The British brought tea to India (or started planting tea in India) no earlier than 1828, but tea has a history as long as 5,000 years, so certainly tea traveled in and around India for a long time, although there are very few historical records of tea or its movement in India.
I started planting tea in and around Bihar in 1989, an area declared a non-traditional tea-growing region in 1999 by the Indian Tea Board, and traveled in the upper reaches of an area called “Purbanchal” (northeast of Bihar), where the Kosi River, also termed the “Curse of Bihar,” has its flood plain. This flood plain is like a very large marsh through which there has been very little organized movement of humans or goods. Whatever was built by the British was destroyed by a massive earthquake around 1916, rendering the area backward and prone to criminal activity.
Only seldom did passersby travel to and from Yunnan via this route, which served as a link between the Sindhu Valley civilization and the Kingdoms of Shan – areas dominated by the mongoloid tribes (Birat, Kirat, Kichak, Mech, Koch, Bodo, Dhimal, Khasi, Mishing, Ahom, Naga, Kachin, Bai, Dai, Naxi, Hui, Bulongs, and so on). The name Yin du (also known as Indu or Hindu) was etched in the memories of people over these long years. Written and spoken languages, based on Pali and Devanagari, were transformed and captured in the annals of history and are still written over the pillars in the Dehong prefecture of Yunnan.
My mind flies over these roads when I view them on Google Earth, travel on them, and take photographs of them. My hope is that my words inspire you to learn more about the ancient tea roads.
I look forward to visiting these areas upon my visit to India. I wonder when this area will become inhabited, given the crowded conditions around the country. Perhaps the day will come.
Dear Rajiv Lochan,
Actually, it is an informative account of Tea Plantations in Bihar State in India with some historical facts. I’m from Sri Lanka and had been working in the Tea Research Institute (TRI) of my country attached to Plants Propagation and Plants Breeding division for almost 12 years. I’m still interested in Tea Nursery Management because the nursery is the cradle of any crop concerned. I was able to work with a number of research projects based on the Development of Improved Clonal Materials/Varieties for the expanding tea industry in my country.
According to history, around 1834, the British started tea cultivation in India with some tea plants, experts and labour from China. It is said that this initial project was failed at a latter phase due to some other reasons. However, it was again started after 1853 with the help of Mr. Robert Fortune who was a Botanist and was good at Chinese dialects. It says that he spent in China for about 4 years and learned on how to cultivate tea on large scale and returned to India with nearly 20,000 plants and some Chinese experts.
The year 1839 was a historical marker for the tea industry in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) because the first legitimate batch of seeds was brought to Sri Lanka from India and planted at the Royal Botanic Garden, Peradeniya in Kandy. Conversely, the tea on commercial scale plantation was begun by a Scottish planter, James Taylor, on 19 acres of land on Loolecondera Estate, Hewaheta in Kandy.
Sri Lanka is a small island of the extent of around 65,610 Km2 in the India Ocean with diverse eco systems, so tea could be grown well in different parts of the country such as up country, mid country and low country. The rain fall plays a leading role in connection to tea industry in Sri Lanka, so the drought is the evil factor on this matter. There are a variety of well improved Clonal tea series introduced by the TRI for the interest of tea industry in Sri Lanka.
Thanks Bimal for the interesting historical records. Sometimes I try to perceive how this area would have been had the tea was not planted here and the sorry state of affair in the area still unplanted with tea where poor farmer are selling top soil of their fields for 10 dollars a truck load to brick kilns – these soils are clay – good for making bricks but still better for growing tea because of their water retention capacity. Indian Tea Board has declared them non-conventional tea growing area and financial supports are assured but lack of awareness keeps the certain prosperity miles away. I wish people realise the potential before a permanent damage is done.