Fr. Leslie Ranger was a Swiss settler in Hili town in central Nepal who married a Gurung woman and settled in the Pedong area of Kalimpong, from which the Nathu la pass to Tibet is visible and through which one end of the Ancient Tea Horse trail terminates in India and Bhutan. Since the distance from Pu’er in Yunnan to Ya’an in Sichuan was much longer than from Kalimpong to Lahsa, it was much more economical to produce and supply teas in Pedong.
Thus was born the experimental Damsang tea estate on 25 acres of land, complete with a tea factory, residential quarters, and a church. The compressed ball tea manufactured there was to be supplied to the Tibetan tea markets, from which mules brought back wool for this side of the Himalayas. Later the Samabeong tea estate was opened up at Lava, which grew to be a bigger garden.
During the Gorkhaland agitation of 1988, the Damsang tea garden was ravaged, tea was uprooted, and the factory and church were burnt. Now only a building stands, which Fr. Peter Ranger, Fr. Leslie Ranger’s grandson, converted into a school. Nearby, Jimmy Ranger, another grandson of Fr. Leslie Ranger, lived in a small cottage and narrated the stories of the unwritten history of the family estate. His father and other five brothers – Richard, Charlie, Samuel, Fredrick, and Peter Ranger – ran the estate and later sold off the vacant lands.
Fr. Leslie Ranger died in 1933 and “Superintendent of Bengal Tea Company” is inscribed on his tomb, but many other parts of the story have been spun together by word of mouth.
Dan Robertson and I visited this area on December 21, 2011, after the Indian Tea Forum, which dovetailed nicely with the earlier information I had collected from Barbara Dufrene, who introduced me to the owners of the Ya’an Tea Company on the other side of the Himalayas. They, in turn, presented me with a book published by their company in English, which recounts the details of tea being planted on the other end of Ancient Tea Horse trail.
Through T Ching, I would like to open a dialogue to gather more and more details and history of the establishment of the tea industry on the road from Pedong to Xishuangbanna from those of you who are interested in the history and geography of tea.