Tag Archives: Kangra tea

Tea Junction: History of chai in India


From mythology, legend, local preparations to tea-growing regions, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY chronicle the journey of tea in India from leaf to cup


According to Buddhist folklore, when Siddhartha sat in meditation on his path to enlightenment, he kept falling asleep. Infuriated at his lack of self-discipline, he plucked out his eyelashes and flung them to the ground. At the spot where his eyelashes fell, there arose a plant blessed with the magical properties of banishing sleep. The plant was Camellia sinensis or Chinese Camellia, more popular as tea.

The Chinese connection is attributed to a story that recounts how few leaves from a Camellia bush fell into a pot of boiling water by mistake and the brew was served to a Chinese Emperor who hailed its rejuvenative powers. It is suggested that the Tang Dynasty made tea the national drink of China and coined the world ch’a for tea. While these legends may be apocryphal, documented evidence establishes that tea was being consumed in India as early as 750 BC. Not surprisingly, the country today is the highest consumer of tea. Yet the evolution of tea as a drink of Emperors and colonial rulers into a daily beverage of a man on the street began with an epic story of deception and industrial espionage.


During the 1800s, Europe, particularly England became obsessed by the magical brew of the Orient. China held sway over the world trade and production of tea remained a fiercely guarded secret for centuries. In a shocking clandestine corporate heist, the British East India Company sent a faithful Scottish botanist and plant hunter into the heart of Imperial China to steal the secret of tea. Robert Fortune, the chosen hero for this near impossible mission, went to China disguised as a mandarin armed with a ponytail and a crummy pistol and explored the region for four years (1848-1851). How the humble botanist risked his life fighting off Chinese warlords and pirates to return to India with a clutch of precious saplings, seeds and meticulous documentation on how tea was traditionally prepared, is the stuff of legends; inspiring books like “For all the tea in China” by Sarah Rose and even a movie “Robert Fortune: The Tea Thief” by Belgian filmmaker Diane Perelsztejn.

Until then, Britain filled its coffers with silver earned from Chinese tea in exchange for opium grown in India. However, after the two Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-58), China broke Britain’s stranglehold over opium trade by becoming the world’s biggest producer of poppy! By smuggling saplings of the most prized black and green tea into India and spawning nurseries in Assam and Darjeeling, Fortune literally changed the fortunes of the British Empire forever and made the world wake up to tea.


Interestingly, indigenous wild tea bushes were found growing in Assam even prior to 1823. It is said Bessa Gaum, a Singhpo tribe chieftain served a unique dark beverage to Robert Bruce, a Scottish officer in the British army! It was his brother, Charles Alexander Bruce who propagated and popularized Assam tea by establishing the Assam Company, the world’s first tea enterprise. Prince Dwarkanath, Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather was on its elite list of Board of Directors in 1839. In 1841, Dr. A Campbell became the pioneer of tea plantations in Darjeeling, when he launched a trial seed planting experiment using Chinese tea seeds at an altitude of 700ft. Several Europeans besides Bhagatbir Rai, a local resident, followed his path and numerous tea estates took root across the hilly slopes of Darjeeling.

By 1866 nearly 39 estates spread across 405 hectares were producing tea, making Darjeeling synonymous with the now world famous export. Soon, engineer W O’Brien Ansell introduced the first power-driven tea rollers and sorters and installed turbines, revolutionizing the whole process of tea manufacture in factories through mechanization by 1872. Tea connoisseurs across the globe attribute the combination of unique soil, altitude, temperature and weather to the delicious ‘muscatel’ aroma of Darjeeling tea, earning its tag as the champagne of teas.


After the unfortunate hanging of local Maniram who defied European entrepreneurs by planting his own tea in 1858, Rosheswar Barua became the first Indian to establish and own six tea estates. The popularity of the golden brew gained momentum and profit, luring enterprising traders from faraway lands to stake their claim in the business. Soon Marwaris like Senai Ram Lohia set out on camel and foot from Ratangarh in Rajasthan to Dibrugarh in Assam in 1861 on learning about the “gold growing there”. A year later, motivated planters like James White set up a tea plantation in the Terai region sparking off similar estates in the Dooars.

As numbers swelled to 13 plantations, the British set up Dooars Tea Planter’s Association in 1877 followed by the Indian Tea Association in 1881 to represent North Indian planters. This was no proverbial storm in a teacup; it was a stirring of a business frenzy that has lasted for more than a century – across the north, east and south of India from Assam to the foothills of the Himalayas in Kumaon and Kangra, Kullu and Garhwal to the slopes of Nilgiris, Munnar and Anamalai in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.


The southern wave of tea was triggered around 1832 by Dr Christie’s early trials with tea cultivation in the Nilgiri region. Mann the first planter to manufacture Nilgiri teas, founded a tea plantation near Coonoor in 1854 that became renowned as Coonoor Tea Estate. Around this time, another planter, Rae, set up Dunsandle Estate near Kulhatty. In 1878, James Finlay & Co. pioneered tea cultivation in hilly tracts of Kerala. Munnar is home to some of the world’s highest tea plantations and the tea owes its uniqueness to the distinct geographical conditions and altitude. By 1893, the United Planters’ Association of Southern India was established to represent those in the south.

From the meditative art of Japanese tea ceremonies to the idea of culinary elegance and etiquette for Afternoon tea, High Tea and garden tea parties introduced by Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, to the simple everyday way of life phenomenon of chai in India, the art of tea drinking has transformed over the decades from region to region.


An extract from Lu Yu’s definitive classic on tea, Ch’a Ching, the world’s first book on the subject, says the best quality tea must have –
The creases like the leather boots of Tartar horsemen,
Curl like the dewlap of a mighty bullock,
Unfold like a mist rising out of a ravine,
Gleam like a lake touched by a zephyr,
And be wet and soft like
Earth newly swept by rain

Lu Yu simplified the whole process of manufacturing tea bricks, which were steamed and dried for storage as: “All there is to making tea is to pick it, steam it, pound it, shape it, dry it, tie it, and seal It.”. In the ancient days, tea bricks were so valuable that they served as currency in parts of China, Tibet, Mongolia and Central Asia. They were often compressed with fascinating designs and imprints and were also consumed as food during hunger and as a cure for cough and cold. Today the practice of using tea bricks is uncommon but the sheer range of tea available in the market leaves one speechless.


It’s hard to believe that the 3000 different varieties of teas available in the world come from the humble Camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica plants, varying only by the region it was grown, the season it was picked and the processing method of leaves. However, tea can be broadly categorized into four types namely, Black, Green, White and Oolong tea. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tea. Together with China, we contribute 2,338,000 tonnes to the world’s total tea production! In 16th Century India, tea was used to prepare a vegetable dish using garlic and oil and a drink was made using the boiled tea leaves.

There’s a quirky lore about an Indian brand called Rungli Rungliot. On his quest for the perfect tea, a Buddhist lama wandered across mountains, valleys and passes of the North East. Deadbeat after his long journey, he stopped at a point between Gangtok and Darjeeling, where the road twists high above the Teesta river. He uttered the words ‘Rungli Rungliot’ meaning ‘Thus far, and no further’. As luck would have it, he discovered the perfect tea right there, giving the place and brand the name!


Customized to a Tea

Today, Indians have given their own spin to the art of making tea. While a majority of tea drinkers prefer to sip tea with milk or cream and sugar, many Indians add spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, herbs like basil, mint, liquorice and ginger for additional flavor. So we have milk tea or masala tea and the strongly brewed kadak chai served in hilly tracts of northern India; the malai mar ke chai, a full-bodied brew with a fat dollop of cream scooped into the cup; the eco-friendly railway matka chai served in red clay cups; Kerala tea laced with peppercorns and nutmeg; the stiff sugar rush of Irani chai or “khade chammach ki chai (literally, standing spoon tea) which refers to a light brew with a layer of sugar at the bottom that is so thick it could keep a spoon upright!

For those who like a large dose of lactose, the milky concoctions of dust tea served around the old Fort St George in Chennai and the cow belt of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are a must. For a dash of exotic, try the mild flavors of Kashmiri Kahwa, an aromatic green tea that is boiled with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, crushed Kashmiri roses and sweetened with honey and crumbled walnuts and almonds. The strange salty pink Sheer Chai or Noon Chai is another offering from Kashmir besides the famous Gud-gud Chai – a buttery salty local tea served in nearby Leh and Ladakh.


Mumbai’s “Cutting chai” or Bangalore’s “By-two” chai are economical urban alternatives where one cup of tea is halved or shared between two people. Kerala’s Meter chai is a skillful display of mixing tea contents and providing a head of froth by deftly pouring hot tea between two containers drawn about one meter apart! The Arab-influenced Sulaimani Chai or lemon black tea, is a delightful refreshment served commonly at biryani parlors and cafes.

When it comes to great highland teas, the aromatic Darjeeling tea still wears the crown with its original orthodox manufacturing process which involves five stages after picking the sacrosanct formula of “two leaves and a bud” – withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and storing. The dark Nilgiri Tea with its intense aroma and rich flavor rules the south. Export quality, hand-sorted, full-leaf versions like Orange Pekoe clearly target the affluent lot. “CTC” an acronym for Curl, Tear and Crush method is the more modern type of manufacture adopted in the plains and lowlands like Assam. More recently, ‘Organic tea’ or tea grown using natural manure and eco-sustainable farming practices without chemical fertilizers and pesticides and healthy ‘Green tea’ with its rich anti-oxidants, medicinal benefits and slimming properties is fast gaining popularity.


Types of tea
White Teas are the purest and least processed of all teas. This loose-leaf tea brews a light color and flavor. Green Teas are a popular beverage across Asia. Sometimes scented versions of loose green teas are prepared using flowers like chamomile, jasmine or fruits. Oolong Tea is full-bodied with a flavorful sweet aroma and is often served in Chinese restaurants. Black Tea is an old favourite used in tea bags and iced teas. Herbal Teas often called tisane, often do not contain actual tea leaves and come in 3 types: Rooibos teas or red tea made from a South African red bush, Mate teas which possess an unusual coffee taste made from leaves and twigs of the Yerba mate plant and Herbal Infusions made of pure herbs, flowers or fruits which are served hot or chilled.

Blooming Teas (also known as artisan or flowering teas) are the designer brews which are hand tied by tea artists. They can be flavoured or scented and actually blossom as they steep, to create beautiful designs. Hence, they make lovely gifts and souvenirs. Tea Blends are most popular as they offer a delicate mix of the best of premium teas to give the best combination of colour, flavor and aroma.


Tea holidays in India
Tea tourism has burgeoned rapidly across the country and tourists are encouraged to experience plantation life in colonial style tea gardens, heritage bungalows and liveried staff on call. The best way to know your oolong from your pekoe is to witness the journey of tea from leaf to cup through the elaborate manufacturing process from tea plucking to tea-tasting sessions besides nature walks and adventure activities. Tea-picking season lasts from April-October, making it a good time to visit tea estates and factories. Plan your trip to catch the picking and production season – First flush (March-May), Second flush (June- July), Monsoon/Rain flush (Aug-Sept), Autumnal Flush (Oct-Nov). Winter is generally a dormant time for tea.

The topography, temperature and terrain make it ideal for tea cultivation in several areas of our country. Tea grows in warm, humid climate with well distributed rainfall and long days of sunshine. From the dark fragrant Nilgiri Tea to Munnar’s full-bodied Kanan Devan tea, the bright and bold maltiness of Assam or the finest Darjeeling the color of Himalayan sunlight, India’s tea growing regions are diverse.


Head to Kurseong, home to the world’s first tea factory set up in 1859 where you can savour Silver Tips Imperial (the most expensive tea) while staying at homestays run by villagers at Makaibari Estate. Become a tea taster at Jorhat’s Gatoonga Tea Factory while staying at Heritage North East’s Burra Sahib and Mistry Sahib bungalows. Wild Mahseer, an 1875 British angling bungalow and former residence of the tea-estate manager have been transformed into a classy resort. Stay at the Darang Tea Estate to get a real taste of Kangra tea. Carpeting the Palampur hills by the British since 1882, the aromatic brew has a weak colour, but the Dhauladhar range’s microclimate lends a certain aroma after it is sun dried.

In South India, stay at The Tea Sanctuary in Munnar and drop by at the Tea Museum. Or relax in the colonial comforts of Briar Tea Bungalows at Meghamalai. Experience tea-themed cuisine and bison in the bush at Tea Nest Coonoor. As a spoonful of tea leaves steep silently in a pot of fine bone china, the cinematic sight of waves of rolling green tea gardens and tea pickers busily tucking fresh leaves into their baskets returns as a lasting reminder of how it all began.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 22 June 2014 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald.

Farm Fresh: India’s Agri-Tourism Trails


Intern at an organic farm or spend a weekend picking apples or tea as ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover India’s latest trend of agri-holidays, eco-tours and farm stays 

The healing sight of green, the touch of moist soil in your hands or plucking vegetables straight off a plant instead of buying them shrouded in plastic; there are many joys of life on the farm. The smell of rain on dry earth evokes similar emotions, unlocking some primordial part of our brains that makes us feel connected to the earth. Oddly, humanity had no word for it until two Australian researchers coined one in 1964. Petrichor, derived from Greek petra (stone) and ichor (fluid coursing through veins of the gods), is akin to the earth’s perfume, its pheromone. Equally surprising is the fact that in a country largely dependent on agriculture, farm stays and agri tours took so long to sprout in India. Coffee, tea, grapes, mangoes, apple, spices and organic farms; choose from these wonderful themed holidays…


Tea plantation bungalows
(Kangra | South India | North East)

Know your oolong from your pekoe as you trace the journey of India’s most popular brew from leaf to cup. From the dark fragrant Nilgiri Tea to Munnar’s full-bodied Kanan Devan tea, the bold maltiness of Assam or fine Darjeeling the color of Himalayan sunlight, India’s tea growing regions are diverse. Head to Kurseong, home to the world’s first tea factory in 1859 where you can savour Silver Tips Imperial (the most expensive tea) while staying at homestays run by villagers. Grown in the Palampur hills by the British since 1882, the aromatic Kangra Tea produces a weak colour, but the Dhauladhar range’s microclimate imparts a certain aroma after it is sun dried. Visit the Tea Museum in Munnar or enjoy colonial comforts at Briar Tea Bungalows at Meghamalai. Experience tea-themed cuisine and bison in the bush at Tea Nest Coonoor or drop by at Tranquilitea tea lounge nearby. Become a tea taster at Jorhat’s Gatoonga Tea Factory while staying at Heritage North East’s Burra Sahib and Mistry Sahib bungalows. Wild Mahseer, an 1875 British angling bungalow and former residence of the tea-estate manager have been transformed into a classy resort.

Darang Tea Estate, Kangra
Ph 01894-240231, 9418012565, 9816312333
Email darangtea@gmail.com

The Tea Sanctuary, Munnar
Ph 04865 230141
Email tourism.munnar@kdhptea.co.in

Briar Tea Bungalows, Munnar/Meghamalai
Ph 0422 2311 834, 94422 02001

Tea Nest, Coonoor
Ph 0423 2237222, 94439 98886
Email teanest@natureresorts.in

Sangsua & Gatoonga Tea Estates, Jorhat
Ph 033 2229 9034, 0376 2304 267
Email heritagenortheast@gmail.com

Wild Mahseer Lodge, Balipara
Ph 02267 060881, 91670 38491
Email daniel.dsouza@wildmahseer.com

Makaibari Tea Estate, Kurseong
Ph 033 22878560, 9733004577
Email makaibari.rajah@gmail.com

Tathagata Farm, Mineral Spring
Ph 9932021569, 9775809299
Email navin@tathagatajourneys.com

The Tumsong Retreat, Ghoom
Ph 033 3093 6400

When to go: Tea-picking season lasts from April-October, making it a good time to visit tea estates and factories.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, Jorhat, Bagdogra and Coimbatore


Coffee Estate Stays
(Coorg | Malnad)

Head to Baba Budan Giri where a Muslim mystic sowed seven coffee beans smuggled from Arabia from where it spread to the rest of the country. Visit the coffee museum at Chikmagalur and stay at Plantation Escapes’ colonial bungalows at Ossoor Coffee Estate in Sakleshpur, a 1200-acre plantation started in 1866! Nearly 80% of India’s coffee comes from neighbouring Kodagu or Coorg. To compensate fluctuating coffee prices, local planters spun their estate bungalows, fabled Kodava hospitality and delectable cuisine into unparalleled homestay experiences. With the world’s highest density of sacred groves (devarakadu) and fountainhead of the Cauvery river, Coorg is a bounteous land of wildlife and waterfalls. Do a Bean-to-Cup plantation walk at Tata Coffee’s heritage bungalows in Coorg and Sakleshpur. At Rainforest Retreat learn how coffee, pepper, cardamom and vanilla are grown organically in the shade of rainforests. Rediscover nature without TV, mobile and Internet connectivity at Meriyanda Coorg with estate-grown Arabica, clove, pepper and honey available in gift packs. Soak in the luxury of Tamara Coorg with spa treatments, a signature ‘Blossom to Brew’ coffee tour and become a barista at The Verandah coffee shop.

Rainforest Retreat, Galibeedu
Ph 08272 265638/6,  201428
Email rainforestours@gmail.com

Tata Coffee Plantation Trails, Polibetta
Ph 080 2356 0761, 2356 0695-97
Email reach.plantationtrails@tatacoffee.com

Meriyanda Nature Lodge, Hattihole
Ph 080 4164 3999, 9008163388
Email: reservations@meriyanda.com

Tamara Coorg, Yavakapadi
Ph 88840 00040
Email coorg@thetamara.com

Plantation Escapes, Sakleshpur
Ph 9880668316

When to go: By Nov-Dec, the red coffee berries are ready to be harvested. Picking season lasts till Feb, before April showers transform estates into blankets of white coffee blossom.

Jet Airways flies to Mangalore and Bangalore


Spice plantations & coconut farms

Kerala’s legendary Spice Coast drew Arab traders and colonial powers to Indian shores for cardamom, cinnamon, clove and pepper, prized for centuries as Black Gold. The rich bounty of crops in coconut, rubber, areca and tapioca, coupled with a thriving tourism scene and wide choice of resorts, make Kerala perfect for a farm experience. Inspired by a mountain tribal dwelling, CGH Group’s Spice Village at Thekkady is a good place for plantation walks. Instead of a staid reception desk, a herbal tea counter dispenses fresh tea brewed with the herb of your choice. Shalimar Spice Garden at Kumily offers Spice Plantation Tours with elephant rides through a plantation with bath, feeding and timber dragging rituals. Experience Syrian Christian hospitality at the Tharakans’ Backwoods estate at Nilambur, home to the world’s oldest teak plantation. Or find out how mussel farming is done on coir at Oyster Opera from Gul Mohammed, a recipient of the Karshaga Shiromani (national award for agri-farming).

Spice Village, Thekkady
Ph 04869 224514, 222315

Shalimar Spice Garden, Kumily
Ph 04869 – 222132, 223232

The Backwoods, Nilambur
Ph 04931 200529, 9447748529

Oyster Opera, Padanna
Ph 0467-227 8101, 94471 76465, 94471 44062
Email oystergul@rediffmail.com

When to go: Kerala in the rains is ideal for a romantic escape or a rejuvenating Ayurveda treatment, though October to March is the main season.

Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode and Cochin


Grape-farming & Vineyard tours

Nashik, hailed as India’s wine capital, brims with wineries and Tasting Rooms that offer an intimate experience through vineyard visits and cuisine tours. Understand the nuances of terroir, a combination of soil, climate, water and rainfall of a particular area that impart a unique character to wine. From the Sanjegaon valley caressed by the Godavari river to the twin hills of Nhera-Ori at Dindori, Nashik is easily the best place in India to become a wine enthusiast under the tutelage of ace sommeliers. If Napa Valley seems far away, get to Nashik for a memorable stay in farmhouses amid trellised vineyards.

Sula Vineyards, Govardhan
Ph 0253 302 7777, 9970090010
Email visitsula@sulawines.com

D’ori Winery, Dindori
Ph 022 65064933
Email winery@chateaudori.com

York Winery, Gangapur
Ph 0253 2230700
Email mail@yorkwinery.com

Vallee de Vin
Ph 02553 204379
Email info@vdvmail.com

Mountain View Wines
Ph 0253 2392369, 9822056881
Email phadtare@mountainwinesindia.com


Mango farms

Maharashtra’s Konkan region is renowned for its delicious hapoos or Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri and Devgad. In mango season, enthusiasts can buy cartons of this yellow goodness and even stay in a mango farm. Homestays like Atithi Parinay, set amidst mango, coconut & banana plantations on the banks of the Kusum, offer ‘eat as much you can’ incentives. After a sweet yet scorching summer the rains revive the Konkan in a blaze of green. At Maachli, the stream gurgling through the organic farm is the highlight of the monsoon and guests must wade through ankle deep water to reach the property! Nandan Farms, a 12-acre plantation growing cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple offers stay in earthy cottages with mud walls and terracotta tiled roofs. Enjoy farm fresh organic food and Malvani cuisine at Dwarka Farmhouse, where Dilip Aklekar uses traditional methods for cultivation through go-mutra (cow urine) and vermi-compost.

Atithi Parinay, Ratnagiri
Ph 02352 240121, 9049981309
Email info@atithiparinay.com

Maachli, Paarule
Ph 9637333284
Email prathamesh.samant@maachli.in

Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi
Ph 94223 74277
Email amrutapadgaonkar@yahoo.in

Dwarka Farmhouse, Sawantwadi
Ph 02363-266267, 98694 10626, 94225 41168
Email dilipaklekar@yahoo.co.in

When to go: Konkan offers something unique in every season – mangoes in summer, waterfalls in monsoon and pristine beaches from October to March.

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa


Organic farmstays
(Sikkim | Arunachal | Nagaland)

Sikkim’s diverse farm stays provide insights into not just local farming practices but also the rich culture of various tribes. Enjoy Lepcha hospitality, food and folklore at Mayal Lyang in Dzongu, with leisurely walks to the Rongyung Chu river for angling. Stay at a heritage farmhouse with a Bhutia family at Yangsum Farm growing seasonal crops and fruits against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga mountain. At Bon Farmhouse in Kewzing learn about organic farming, harvest millet, maize or seasonal vegetables and consume farm fresh milk, butter, curd and cottage cheese. Ziro, in the Lower Subansiri region of Arunachal Pradesh is known for ancient farming techniques of the Apatani tribe. Stay at Abasa Homestay at Siro nearby with State Tourism Award winner Kago Kampu, who grows organic vegetables and uses them inventively in salads and sautés served with chutneys of sunflower seeds and yokhung (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium). In Nagaland, watch Angamis carry out alder farming and terraced rice cultivation at Khonoma and trek to the scenic Dzukou Valley. Or stay in Shiyong village amid Konyaks learning how to milk cows, pluck tea, pick oranges and helping locals harvest rice in season.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS)
Ph 03592-232798, 9733088003
Email ecoss@sikkiminfo.net

Bon Farmhouse, Kewzing
Ph 9735900165, 9547667788

Email bonfarmhouse@gmail.com

Mayal Lyang, Upper Dzongu
Ph 9434446088 Email gyatso@mayallyang.com

Yangsum Heritage Farm, Rinchenpong
Ph 03595-245322, 94341 79029
Email yangsumfarm@yahoo.com

Abasa Homestay, Ziro
Kago Kampu
Ph 03788-225561, 94024 60483

Shiyong Homestay, Mon
Email phejin@gmail.com

Baby’s Homestay, Khonoma
Angulie Meyase
Ph 94360 71046

When to visit: Though October to March is the main tourist season, during monsoons, edibles ferns, wild mushrooms and bamboo shoots are aplenty in July-August.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati and Dibrugarh


Broom farming

Ever wondered where the humble phool jhadu comes from? True to its name, it is the flowery inflorescence of Thysanolaena maxima plant, known simply as Broom grass. Though it grows almost wild across the North East, Meghalaya and Karbi Anglong, its neighbouring district in Assam are leading areas of production. Primarily cultivated on slopes by the Tiwa, Karbi and Khasi communities as a mixed crop, the plant serves as a big cash crop for local farmers. In Meghalaya, head to Mawlynnong, which claims to be Asia’s cleanest village. Stay in a community-run house on stilts made of bamboo and thatch. Village walk down squeaky clean paths lined by flowers and fields of broom grass lead to amazing sights – living root bridges, relics of ancient Khasi tradition and Sky Bridge, a viewpoint overlooking the plains of Bangladesh.

Village Guest House, Mawlynnong
Nakliar Tours, Shillong
Ph 0364 2502420, 9436104844
Email nakliartours@gmail.com

When to go: Meghalaya is good to visit post-monsoon. Harvesting starts from February and continues till March end. Almost 90% of the produce is sold during March and April.


Apple orchard stay
(Himachal Pradesh)

Though India was no stranger to the apple and the Kashmiri Ambri was a popular indigenous variety, Captain Lee and Alexander Coutts were the first to plant English apples in Himachal. But it was an Indianized American Samuel ‘Satyanand’ Stokes who introduced the first apple saplings of the ‘Starking Delicious’ in 1916. Thanedar became one of the first apple plantations in the country and together with Kotgarh, constitutes the orchard region of Himachal Pradesh. Here cherries, strawberries and other fruits abound, processed into juices, jams, preserves and pickles. Stay at Apple Tree Cottage in Kotgarh (73km from Shimla) or the apple orchard inn of Krish Rauni. At Thanedar, India’s apple bowl, stay at Banjara Camps surrounded by terraced fields awash in red…

When to go: Apple harvesting in Himachal Pradesh is from July to October and is at its peak by September. This year has seen a bumper crop.

Apple Tree Cottage, Kotgarh
Ph 9811049847

Banjara Orchard Retreat, Thanedar
Ph 011 2685 5152/3, 2686 1397

Krish Rauni Apple Orchard Inn, Matiana
Ph 01783 – 225225, 9316115261, 9569115261
Email krishrauni@gmail.com http://www.krishrauniresort.in

When to go: Apple harvesting in Himachal is from July to October with August-September forming the peak season.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Chandigarh.


Sea-buckthorn farming

Sea-buckthorn first stormed the market as a wunderdrink called Leh Berry developed by DRDO for the Indian army combating Ladakh’s extreme climate. The orange berry possesses a unique mix of minerals, vitamins and amino acids with anti-cancer and anti-ageing properties. In Spiti’s desolate landscape, sea-buckthorn or tsirku (Hippophae rhamnoides) grew wild along riverbanks, with locals exploiting the shrub for fences and firewood. Spiti Sea-buckthorn Society, aided by ‘Nono’ Sonam Angdui, the King of Spiti and Spiti Ecosphere, empowered villagers to harvest the berry through viable conservation means. The community initiative currently has 33 groups from 27 villages with over 500 members producing jam and juice concentrates, available under the brand name Tsering (‘blessings for a long life’ in Tibetan). Dried berry peels are shredded into rejuvenative tsirku tea. Watch villagers grow barley and pea, while staying at India’s loftiest Himalayan homestays in traditional mud-brick homes overlooking snowy peaks. Explore fossil sanctuaries and go on yak safaris on the Spiti Left Bank trek, visiting high-altitude villages like Langza, Demul, Lhalung, Dhankar (Spiti’s old capital) and Komik, the highest inhabited village in Asia.

Ecosphere, Spiti
Ph 01906-222652, 98994 92417, 94182 07750

When to go: Like Ladakh, Spiti has a cold, harsh desert environment, best suited for a visit during the main tourist season from May-October.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Chandigarh


Fruit orchards & Bio-tourism

Snow clad peaks, forests of deodar, buraansh (rhododendron), oak and pine and orchard farms surrounded by untamed wilderness, Uttarakhand embraces you with the warmth of rustic mountain hospitality. Its ecologically sustainable model for Bio-tourism spreads across 13 districts covering 1200 Bio Villages. At Syath, a model village near Nainital, families trained in hospitality provide pahadi meals in village homes, arrange visits to watermills and waterfalls, with hands-on activities like organic farming techniques, milking cows, composting or fieldwork. Himalayan Village at Sonapani near Mukteshwar is a 20-acre organic farm growing apricots, apples, plum, peaches, vegetables and pulses. At Darbar Resort, remnants of the 1815 Purana Darbar palace in old Tehri have been recycled into its architecture. Visit an Angora rabbit farm and Pant Nagar Agriculture University at Ranichori, 3km away. At Ranikhet, try Ayurvedic healing in colonial comfort at Holm Farm or buy ‘Kumaoni’ fair trade products from Umang like Himkhadya (organic grain and nuts), hand-knitted woollens, preserves, pickles and natural honey in eucalyptus, sunflower or lychee flavours.

Holm Farm Heritage, Ranikhet
Ph  9411113263/4 Email holmfarm@gmail.com

Darbar Hotel & Resorts Organic, Chamba
Ph 01376 252660, 9412953297, 9837034329

Himalayan Village, Sonapani
Ph 8006300100

Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board, Dehradun
Ph 0135 2760770 Email uocb_dehradun@yahoo.co.uk

Umang Naini Shop, Kalika
Ph 05966 240 430
Email umang@grassrootsindia.com

When to go: Rhododendron (buraansh) blooms in Feb-March, though in plum orchards, picking is on till September.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine.