|Tea Estates, Palampur|
While travelling in the lap of the Great Dhauladhar Mountains(which literally means white mountains), you are always awestricken with the scenic beauty but there are few sights as beautiful as a well-maintained tea estate beneath the snow coved mountains. The acres of uniformly trimmed tea shrubs are just as delightful as the teas they produce. Palampur is surrounded by them. Be it the Kangra road or the Baijnath road or even the Dharamsala road, all run through tea estates for at least a few miles out of Palampur. I have travelled places around Palampur, Kangra and have also admired the beauty of this heaven. My last tour’s travel mates, Rocky Thongam and Hanish Mitra had always thought that in India, tea either comes from -Assam and Darjeeling, probably most of us think so and if you are from south India, Nilgiri could be the third. But Kangra tea? There was a time when tea from this part of Himachal Pradesh ranked among the best in the world.
|Tea Estate owned by Calcutta based company, Palampur|
In 1883, the Gazetteer of the Kangra District noted that tea produced in the region was “probably superior to that produced in any other part of India”. In the 1890s, almost 10,000 acres in the Kangra valley was covered by tea plantations. In 1892, the Kangra Valley Tea Company Ltd sold more than 20,000kg of tea in London. Between 1886 and 1895, Kangra’s tea won gold and silver medals for quality in London and Amsterdam.
Past of Brew:
William Jameson, superintendent of the Botanical Gardens at Saharanpur and the Northwest Frontier Province, was the man who brought the tea plant to Kangra. In 1849, he planted Chinese hybrid shrubs at three places in the valley: Kangra town (altitude 750m); Nagrota (870m) and Bhawarna (960m). Kangra town was too warm and dry, but the plants did well at the other two places. This was all the encouragement the local administration needed. Three years later, in 1852, it set up a commercial plantation at Holta near Palampur, at an altitude of 1,260m.
In the next seven years, a number of private planters, both locals and Europeans, got into the business. They set up 19 tea estates in the region, covering a total of 2,635 acres. In another 15 years, the area under tea had increased to 7,994 acres, and by the end of the 19th century, it stood at 10,000 acres and produced almost 1,000 tonnes of tea annually. At least 80% of these plantations were around Palampur, which had a congenial climate and abundant water.
|Rocky Thongam in the Middle of Tea estate, Palampur|
Dip in the Tea:
In the space of half a century, Kangra had entrenched itself on the world’s tea map. Its black and green teas were travelling to Afghanistan, Russia and Central Asia via Amritsar. On the other side, it could hold its own among teas from Assam and Darjeeling in the Kolkata market, from where they were shipped to Europe and America.The devastating earthquake of 4 April 1905 reduced the entire valley to rubble, crippling Kangra’s tea industry for years to come. The English planters, who had till then led the way with new techniques, machinery and marketing, left the valley for good.
The locals who took over the abandoned estates were unable to meet the same standards of quality and productivity, and Kangra’s tea started losing ground. In 1980, Kangra’s estates produced only 132kg of tea per hectare, the lowest in the country, and well below the 284kg that the English planters averaged in 1892.
Happily, the worst seems to be over for Kangra’s tea. In the past two decades, the acreage under tea has started increasing, production is up, the quality of tea is much better, earnings are higher, even the estates are now a sight to behold. In 2006, Kangra also won recognition as a “geographic indicator” for tea like Darjeeling tea, Kangra tea has its own significant symbol: two leaves and a bud.
|Lemon Green Tea, offered to me by a humble salesman|
Flavor is the unique selling proposition of Kangra tea. The Chinese hybrid variety grown here produces a very pale liquor, which is the reason why Kangra does not produce any CTC (crushed, turned, curled) tea—the staple tea of India. CSK Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University in collaboration with Kittu Exports has open few outlets selling organic Kangra Tea (both Green/Black). University has tea estates of their own and has got SGS certification for being organic. Their tea is packed in fancy cloth bags, ideal for gift purpose. Salesman at the outlet near Holta Army Cantt is very friendly young Himachali man, he offered me piping hot lemon flavored green tea on a chilly rainy evening of 12-02-2012. That was my first introduction to amazing aroma of kangra tea.You will find all these estates an enchanting green from March to November, when the bushes are finally pruned and “rested” for the winter. We found most of the tea estates in rested phase during our trip. This also means that when plucking resumes in April, the first batches of tea are the richest in flavour.
|SGS Certified Organic Kangra Green Tea in Gift Packs|
|'Rested' Tea Crop|
|CSKHP Argiculture University supported Outlet|
|HPTDC's Hotel Tea-Bud serves you excellently brewed kangra tea in these Cups|
|Tibetans settled in kangra Valley prefer fermented version of kangra Tea|