|Started by a Scottish tea company in 1859, Glenburn is now owned and managed by an indian family|
In North East India, the two most significant heritage from the colonial era are – the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or the Toy Train that runs between Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, and of course the tea estates of Darjeeling, Dooars and Assam. “We have many prestigious schools from the British India times. The architecture and environment even today draws a lot of respect. There is also the Cinchona plantations, almost a forgotten colonial heritage as you do not use these plantations anymore for malaria medicines. The WWII has left a legacy and is based in the Northeast, the famous war Imphal-Kohima. With tourism, we have been able to generate local pride and livelihood, which has helped in conservation of the same,” says Raj Basu, founder, Help Tourism.
It was since 1995, Help Tourism, started working on this Plantation Tourism programme called Tea Tourism. “The basic idea had come from wine tourism and the key mission was to lead tourists to explore the ‘actions behind a cup of tea’. The people involved, the landscape and the heritage. The best part was the hospitality, a culture which developed during the British in India, the Dak Bungalow of the Tea Estates, which we now call the Tea Bungalow,” states Basu. He mentions that initially, he and his team started with convincing the planters, telling them that this small initiative will not give them a huge business, but will help in branding of their tea. The tea tourism initiative will compliment their main stream business of tea. “We could convince the planters that no new investment will be required and we shall start by using their Director’s Bungalow, which was used only when the directors visited the garden. This would also help the garden to keep the bungalow staff active, innovative and engaged. Also, a part of the bungalow maintenance will be fulfilled from the tea tourism visitors. We have surveyed with the Darjeeling and Dooars areas: Damdim, Rangapani, Looksan, Bundapani, Lankapara, Phanskhowa, Marrionbarrie, Makaibari, Goomtee, Selim Hill, Glenburn, Takdah, Tukvar, Rongli-Rongliot, Rangeet Valley, Margarete’s Hope, Tumsong, Singell, Putung etc,” informs Basu, adding that the most successful tea tourism till date is at Glenburn Tea Estate.
Tea heritage tourism
|Ghoom Station is the highest point reached by Darjeeling railway (7407 ft)|
Glenburn Tea Estate is about three hours from Bagdodra Airport and overlooks the magnificent mountain ranges. Started by a Scottish tea company in 1859, Glenburn is now owned and managed by well known tea planting families – the Prakashes. Guests can stay in the suites at one of the two bungalows. Mancotta Chang Bungalow is a heritage colonial plantation bungalow, about 15 km from Dibrugarh in Assam. Built more than 162 years ago, it is located in the middle of a working Assam tea estate. One can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park from Mancotta.
Help Tourism runs different models of tea tourism. The Tea Bungalow based tourism consists of three to four luxurious rooms with full service and leisure surroundings. The stay and hospitality is itself an experience of a century old culture. “The tea plantation and factory visit is additional and done on request. Excursions to the adjoining nature areas are a bonus. The second model is homestays and lodges adjoining to the tea estates, which gives access to experiencing the tea garden and the tea activities. This also gives access to nature and village based activities beyond the tea areas,” states Basu. Help Tourism has been lobbying to bring in an amendment that the existing bungalows in no or less use in the tea estate should be allowed for tourism. “Which means that if all the tea estates agree, there will be more than 2000 quality room nights available for North of West Bengal (Darjeeling Hills and Dooars),” he points out.