tea article

Although the British are credited for introducing tea in India but in reality it was the East India Company that brought in this beverage that has changed our drinking habits forever. Therefore a little background is needed in order to explain the chain of events that triggered the tea industry in India. From China, the British East India Company bought tea, silk and porcelain. The Chinese wanted silver in return. In the 1700’s tea became a very popular drink in England, and there was a fear that too much silver was leaving the country to pay for it . To stop this happening, the Company became involved in a triangular trade by smuggling opium (a highly addictive and illegal drug) from India into China. The Company grew the opium in India . But when the Company’s trade monopoly was abolished in 1834, so did it’s control over the tea production end . It ,then, realized India’s potential as the next big producer of tea and from here starts the tale of India’s tryst with tea. (Information taken from the British library)Origins in the Doon ValleyIn 1827 Dr. Royle the Superintendent of the Government Botanical Gardens at Sahranpur put forward the idea of tea cultivation in the Himalayan foothills. Since he found the Himalayan vegetation similar to those growing in the tea producing districts of China and also found the soil quite suitable especially in the Kumaon region. Even his predecessor Govan had grown tea in the Botanical gardens at Sahranpur. Thus it became very clear to him that tea cultivation in this part of the country will surely be successful. Therefore, he sent a report to the government for the same but to no avail. In 1831 Lord William Bentinck himself visited Sahranpur and here too Dr. Royle stressed upon the suitability of growing tea in the area supported by Dr. Nathaniel Wallich of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens and other writers. This led to the formation of the Tea Committee by Lord William Bentinck in 1834 (as the Company lost it’s monopoly in China) whose objective was to ascertain the best mode of introducing the Chinese Tea Plant as well as the selection of the most promising localities for the same. In the same year itself tea was also discovered in Assam but the Government wisely chose to experiment in both the provinces i. e . Assam and North-west Frontier Provinces with the first batch of Gordon’s* China seeds and seedlings. Unfortunately, the seeds and seedlings suffered severely in transit. None of the seeds germinated and only two thousand seedlings reached NWP safely of the twenty thousand plants that were dispatched. According to Dr. Royle Jharipani was the ideal location for the tea experiment but his successor Dr. Hugh Falconer chose Garhwal. Dr. Falconer was enthusiastically supported by the Commissioner of Kumaon G W Traill .As a result of their hard work nurseries of Bharatpur and Lukshmeshwar were setup in Kumaon and Gudoli, Koth, Ramsarai and Kaulagarh were set up in Garhwal. As with most things the nurseries too had their own shares of trouble .The Tea Committee concentrating more on Assam since tea was found growing naturally there and with the recall of Mr Gordon from China. Hardly any efforts were made to furnish the Himalayan nurseries with fresh supplies of China seeds. Dr. Falconer’s team had to make do with the weakened remains of the first batch of seeds. Nevertheless, the nurseries were well taken care of especially those in Kumaon by Mr Blinkworth (assistant to Dr. Wallich of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens). In 1841, when Dr. Falconer visited Kumaon he established two more nurseries and sent the government a favorable report. His remarks in the report were,“On the whole the experiment, in so far as the possibility of rearing the tea plant in the provinces of Garhwal and Kumaon is in question, may be safely pronounced to have been completely succeeded.”So far the tea experiment had only concerned itself with the cultivation aspect , manufacturing was yet to be touched upon. Therefore Dr. Falconer suggested to import skilled Chinese labour as he did not want any mistakes in the manufacturing process .For any fault in the manufacturing would have led to the undermining of the tea plant, thus ruining all the hard work that had been put in so far. Thus two sets of Chinese labourers were brought in. One for the Kumaon nurseries and the other for the Garhwal nurseries. The laborers found the Kumaon tea plant much superior to the wild Assam plant. Therefore, in autumn 1842, a small quantity of tea was manufactured and sent to W.J.Thompson of Mincing Lane who reported that the tea was,“fine flavored and strong….and better for most part than China Tea imported for mercantile purposes”In same year another sample was brought to London by Dr. Falconer himself, and here too W.J.Thompson reported favorably that the tea brought resembled the Oolong tea of China and would find a ready market in London itself. In late 1842 Dr. Falconer had to retire on account of ill-health and in 1843 Dr. William Jameson took over the reigns. Dr. Jameson at once put new nurseries on sites elected by his predecessor at Kooasar, Anoo, Chular and Hawalbagh. Only the nursery at Hawalbagh flourished as the rest were rice fields highly unfit for tea cultivation. A fact ,however, unknown at the time. Hawalbagh later on became Dr. Jameson’s headquarters of Kumaon. In the following years Dr. Jameson ensured that thought and care were given at every step in the cultivation of tea. Proof of which can be seen in his reports to the Calcutta Agricultural and Horticultural Society where he had painstakingly documented the condition and state of each and every nursery in the NWP.As a result of his efforts by 1844 tea production amounted to 374 pounds with the Garhwal region having 11 acres of nurseries. The most momentous event of the year being the establishment of the first ever Government plantation at Kaulagarh. In 1847 Dr. Jameson was able to sell tea in Almora at a price of 7s 1d per pound. This piqued the interest of the Government of India and Robert Fortune (Botanical Collector to the Horticultural Society of London) was sent to China to obtain the finest varieties of tea plants for the Himalayan plantations. Thus, in 1849 large quantities of seeds as well as more than twenty thousand seed plants were introduced. In 1850, Robert Fortune himself visited the Himalayan plantations but found them not up to the mark. Citing various reasons such as the plantations being on flat lands, irrigation, early plucking and so on. However, Mr. Fortune’s views were incorrect as it was based on an insufficient allowance for a drought that lasted 3 years putting the plantations in an unfavorable state at the time of his visit. Nevertheless, Dr. Jameson persevered and when Mr Fortune returned from his second visit to China Dr. Jameson himself asked the government to send Mr. Fortune for another inspection to Kumaon and Garhwal. This led to the second visit of Mr. Fortune in 1854 with Mr. Fortune commenting on the Kaulagarh plantation (of Doon) as follows, “I have great pleasure in stating that I have never seen finer or more productive plantations in China… ”And of the Bhattpur plantation he claimed,“the bushes are in excellent condition and fully justify the favorable opinion I formed of the Plantation on my first visit”Thus, taking the credit all to himself and owing the improvement to his advice and inputs which were later found out to be copied from Dr. Jameson’s “Suggestions for the Importation of Tea Makers, Implements and seeds from China” Meanwhile Dr. Jameson concerned himself with the prospects of growing tea commercially and concluded it was more profitable than grain cultivation combined with the plentiful availability of land. In fact in 1857 he calculated that the Doon Valley had one lakh acres of land capable of producing tea and with a yield of a hundred pounds an acre. Doon could produce ten millions pounds of tea per annum! The Commissioner of Kumaon, in accordance with the accepted principle that the Government must withdraw from tea production when it became commercially attractive, then recommended that all government plantations must be sold after 1 January 1857 except that one government nursery must be maintained in each district. Although the Government deferred on this proposal, private persons had already started taking interest in tea cultivation owing to Government incentives such as land offered on liberal terms and the free distribution of seeds and seedlings. The Indian population began on a small scale and three Europeans in 1856 established 4 plantations. About the same time Colonel Elwall and Captain Thelwell established a large plantation in Dehradun in their Markham grant. However, all failed for causes which will be discussed later. The Government plantations were sold over a period of years as the government did not want any trade monopoly by select companies. Therefore, plantations were sold to different individuals. The Annfield grant coming under Major Rind in 1857 was sold .Of which 327 acres came under the Ambari Tea Company and 692 acres including the villages of Baitwala and Gangbhewa was bought by the Raja of Sirmour for Rs 1,40,000. Arcadia and Harbanswala coming under the Dehradun Tea Company (founded in 1863). Arcadia being purchased in 1862 for Rs 23,730 and having 375 acres under tea. But, the most important of them all was the Kaulagarh plantation of 400 acres sold to the Raja of Simour for £20,000 in 1867. Other tea gardens that were developed included the East Hope Town Tea Estate owned by the East Hope Town Tea Company and the West Hope Town Tea Estate of 875 acres. The 1860’s saw a tremendous boom in the number of tea gardens in the Doon Valley, Kumaon and Garhwal reflecting the tea mania that had engulfed the entire nation at the time. In 1863 itself, 78 plantations existed in present day Uttarakhand – 18 in Kumaon, 3 in Garhwal and 25 in the Doon Valley. It is suffice to say that the British Government did a tremendous job of proving the commercial viability of tea in the Himalayan hills. But it did come with it’s drawbacks. People did not know the hazards of tea growing. Officials as well as planters seemed to have encouraged unrealistic expectations of profits. In some cases making tea the new gold . There was a mad rush for tea shares and tea gardens . Tea companies sprang up overnight. Bogus tea gardens came up where in the worst lands were picked and planted with the most inferior of bushes. People thought tea was just another crop and that anyone could grow it .Not realizing the experience and capital required for such a venture. In fact many civil officers with high posts (mostly Europeans) left their jobs for such ventures only to lose their entire savings! The tea bubble finally burst in 1865.The years that followed showed fluctuating success but tea gardens which were prudently established and well run recovered. In 1873, Dehra Dun’s tea production was 412,000 lbs and that of Kumaon was 286,000 pounds. Since the tea in NWP could not compete with Assam Tea owing to it’s large distance from the ports, Central Asia was developed as it’s main market with green tea being sold on the spot to merchants from Kabul and Central Asia. By 1878, tea industry in Doon had reached it’s peak. But the 1880’s saw the undermining of the NWP planters . In 1882, the abolition by Russia on the duty on transit between Samarkhand and Bokhara and the simultaneous abolition by India on the import duty on Chinese tea passing through Bombay to Central Asia ,put the NWP tea industry in a vulnerable state. Yet the 1890’s opened with reasonable prospects. In 1891 the total production of tea in North India reached over 119 million pounds of which Dehradun, Kumaon and Kangra contributed 4.5 million pounds .However, again the situation looked grim in the beginning of the 20th Century. The production in NWP being 2,297,429 lbs in an area of 8,055 acres in the year 1900. As Mr. Dampier the then Settlement Officer in 1907 quotes,“The industry has fallen on evil days. The average price has fallen from over eight annas a pound to a little over four annas a pound, and were the Commissariat Department to cease buying, the majority of the smaller gardens would cease to pay at all “ The following memorandum gives an insight in the state of affairs in the year 1927152273033274000The Thacker’s Indian Directory of 1935 gives information on the most prominent tea gardens of Doon as follows, 1562986-51036300 155226515647600 In 1947, the Dehradun district had 22 tea estates covering an area of 5,500 acres and producing nearly, 9 lakh kilograms of tea. Also a special mention needs to be made of Lala Darshan Lal Prakash who started as a tea planter under the British and ultimately became the owner of not only the East Hope Town estate and other tea estates in Doon but also of premium tea estates in Assam, Darjeeling, Dooars, Terai, Himachal and South India. Dehradun till date recognizes he and his family as ‘Chaiwalas’.Present dayPost independence the link below gives an overview of the estates that remained,http://www.teadatabase.com/listing/dehra-dun/And up until the 1980’s , the tea industry of Doon flourished as Naresh Mishra the manager of Arcadia Grant and Harbanswala tea estates quotes,“Till a few decades ago, Arcadia Grant, along with Harbanswala and East Hopetown tea estates in Dehradun were producing 3.5 lakh kg of tea leaves with the help of 1,700 skilled workers. Now only 25,000 kg of tea is produced, with permanent manpower reduced to a mere 50 workers. In its glory days, till the 70’s, the tea was exported to countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia. Now Amritsar is the only market left for Dehradun tea, which has lost its quality”(Need list of tea estates that remain)Clearly tea in Doon has seen better days and with the advent of the Smart City , the only question that remains is are we willing to sacrifice our rich heritage for the sake of an uncertain future or be custodians of this great legacy that has been bestowed on us.

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