The first two Sundays of 2013 were spent in search of our (the Indian) end of the “old tea horse road” – a story that will now be covered by the CCTV’s “Tea Road” project. This took me to Daling Fort on the silk route leading from Lhasa to Chittagong port, along which lie the Damsang, Samabeong, Fagu, and Ambiok tea estates, which catered to the tea needs of Tibet in those years when the economics of bringing teas from the far-off lands of Sichuan and Yunnan were prohibitive, making Kalimpong the thriving trading post through Jelep La and Nathu La.
This was before Robert Fortune brought tea from China to be planted from Dehradun to Darjeeling in the mid-1800s and before Robert Bruce was engaged in Assam in the early 1800s. Over the years, everyone wrote a tea history that best served their needs. We are rewriting the history of tea in India with the help of Dan Robertson and Dan Bolton. More dust has to be cleaned from the volumes of history before the full facts are unearthed and come into focus. Barbara Duferene took me to the woman who owns Tibet Tea Company in Ya’an, who gave me a book that describes this disputed history.
Formerly, Britain did not produce tea, nor did the British drink tea. In the twenty-sixth year of the Wanli Reign of the Ming Dynasty (1606 A.D.), a merchant ship belonging to the British East India Company sailed from Java to Macao. Among the goods loaded on this ship were some Chinese teas. This event led to the long and well-known history of the British tea trade and ultimately to tea production in British India. Then, in the twenty-first year of the Daoguang Reign (1841 A.D.), the British East India Company attempted to open the Tibetan tea market.
In 1828, Captain Lloyd from Britain first visited Darjeeling, but it was not until 1851 that the tea industry started, thanks to Dr. Donohue from Phallodhi, who begun what is today’s Longview tea estate in the foothills opposite Panighata, which was then the entry point to the Nepal tract of Darjeeling.
The tea destined for Tibet from the Indian side was from Daling and Damsang, the entry points to the Bhutan tract of Darjeeling, which were along the old silk route and are still used by Indian troops for training in the mountain warfare zone.
As we research further into the history of tea in this region, I will share more.