through tea gardens etc.
Another sprawling tea heritage property has come up on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, 20 minutes drive from Tezpur. Tea giant McLeod Russel of the BM Khatitan Group has developed this project at the Adabari tea estate in the Balipara division of Assam. This property is a historic one characterized by its Victorian architecture and has spacious room across four individual bungalowed. The accommodation is located on 22 acres of tropical land surrounded by tea gardens and the land has been bestowed with a wide variety of trees plants, flowers and birds. The tea estate was established by the British Assam Tea Company way back in 1875 and the bungalows would have been constructed around the same time.
Ranjit Barthakur's 'River Journeys & Bungalows of India Provate Limited has tied up with Mcleod Russel to convert it into a heritage property. This unique property named as Wild Mahseer, A British Assam Heritage Property' "What we have started is sreating tourist visitations for appreciation of nature, the purpose of the whole exercise is to provide a lifestyle product in the midst of nature." Echoed Barthakur Currently, accommodation for 24 people has been created now at four individual bungalows Barthaku's ambitions include creating 1000 heritage rooms in Assam and region in next ten years. River Journeys & Bungalows in negotiating with other tea companies including Goodricke and Tata Tea and properties have been identified in several tea-growing areas of Assam and North Bengal. Khaitan Group has already identified five more properties for similar projects.
The business is lucrative and is attracting more new playes.
Another tea giant and oldest tea company in Assam Company is also on its way to utilize their chang bungalows at Green-wood, Salonah and Majjan tea gardens for this purpose.
These gardens are strategically located near the river Brahmaputra to allow visitors the river Brahmaputra to allow visitors the luxuries of angling river rafting to Abhay Choudhary CFO of Assam Company Limited the project will be launched before this winter.
Trekking river rafting bird watching accompanied by picnic lunches and bonfire are some of the options offered by most of these plantations.
Proximity to other well-known tourist spots like kaziraga, Nameri , Dibru-saikhowa Digboi has also added value to these properties.
The West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation is also working out plan to convert the state-owned Hila tea estate into the new and lucrative area of tea tourism. The Central Government will also contribute Rs 8 crore for the project. The West Bengal Government will take up infrastructure and the Centre's money will be spent on building cottages aimed at attracting high end tourists. Apart from cottages, a tea interpretation centre and rehabilitation of workers have also been planned.
Similary, Assam Tourism can also tie up with Assam Tea Corporation to convert some their old bungalows. Senior officials of the State Tourism industry would get a boost if tea gardens became a new destination for travellers. It is high time Assam Tourism took initiative to attract the exclusive group of tourists. "Tea tourism can be the economy-driver of future Assam," echoed a leading tour operator here.