Indian Tales

Click on the title of the article you want to read

Amlan Dutta
Lord of the Leaf
A Job opportunity in Africa

Trouble for pluckers as machine plucking arrives

Horse Shoe makers

Driving in India
How Assam's Tea is being affected by Global Warming
Tea Industry News from The Deputy Chairman of the Tea Board
Shillong Choir

121st ABITA Annual meeting Souvenir

History of River Steamers
Shaw Football Trophy at Tyroon T E.
Life in a Tea Plantation
Ambassador Car

Tea Drinking habits of the tribes of Assam

The Assam Bengal Cruise by Aline Dobbie
News Cuttings
For all the tea in China
Project to bring the web to poor villages
Cats inJeypore-Dehing Forest

Digboi Diary
The (last) year of the Tiger  Press release
Trail of the unexpected
Pictures of Calcutta at night - Click Here

  January 1 2012

Amlan Dutta-

sent this message and hopes to have contact with old friends and fellow planters from yesteryear

I joined this industry back in the year 1981 while persuing my post graduation higher studies in Accounts and ultimately I fell in love with the this industry.After this long journey, at this moment posted in the corporate in a city but still I cannot ignore the "call of the greens" and in any opportune moment I take up the call of the mother nature which I still enjoy with my open heart.

Joined New Glenco Tea Estate on March03,1981 worked till March 1984.

Joined Octavius Steel in Hattikhira on March 23,1984, transferred to Dalmore T.E in 1986,in 1987 was called back to Hattikhira to take up a massive planting programme and finally again transferred to Dalmore T.E on & from 03 November 1991.

In 1993 April, Iwas promoted and transferred to Dalsingpara T.T as secondman in command. 

Left Octavius on 4th January 1997 and joined another flagship company and my present employer Andrew Yule & Co.Ltd in New Dooars T.E 

Promoted and tranferred to upper Assam garden of AYCL in 2002,worked as a Manager till 2008 and transferred to H.O at Kolkata in present assignment.

I would love to hear from my old coligs and wish everyone of this industry "A VERY HAPPY & PROSPEROUS 2012"       

-- Amlan Dutta


DECEMBER 10 2011


We care grateful to Martin Holl for finding this article from 1996 and also helping to obtain permission to show it on this web site


Lord Of The Leaf

Teddy Young, Darjeeling's last English tea planter, knew his destiny was in tea leaves

Sunil Sethi , T: Sunil Sethi; , Arrangement , The Telegraph Magazine , London

KOI hai?" booms the lonely English voice on the verandah, and as if by magic two silent Gurkhas appear, one to set up the wicker tea table, the other hovering discreetly behind with the tea tray. We are on the spur of a hill, 4,500ft up in the highlands of the eastern Himalayas, and about to taste the freshest, purest Darjeeling in the world. Beyond the rows of potted geraniums and wild orchids, and the lawn with its goldfish pond, grow the tea bushes, tightly packed on vast hillsides that dissolve into magnificent views of snowcapped mountains.

Without further ceremony the pale brew is poured into plain china cups, through a silver strainer and from a teapot in a bright, hand-knitted cosy. It looks as cheerfully reassuring as a matronly aunt in an old dressing gown-only its white handle, spout and lid are exposed. "Milk?" asks Teddy Young, jug poised over the cups; and for just that flicker of an instant, as one blue eye under a cocked eyebrow frames the query, you know you are being judged.

Like the split-second decision that could save you from falling off a mountain, your answer is important. "Yes, please. Just adrop." Literally a drop or two-any more would ruin the flavour-and you have passed the tea planter's test. All is friendly chatter after that, and for not falling off the treacherous mountain you are rewarded with a thin Arrowroot biscuit.

Henry Harold Edward Young is Darjeeling's last English tea planter. He embodies a long tradition of bachelor tea estate managers and also claims descent from the pioneer planters of the 1850s who first brought the tea leaf to Darjeeling from China. They were a motley crew of English civilians, German missionaries and assorted adventurers who discovered that a combination of Himalayan soil, altitude and climate could produce tea of a delicacy like no other. Ever since, 100-per cent Darjeeling has been the connoisseur's chosen brew. At tea auctions worldwide, it still fetches twice the price of teas from anywhere else.

'Mr Teddy' they call him back in town, but should you get lost in one of the bone-rattling four-wheel-drives that negotiate the perilous slopes of sprawling tea estates, and stop to ask in villages that seem glued to steep inclines, you may draw a blank. Try again-"Mr Teddy? English? Mr Young"-before smiles of recognition break out. "Ah, Jung," they say, "Jung Sahib," as if you had got the name of a famous peak wrong, and point the way to Tum Song plantation, 22 km south-east of Darjeeling.

In and around the district or in the wake of the toy train that puffs up from the plains, the names of the great tea estates roll magically off the tongue, a heady concoction of indigenous, tribal and old English: Rangaroon, Margaret's Hope, Makaibari, Bannock burn, Lebong, Glenburn and Liza Hill. In the local dialect the words Tum Song, Teddy Young's estate, mean 'meeting place'. But although Young has worked on plantations for as long as the locals can remember, he does not own the estate.

Most of the land on which quality Darjeeling grows is owned by the Government and much of it is leased to half-a-dozen big companies in Calcutta. Corporate men and professional tasters in the big city control production and pronounce on quality: they set prices at weekly auctions, pay bills and account to shareholders. But up on the mountain slopes where the tea grows, the manager-planter is king.

Teddy Young is lord of the leaf on 350 acres that cover several hillsides and six villages with a population of 1,500. He has a household staff of eight-a housekeeper, driver, cook, a couple of bearers and three gardeners. The plantation employs 480 people, most of them women pluckers whose grandmothers lived and worked on the same estate. Like all planters, he is directly responsible for their welfare-routine visits to the in-house creche and dispensary and regular tussles with the labour unions. The mornings are taken up visiting far-flung corners of the estate-he walks up to 10 miles a day. He also runs the tea factory, a stone's throw from his house, where every day the freshly plucked leaf is dried in 'withering troughs', then crushed, graded and sorted before being packed in tea chests.

Six to 12 cups with a spoonful of the latest production are laid out on a factory table for inspection each morning. Hot water is added before Young takes a mouthful from each cup. Swilling it around his palate for a few seconds, he pauses to make a brief comment in Nepali before passing on to the next cup of Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. "I'm not a professional tea taster," he says modestly. "I taste for faults in manufacture. Planters just pick up the taste on the job."

 Teddy Young is custodian of the 100-year-old planter's bungalow. It's a classic colonial structure-corrugated iron painted blue, 20 ft-deep verandahs laid out with planter's chairs, and floorboards and furniture of smooth-textured magnolia wood. On other estates, many of the old bungalows have fallen to ruin or been hideously refurbished, but Young has lovingly restored the house and its gar-den since taking charge of the plantation in 1982.

On either side of the hall are a large sitting-room and dining-room. Like the teapot with its crocheted teacosy, they are replete with reminders of three generations of middle-class life in Anglo-India: lace doilies, long-playing records and ducks on the wall. The rooms look out on a portico draped in clematis, baskets dripping with fuchsia, banks of Michaelmas daisies and a rose garden planted around a stone bird-bath. It could be the retirement abode of an elderly colonial near Bourne mouth-except for the mountains that rise to over 28,000 ft, and the voices of the women among the bushes, long baskets strapped to their foreheads, who chatter and sing as they pick the tea.

But ascend the magnolia-wood staircase to the upper floor, and the mood changes. There are three bedrooms and pictures of Winston Churchill on the landing. ('My mother thought quite a lot of him.') Young's quarters are on the left but in the main bedroom, his mother's, a pale light streams through the window, picking out details amid the lived-in-disorder: her spectacle case among letters strewn on the writing desk, a silver hairbrush and bottle of cologne on the dressing table and alligator-skin suitcases piled high in the corner. The mantelpiece is crowded, among family photographs, with pictures of British royalty: a large colour print of a youthful Queen Elizabeth crowns the arrangement. By his mother's bedside stands a single fresh rose in a vase. On the desk the calendar has not been changed since the day she died: December 5, 1985. The room is kept exactly as she left it, a fond memorial by a devoted son. Its contents are the chronicle of an Englishwoman who was born on one Darjeeling tea plantation and died on another.

YOUNG, now 72, has been 'in tea' since 1948. His mother, Margaret Dominy, was born on Makaibari, a famous tea estate a few hours' drive away. Her father came from Dorset to work as a planter in the last century when the tea estates were first opening. "In my grandfather's time the tea families used to come up to Darjeeling from Calcutta on bullock carts. It took them three months. When my mother was growing up they rode up from the plains, camping on the way, and it took a night and a day." His mother went to the convent in Darjeeling and later trained as a nurse in Calcutta. There she met Lt H.A. Young, a physician attached to the jail, whom she married in 1920. After retirement, he became a plantation doctor and the Youngs bought a house in Kurseong, on the way to Darjeeling.

Teddy, their only child, went to boarding school in Simla, the summer capital of the Raj, and briefly to King's School in Canterbury during the Second World War. "My father became worried because the situation in Britain was critical and my parents sent back for me. It was a very hazardous return journey by ship. On two occasions we were turned back in the Channel because we were chased by submarines. Finally, we made our way to India in a convoy. It was the most exciting part of my first trip abroad." Back in Darjeeling, the war meant the town was transformed into a big holiday home for troops stationed in eastern India during the Burma campaign. There were balls, shooting parties and tea dances. As Darjeeling was the hill resort nearest to Calcutta, "club life used to be very big," says Young. "It made up for the lonely plantation life."

By this time, he had joined as an assistant manager on Singell, a tea estate close to the one on which his mother was born. He started on a salary which, at today's value, would be worth around Rs 500 a month. Junior managers were not encouraged to marry. "If you got married during your first contract, you lost your job." Wedded to the plantation instead, he rose to the position of manager and lived at Singell for 20 years. It was a solitary life, with gruelling hours of work and low social standing in the rigid pecking order that governed colonial society. "Planters were absolutely nowhere," admits Young bluntly. "We were at the bottom of the caste heap, below the boxwallahs, the commercial men in Calcutta."

Still, tea life had its compensations. Most of it was led outdoors in a wonderful mountain setting. Once a month there would be uproarious gambling and drinking weekends at the Planter's Club, then an all-male residential preserve. And, once a year, in the cold weather, came the Knight Errants Ball, an event hosted by bachelor planters, each carrying his own colours and banners. "The idea was for single men to return the hospitality of Darjeeling society. It used to be quite a night of chivalry."

He returned to England only once, for a few months in 1957, when his parents decided to go back. A chapter in Indian life had closed. Many European plantation owners had sold out their interests since independence and the tea business was undergoing swift changes brought on by Indian owners. While Young was in England his father died. He returned to India although his mother lingered on for some time. But, rootless in England, she soon rejoined her son. "There was no point," he says dryly, "in her staying on."

 It was a time for hard decisions at Singell, the plantation he loved most and where he spent the best years of his life. Matters were brought to a head by his new masters, impatient with the old style of functioning. It is a phase of his life he would rather not talk about, except to say, "It was most upsetting-they wanted someone on a cheaper salary."

Darjeeling's old managers had been rooted in the soil; they were linked to the pioneer planters and closely connected to each other through business or by marriage. Plantation labour accepted them as heaven-sent patriarchs. Tea was more than an industry, it was a way of life. The new plantation owners were often wealthy businessmen who cut costs, demanded quick profits and operated long-distance. The new planters were their trusted men, with no particular sentiment for the place or old-school-tie connections. They tended to be young, brash and ruthless in dealing with militant left-wing labour unions.

For a while, Young managed a plantation owned by a Nepali princess. Then, in 1973, he was asked by a school friend, the son of the King of Sikkim, to plant a new tea estate on his land at Temi. Planting tea in the hills is a daunting task-new bushes can take up to seven years to mature because of the weather and terrain. For nine years, mother and son struggled under primitive conditions in the wilds of Sikkim. The house was ramshackle, there was no electricity and few amenities. Away from Darjeeling they felt "marooned". But today, the estate he planted produces some of the finest tea in the region. In 1982 came the opportunity to run Tum Song, an old and established estate. It was a manageable sort of place, remote but well run, owned by a non-interfering business family and smaller than the average-sized Darjeeling plantation. Gradually he has built up its reputation.

'Jung Sahib' has a tendency to burst into fluent Nepali between moody silences. He mouths only the briefest of answers to pointed questions: "Aren't you lonely?", "Do you keep in touch with your folks in England?" or "Aren't the roads around here dangerous?". He replies: "A planter's life is usually lonely", "Yes, I keep in touch" and "We lost two of our boys this monsoon when the road was washed out".

Twice a week he goes into town. Sometimes, if he has an hour to spare between chores, he will walk the short distance to the Windamere Hotel on Observatory Hill. He takes tea there either in Daisy's Music Room or the Bearpark's Parlour, depending on where Miss Kanade from Calcutta is playing Bach and Gershwin for the entertainment of guests.

If Lewis Carroll were to invent a hotel it would be the Windamere-he would probably spell it as such. It is Darjeeling's best-known secret, and runs higgledy-piggledy up a small hill amid flowering terraces and freshly painted cottages named Betty Tumilty, The Snuggery and Miss Twenty men. As a jewel of the Raj, it makes a virtue-and lots of money-of being a quixotic fantasy. There is no television and no room service. But there are hot-water bottles and roaring coal fires in the rooms, and fresh scones and onion tart for tea.

Today, when Teddy Young drops in, it is that fleeting hour between tea and dinner. Robert, the barman, has drawn the curtains with a long pole against the bleary Himalayan mists. In a quiet corner sits Sheila Crouchen, lately retired to County Galway in Ireland. Mrs Crouchen was born in Darjeeling. Her mother's family owned several tea estates and she grew up on Rangaroon. She hasn't been to India since they left in the early 1940s nor spent a night in a hotel in 50 years. Now she is at the Windamere for six weeks. "I said to my boys, 'It's my last fling. I want to see it all once again'." She has seen Rangaroon, met old acquaintances, been bitten by a mad dog in the bazaar and will see the TajMahal before going home.

Tonight, as she passes old photographs around from personal albums, she comes up trumps. Many of the black-and-white snapshots have turned sepia, but like some twining umbilical cord they connect the past with the present. Scenes of weekend tennis parties on tea estates, family groups with servants and encampments on the way to Darjeeling. Teddy Young is transfixed.

"That's my Uncle Fred with his new car. It was the first car in Darjeeling," she says.
"Yes, wasn't he one of the Kingsleys? Didn't they own Liza Hill?"
"Oh, you remember the Kingsleys! My grandmother was a Kingsley...And that's King George VI's coronation procession in the bazaar. Dad mounted the Indian contingent for it in 1938."
"What a mess the monarchy is making now. Terrible, don't you think?"
"But tell me, Mr Young, have you come to your last plantation?" "Good heavens, yes. Absolutely."

August 14 2011

We are indebted to Jasbir for this rather sad dead bird

 Young Crested Hawk Eagle 
Here  are two pictures of a young Crested Hawk Eagle taken at 8.10am on 7th August 2011 outside the Borghat Bungalow in Salonah Tea Estate. The boys who were carrying it said it had been electrocuted

May 27 2011

An opportunity for a Planter in Africa

A friend of Jasbir's has been in contact and asked Jasbir if he could help by doing a little head hunting for a "Tea" job in Rwanda. The general description is below. For further in formation please contact Jasbir direct at

 "We are looking for an Assistant Deputy General Manager (in India he would be designated a Assistant Manager) in the age group of 26 to 30 years, with 6 to 8 years experience in tea plantations - factory experience with some engineering capability will be an advantage. Good family background and public school education will help. Life in Rwanda is quiet and at times lonely - even quieter than the Corner and Cachar of the 1960's.

Salary, negotiable and commensurate with experience, the candidate should indicate expected net salary.


Leave travel expenses: -  Return economy class airfare for him, his wife and children.

Leave :- Contract will be for five years. First three years 4 weeks, 4th & 5th year 4 weeks plus 1 week mid break leave - no travel allowance for mid break leave. Annual leave and mid break leave can't be combined and have to be taken separately. From 6th year i.e. second contract 4 weeks annual leave plus 2 weeks mid break leave.

Transport :- Company maintained and fueled vehicle - Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.

Medical :- Medical Insurance cover will be taken.

Accommodation :- Fully furnished accommodation - inclusive of all domestic appliances i.e. cooking range, washing machine, refrigerator, microwave oven, mixer, toaster, crockery, cutlery, electric iron, TV, towels, linen, blankets etc. will be provided. The selected candidate will only have to carry his and his family's clothes.

Servants:-  One maid, one gardener and one night guard will be provided.

Club membership:- Depending on his choice of sporting activity member ship to either the Golf Club or Tennis Club in Kigali will be paid for.

Children's education:- Education  for up to two children will be paid for - school going up to 8 years age; school in Kigali (there are good schools in Kigali) school going from 9 years to the age of  18 years boarding school in India. 

Pension benefits:- As per Rwanda law - this will be explained in detail to the selected candidate."

 April 2 2011

My thanks to John Gill for forwarding this item from the Times of London 

From Saturday March 26 2011 --- The Times


Trouble brewing in nation's tea

 gardens as machines move in

By Robin Pagnamenta. Dibrugarh

Beneath a brilliant Assam sky, a dozen women dressed in brightly coloured saris silently pluck handfuls of leaves amid an ocean of emerald green tea bushes. It is a timeless scene---- but one which is about to change.

"It was bound to come" says Anil Pandit, a veteran planter who oversees 23 tea gardens spread across lush hills a few miles from the border with Burma.

     In the heartland of the Indian tea industry, nearly two centuries after the first bushes were cultivated  bt British planters near the Brahmaputra River, the million strong army of tea pluckers is under threat. 


The world's largest tea producer, Macleod Russel, is piloting the use of plucking tea machines  at some of its 56 gardens in Assam, where 70% of India's annual crop of 980,000 tonnes is produced. From 2012, the 142-year-old Calcutta based company plans to roll them out across India.


     "We will have to do it gradually" says Mr Pandit, who travels with armed guards to protect against the threat of kidnapin the still restive corner of northeast India.

     The arrival of noisy, petrol guzzling plucking machines on the genteel slopes of Assam's 2000 tea gardens is a huge event. In this conservative, paternalistic industry little has changed since 1904when Lord Curzon visited, but there are now fierce commercial pressures. A skilled plucker can pick 45 kg of leaves in an eight-hour shift but a machine can pick five times as much.

     Traditional planters also face competition for labour from industries such as oil and illegal mining.

     Macleod Russel, whose customers include Unilever. The owner of PG Tips, and Taylors of Harrogate, pays its tea pluckers 72 rupees per day-a little over £1.  A bag of illegally mined coal can fetch 400 rupees and takes just a few hours to collect. The plantations also offer accommodation, healthcare, subsidized food and access to schools and sports clubs. "All of that has become a burden " says Mr Pandit. This, and certification schemes such as the Rainforests Alliance, can add 20% to the overall cost of producing tea.

     The hand-operated machines are powered by 50cc engines worn like a back-pack and cost about £500. In Assam there has been an explosion of tea production by small-scale growers who often pay little tax, and imports from Kenya and Malawi where machines are widely used. "Our overheads are too high. In the end it may be that the small fish may eat the big fish" Mr Pandit says.

     However, until the technology improves, manual plucking is unlikely to vanish. "They can't pluck as carefully as a human yet," he says.

February 26 2011

This is from The Calcutta Telegraph of february 22 2011

Assam limps for want of horseshoe-makers- Equestrian federation sends two persons each from Dibrugarh & Manipur to Meerut to learn the ropes
Participants race towards the finish line at Jorhat Gymkhana Club on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos

Jorhat, Feb. 22: For want of a shoe, equestrianism is lost.

The Equestrian Federation of Assam has identified dearth of horseshoe-makers as one of the primary reasons why horse-riding and equestrian sport are suffering in the region.

Manoj Jalan, director of Jalan Industries, Dibrugarh, and the man credited to be behind the setting up of the federation in the mid-nineties, told The Telegraph that they had recently sent four persons from the region to be trained at Meerut in horseshoe-making.

"Every year, we send people to be trained in this art as horseshoe-making is the biggest requirement if horse-riding and equestrian sports is to flourish here," Jalan said. "This is an art and a shoesmith requires finesse and skill in order to fit a horseshoe perfectly. Each individual hoof has to be studied and measured carefully to ensure that the nails do not go in too deeply or are hammered in askew in order to ensure that the horse is comfortable and performs ably," he said.

Two persons from Manipur and two from Dibrugarh have been sent for the three-month training course.

Assam has a particular breed of horses known as the Mising ponies while in Manipur, there exists another breed known as the Manipuri ponies, which are used for polo.The Mising ponies, which jockeys ride with great skill in Jorhat races, are shoe-less.

"The ponies are used extensively in agriculture, for pulling carts and travelling short distances. However, as they never have shoes, this art is lacking in the region and that is why it is difficult to keep good breed horses for equestrian sport as well," Jalan said.

He said the only place where horses were shoed were in the army cantonments here. However, they do not allow shoeing of civilian horses and hence, the federation was trying to build a base of its own by sending people from the region to learn the craft in Meerut.

Siddhartha Sharma, secretary of the federation, said high cost of stabling horses and lack of trainers were some of the other reasons why horse-riding has not been taken up in a big way.

"In Assam, till date, only two schools, Assam Valley School in Tezpur and Numaligarh Delhi Public School, are training children in horse-riding. Other schools are avoiding this because of the high cost of stabling," Sharma said.

He said the federation, which has 13 horses of its own, was committed to promoting equestrianism in the region and taught horse-riding free of cost to children in Dibrugarh.

"We assisted the two schools to teach riding and our coach, Brig. (retd) K.S. Rao, has tied up with the schools to train coaches there as well," he said.

The federation has also organised a number of equestrian events at the national and international levels.




HAPPY NEW YEAR and here is some interesting view point.
 Dear friends

for those who are going to drive in chennai, Mumbai and in India elsewhere, here is a note from a Dutchnational on Indian driving:

Driving in style in India : A marvellous spoof!
Driving in India - For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a  vehicle is only marginally safer. Indian road rules broadly operate within the  domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance  company. The hints are as follows:

Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is "both".  Basically  you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go  to  the right, unless that is also occupied.

Then proceed by occupying the next  available gap, as in chess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction,  and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional  fatality. Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the intended direction.

Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation,  the other drivers are not in any better position. Don't stop  at  pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road.  You  may do  so only If you enjoy being bumped in the back.

Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across,  but then, let us not talk ill of the dead. Blowing your horn is not a sign of  protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment,  frustration,  romance or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar.

Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during  traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for the  rain water to recede when over-ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking colored lights  and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of  happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at break-neck  speed, seeking  contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi):
The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion  engine  that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric  calculations,  children are folded and packed into these auto-rickshaws until some children in  the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round, so those minor  collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of   motion  enroute to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Benhur, and are licensed to irritate.


The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an  electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at  break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride,  the moped  drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under  heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes and during  rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off  other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans  dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface  tension.  As drivers get paid for overload (so many rupees per kg of passenger), no questions  are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three  passengers.

One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in   their   otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one  direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in  two  directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if  you are the fussy type. Least I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also.

Rash  and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing  a    "speed breaker"; two for each house.  This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left untarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience (for  those with  the mental makeup of Chenghis Khan).  In a way,it is like playing Russian   roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded.  What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed  record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes. Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional  boulders. 

Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only  dim thing  in the truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack  (alcohol) he has had at the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little  more than a  naught.

Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India, and are licensed  to kill.  Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a ruck approaching you with  a single   light on, usually the left one.  It could be the right one,  but never  get too  close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously.  Of course, all this occurs at night, on the trunk roads. During the daytime,  trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show any  signal.   (And you must watch for the absent signals; they are the greater   threat).Only,  you will often observe that the cleaner who sits next to the driver, will project  his hand and wave hysterically.

This is definitely not to be construed as a  signal for a left turn. The waving is just an statement of physical relief on a hot day. If, after all this, you still want to drive in India, have  your lessons  between 11 pm and 4 am - when the police have gone home and - The citizen is then free to enjoy the 'Freedom of Speed' enshrined in our  constitution.  Having   said all this, isn't it true that the accident rate and related deaths are  less  in India compared to US or other countries!?  (by a dutch national who spent two years in Hyderabad.)


January 3 2011

From Todays Independent

How Assam's tea is beginning to feel the strain of global warming

By Hanna Ingber Win

Monday, 3 January 2011

Women pluck tea leaves at a tea garden at Jorhat, in the Indian state of Assam

Women pluck tea leaves at a tea garden at Jorhat, in the Indian state of Assam

Lush green tea plantations, so bright they often look fluorescent, blanket the hills of Assam in northeastern India. Women plucking the leaves in black aprons with large baskets on their backs dot the gardens that contribute to India's production of nearly a third of the world's tea. But this picturesque industry that the British began in the early 19th-century faces a very modern problem: climate change.

Researchers and planters worry that a rise in temperatures and change in rainfall patterns are threatening the production and quality of Assam's famous tea. About 850 tea gardens in Assam produce 55 percent of India's tea, but crop yields are decreasing and amid fears of a correlation with environmental change. Production in the state fell from 564,000 tons in 2007 to 487,000 tons in 2009, and the crop was estimated to have fallen to 460,000 tons in 2010, according to the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association. "Climate changing is definitely happening," said Mridul Hazarika, the director of the Tea Research Association, which is conducting studies on how the changes are hitting tea production. "It is affecting the tea gardens in a number of ways."

In the tea-growing areas of Assam, average temperatures have risen 2C and rainfall has fallen by more than a fifth in the past 80 years. Globally, 2010 was the hottest year on record, according to temperature readings by Nasa's Goddard Institute of Space Studies. An increase in temperatures affects the ability of the plant to grow, Hazarika said.

Tea planters have also noticed that the change in winter temperatures has affected the dormancy period of their plants. Prabhat Bezboruah, a tea planter based in Jorhat, Assam, said that 10 years ago winter temperatures dropped to around 4C or 5C, but the temperature in his region this winter has not gone below 9C. "We're used to seeing everything shut down," he said. "Now what's happening is we're not getting a dormancy. There is still some leaf on the bush."

Mr Bezboruah said the planters must wait and see what result this will have on next year's crop. Another environmental problem for the gardens has been an increase in erratic weather. Weather extremes cause additional stress to the plants, which they have not previously had to deal with, Mr Hazarika said. This stress could affect the bushes' production levels.

April and May saw an unusually high rainfall in the tea-growing areas. The wet and humid conditions led to an explosion in the population of a tropical plant pest.

"When there is a lot of rain and a lot of dampness, certain kinds of insects thrive in tea," said Dhiraj Kakati, the secretary of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association. He added that no conclusive evidence as of yet has proven that climate change caused this high rainfall or production loss.

Many tea gardens suffered a huge loss from these pests because they did not use aggressive methods to kill the insects. The gardens export their crops and did not use pesticides that are restricted because of environmental concerns, Kakati said.

In addition to the indirect impact on the plants via the pests, last year's excessive rainfall directly hurt the crops because it led to more hours of overcast skies and less sunlight and oxygen, according to Mr Hazarika. His organisation's research found that Assam experienced an average of an hour less of sunshine each day during this past growing season.

There is also a fear among researchers and planters that environmental changes will affect the quality of the tea by weakening its powerful taste.

"We are indeed concerned," Rajib Barooah, another tea planter in Jorhat, told the Associated Press. "Assam tea's strong flavour is its hallmark."


 December 29 2010

This again is thanks to Shamol Ghosal 

Tea Industry News: Interview with Roshni Sen.-Dept Chairman Tea Board

The Tea Board India has a long history and dates back to 1903 when the Indian Tea Cess Bill was passed. The Bill provided for levying a cess on tea exports - the proceeds of which were to be used for the promotion of Indian tea both within and outside India. The present Tea Board set up under section 4 of the Tea Act 1953 was constituted on 1st April 1954. Tea is one of the industries, which by an Act of Parliament comes under the control of the Union Govt. It has succeeded the Central Tea Board and the Indian Tea Licencing Committee which functioned respectively under the Central Tea Board Act, 1949 and the Indian Tea Control Act, 1938, which were repealed. The activities of the two previous bodies had been confined largely to regulation of tea cultivation and export of tea as required by the International Tea Agreement then in force, and promotion of tea Consumption.

Speaking with Jasmine Kohli of IIFL, Roshni Sen, say "There is no supply deficit as of now; and glut in supply has been removed to a large extent."

What is the current trend in tea consumption in the country?
To begin with, tea consumption can be promoted by making the consumers aware of the goodness of tea.  Tea is a natural beverage packed with antioxidants.  Tea can keep us alert and active.  And of course, tea can bring people and culture together.  A lot of things can happen over a cup of tea.

A couple of years ago, ORG-MARG did a survey and according to the survey the consumption trend in tea show an upbeat. We are expecting the consumption to go up 2-3% p.a, which is in fact higher than the population growth, so that excess amount of tea has to be made available to the consumer.

The demand is growing and so are the prices. The situation demands a solution because if the demand goes up to that extent as the survey predicts, we would be left with a few options;  either import more tea or else grow more tea. Growing more tea needs more land and that is impossible as there is a land constraint.

So the only way left is to improve productivity for which we have to replace the old bushes which are low in productivity. We are encouraging the industry to take up replantation. But it takes around 6-7 years for the bushes to reach the optimum productivity level. Replantation will cause a fall in production, therefore when we uproot and replant, we have to plan the process very scientifically.

After uprooting, we have to leave the land fallow for some, where we then plant  Guatemala grass or some nutrient generating plant,   so as to replenish the soil with nutrients.  This process is called rehabilitation.

After the period of re-habilitation which is about 18 months ideally; we plant the new tea bushes, which start production only after two-three years, but a full production comes after 6-7 years.

What measures are you taking to address the problem of long production period?
We could develop some clone, which can give high productivity and production in short period of time. We have our R&D institutes working on it. In fact, gardens themselves do some cloning but our research institutions in Assam and Tamil Nadu are doing this systematically.

In Northern India the productivity is around 1500-2000 kg per hectare while in the South it is 3000 kg per hectare; but if we have a ‘magic clone' which gives 5000 kg per hectare, then we could meet the projected demand for tea in future.

Though these are all long term thoughts, we need to think that way in order to support the demand.

What are the recent challenges being faced by the tea industry?
First is the challenge of availability of land, second is the constraint of labour as everyone wants to be upwardly mobile. The children of tea garden labourers want to get better education and be in some better paying profession. So there is a lot of labour shortage in South India and considerably in North India too.

Mechanization may be a solution as they do in countries like Japan, but the quality of tea suffers if we shift from hand plucking to machine plucking.

Distribution of tea is another challenge, in terms of quality control. We should go in for packed tea rather than loose tea as quality control is easier in such cases. In India loose tea is more popular. We propose to setup a logo administration system for packet teas to control quality.  We can give the logo to those who qualify the standard and we can check the tea randomly from the shelves and also from the source of origin, but that again needs lot of manpower, lot of resources and industry participation. Quality control is needed to look into seriously. We are doing it now by raiding factories.  We also promptly respond to complaints. We need to do it in a more rigorous and exhaustive way.

What is the average wage earned by the tea labourers?
The labourers in North India are given around Rs. 67-70 per day in addition free housing, medical facility, Education and drinking water provided. According to the Plantation Labour Act it is the responsibility of plantation owner to provide all these. As most of the gardens are in remote areas these facilities need to be provided. In north areas they also provide fire-wood and food grains also to labourers.

In south India, a few gardens finding the business non-profitable are changing the nature of the land and going for real estate and setting up tourism units. In North India it is less so because all the land belongs to the government which is given to the plantation owners on lease.

What is your take on rising tea prices?
Rising prices are inevitable, as the production declines then the demand is more then price rise is inevitable.  Also quality is improving over the years

Prices have gone up at the primary level but the price rise is much less this year. The price rise depends upon a number of factors; it depends on the crop, production, the cyclical nature of production, weather, international scenario, many factors go into pricing. As of now prices are good and holding steady.

At the primary level, the rise has been up 20% due to increased cost of production.
Last year, for North India for All Tea taken together it was Rs. 104 per kg. For January to October period of 2010, all Tea prices taken together at auction are Rs. 101.04 per Kg.

There is no supply deficit as of now, only the demand supply gap has reduced.  The glut in supply has been removed to a large extent.

What is your take on Pest attacks in the plantation regions? How do you plan to arrest this problem?
Helopeltis Pest affected the production in Assam and we are trying to find out ways to counter Helopeltis attack. Our research team is working on it, though no fool proof defense is yet in place. We have asked our tea research institution to collect data and samples from gardens affected and also few gardens which were not affected by this pest attack which will help us to put good agricultural practices in place. We can aim to control but can not eradicate it immediately.  The Tea Research Association at Tocklai in Assam has already come out with some hand outs for control of helopeltis.

Also tea for exports could use only a select few pesticides due to the stipulation of in the EU and other countries. What is your view on this?
Every country has its pesticide norm called MRL (maximum residue limit) norms. They have to test the tea before export. The tea sample is rigorously tested and tested by laboratories abroad. EU has very strict and stringent testing norms as compared to other countries.

Tell us about the Exports and import scenario with a perspective of the past? What is the trend observed?
India till now is 163 million kgs till October this year, China Sept is at 220 million kgs, Kenya August is at 292 million kgs and  Sri Lanka till May stands at 112 in mn kgs.

India mainly imports tea only to re-export to other countries. Why is this so? Which are the main re-export hubs?
Tea is mainly re-exported to achieve the blend. Many a times we re-export tea to achieve the quality of the tea got through blends. Tea is blended with some other tea in order to cater to the consumer palette. Also tea is imported to re-export to meet the demand.

Russia is the biggest importer of Indian Tea. Kazakhstan imports about 10 mn kg and Russian federation about 37mn kg.

United Arab Emirates and Egypt are two main re-export hubs wherein Egypt re-exports 50mn per kg and UAE re-exports 22mn per kg. Followed by Iran which re-exports 10-14 mn per kg.

Your message to the tea lovers?
I would like to de-mystify the myth that Green Tea is good health and the Black Tea is not. It is essential to know that India is the largest producer of black tea and I would like to convey it to all tea lovers that Black tea is equally good as Green Tea

 November 10 2010
Thanks to Alan Wood,  and Peter and Merle Bartlett this excellent singing by the Shillong choir is yours to listen to

Thanks Alan, Peter & Merle

The Shillong Choir rehearsing for President and Michelle Obama.
Shillong Choir: For President's ears only
Please click to see and listen 

November 8 2010
Message from S Ghosh,  Secretary of the ABITA  Zone 1, ABITA

It is proposed to publish a Souvenir book to commemorate the 121st ABITA Annual General Meeting to be held in Dibrugarh on 18th and 19th February, 2011.
The  Souvenir will highlight achievements, events and other related issues during  the year and will also comprise of articles of interest for the Tea
fraternity on subjects such as Industry, Management, Tea History, Social
Responsibility, Welfare, Health and Allied Issues, Human Resources
Development, Training, Sports, Leisure, Reminisces etc.

 Members of the Koi-Hai fraternity are invited to contribute an article on any of the above topics or any other topic of interest along with relevant photographs, if any.

The articles and photographs, if any, may please be sent to the Zone office preferably via email within 10th December 2010. Our contact details are as follows:

The Secretary
Zone 1, ABITA
Chaulkhowa, Lahoal
District Dibrugarh 786 010 India
Telefax: 91-373-2301060



November 6 2010

There has been a considerable amount of publicity recently about refugees escaping from Burma in 1942--Here is an article by Dave Lamont giving his experience in the area a few years later--thank you Dave for taking the time and trouble to forward this for us to enjoy

Here's the article I'm sending  about the evacuation from Burma in 1942. When I was on Balladhun Tea Estate I was told the story of Jimmy Sinclair,one of my predecessors there. In 1942 Jimmy's/my bungalow was situated on top of a 'Tillah' --a wee hill about 40 or 50 ft high with tea bushes planted all over and a path up to it. Jimmy had been sitting on the verandah and saw these elephants carrying people and a European on the lead one. Jimmy's question, "Faur are ye comin' fae an' faur are ye gaun ti?" (Where are you coming from and where are you going to" Shona) "You'd better come in for a dram". This was Elephant Bill Williamson who rescued many Indians fleeing from Burma---Elephant Bill was in the teak and other native hardwoods business and used elephants to drag the timber out of the forests.  Bill Mackie from Aberdeen walked/ led/ escorted groups across the border at the same time---I knew him on Jellalpore TE which was 12 miles from Kalline TE my first garden. Bill HATED butterflies---he explained----when a refugee died, butterflies descended on the corpse by the thousand. Another thing was that the soles of their feet fell off! Many died on the way thru the jungle. No food or medical help. My little bit of experience on Balladhun was using an elephant to build a bridge. There were about 1000 acres of tea but no factory so the tea had to be plucked then transported on a wee railway---no engine but pushed all the 7 miles to the factory on Burtoll by labourers. Those rails made it tricky driving in a car straddling the track all the way. Like Jimmy, I was there on my own---the nearest car and European was  Bob Docking on the main Garden at Burtoll and some 20 --30-miles further to the Silchar Club. There was no garage near the bungalow so I had to leave the car in the wooden garage and cross a swinging bridge, then about 50 yards or so along till the path to the bungalow appeared on my right up to the top of the tillah. Not very funny in the pitch dark at 10 or 11 o'clock and the thought of a leopard or tiger watching or stalking me. No lights on unless I had left the Listor engine running ( never or seldom did that)---it was the usual tea garden generator, 4 1/2 horse power, hand cranked to start it. When I was in the bungalow reading and ready for bed, I got everything ready before shutting down the engine, it was say 30-40 yrds away, then dashing inside and into bed before the lights finally shut down. They faded away as the engine slowed. Balladhun was the end of the line, jungle, mountains and the border beyond so heaps of wild life. One night in particular I remember sitting reading and these yowls and fierce barks were right up to my window---I don't know if they were Jackals or the Lahl Kukur ---wild dogs of India that hunt in packs and run down ANYTHING---either way they are pretty fearsome so I kept back out of sight. Mosquito mesh would have been no protection and I had no gun. I had been warned to look out for Jimmy's ghost from other 'helpful' tea planters in the Silchar Club---"Have you seen Jimmy's ghost yet" Well one night I thought this is it! I never had a torch or anything like that and was wakened by the sound of bare feet slapping on the concrete floor along the passage outside my bedroom door, slap, slap,slap---"Kone Hai" I called and the walking stopped----only to start again a few seconds or so later ----again I called "Kone Hai" ( Who's there) and the noise stopped. This time I realised it was my dog Pinto, licking his groin under the other bed!!! _I'd laid Jimmy's ghost! I'll att pics---the python had eaten a village dog so the villagers carried/ floated it to my bungalow---I kept it tied outside my bungalow for a couple of days and laid a Sunday Post and a brick alongside it for comparison. It was 21ft long and 19 in  circumference or vice versa. My Mum got a pair of shoes and a hand bag made from the skin. I kept the skull till it got lost!! Wonderful set of very sharp teeth on it sloping backwards----once it had a grip that was that. I was a bit worried that it might get loose at night and come looking for me as the floor was only 2---2 1/2 feet off the ground. As you can see it never did!!! 

 October 4 2010 

Can you help ?

Vidya Kaul who is the Editor of The WM Times tells us that In forthcoming issues of The WM Times there is an intention to feature the river steamers which carried consignments of tea from the estates in Assam to Kolkata and onwards.

She would be delighted to receive any information regarding these ships and their journeys.
Please contact Vidya direct at


September 18 2010

We are grateful to Uzzal Barbora who sent us some pictures of Shaw Shield
Inter Garden Football played at Tyroon TE, Jorhat, Assam. This tournament
was played in Tyroon T E in the 60's. Mr. Robert Shaw was in charge of the
company, Mcleod & co. The lady presenting the trophies is Mrs  Banerjee,
mother of a famous Indian actor Mr. Victor Banerjee.



The lady presenting the trophies is Mrs  Banerjee, mother of a famous Indian actor Mr. Victor Banerjee.


Uzzal tells me that you shall find me as  kid in one of the pics with my ayah in her lap. The Editor thinks that Uzzal is at the end of the second row

September 5 2010 
                                          LIFE IN A TEA PLANTATION
                                           By Neena De

 The ancient Lu U spoke of Tea (Cha), in the Chinese classic Cha Ching , as the herb
that allows one to fly on the wings of immortality. The Chinese, who were the first known
people to drink this brew, jealously guarded their bushes and manufacturing secrets.
They willingly traded tea to the Gwyalo (White Devil), however, for yellow gold. By 1832
tea, which was brought in on the East India Company ships, was part of daily life in
England. At the end of the 19th century, things were not going well for the English in
China and John Company's monopoly on the Tea trade was ending. Not willing to give
up on such a lucrative business, they began to look elsewhere _ what better place
than India where they were already well ensconced?

 After much experimentation, the British discovered a native species of the  Camellia
- the tea plant - in Assam, in the Northeast of India. The adventurer,
Charles Bruce extracted the techniques of cultivation on from the Khamti and
Singpo tribals, who had long been drinking concoctions made form the leaves
of this aromatic bush. He set up a nursery indigenous Tea plants in Sadia and
there was no stopping him from there onwards. The first consignment of Assam
Teas was sent to London in 1839. A London broker ordered 1,000 chests, and
the scramble for Indian tea began.

 The British braved the long boat journey up the Brahmaputra river and fought the
ravages of Kala Azar (Malaria) to clear the tropical jungles and plant out the tea
bushes. By 1841 the AssamCompany, run by Bruce and Masters, had produced
29,000 kg. of tea.

Huge Plantations were established.
To cushion their loneliness, the British Planters set up lifestyles to rival those of
the English Lords. They built huge wooden bungalows with large verandas.
Armies of gardeners were engaged to maintain the beautiful lawns. There were
ornamental trees and flower beds. A cluster of tea gardens had its own club with
swimming pools, tennis courts and golf courses.

 To this day, the road to Upper Assam is lined with unending miles of tea gardens.
Nonoi, Kellyden, Hathikuli...the names conjure up days of yore. You can smell the
fresh leaves as soon as you enter the tea districts. On either side of the road stretch
tea bushes trimmed and plucked to perfection. The unbroken green surface stretches
out like a giant green billiards table. In the distance you might catch a glimpse of the
Manager's bungalow covered with flowering bougainvillea.

 I married a tea planter and moved to Lamabari Tea Estate in 1979. It was as 22 km
from the main highway on a dirt road. Beyond the Manager's compound were the
blue Bhutan hills, shrouded in mist. At one end of the estate was the snow -fed
Dhansiri river and on the other, the Orang Reserve forest, home of the Bengal
Florican and other exotic birds.

 When night fell, the isolation was complete. You told time by the creaky rattle of the
  Hornbills' wings as they flew over the bungalow towards their nests in the tall trees
of the nearby forest. If your potted plants were smashed at night, it was the work of
wild elephants playing on the lawn, en route to raiding the paddy fields. You'd expect
nothing to happen in a place like this. But I soon  realized that, punctuated by the
wail of the siren, the estate had a rhythm quite it's own.

 At the first siren the labourers would swing their large cane baskets on to their backs
and assemble for a day of plucking. The managers would be there, supervising and
calling  encouragement till the lunchtime siren went off at one PM. The last siren
announced the end of the workday. Time now, to weight up the day's collection of
green leaf. The factory machines were waiting to gobble up as much leaf as was fed
into them. It was here that the tea leaves would be withered, dried, fermented and cut
or rolled to make the famed Assam tea that was exported all over the world..

 The factories ran all night; all through the tea season, the factory assistant would
wonder around bleary-eyed for lack of sleep. The weekly payday was always a festive
occasion. This was the day of the Haat bazaar, or weekly market, where labourers
could buy food, colourful trinkets and saris, or drink to their hearts' content. They
would return to the garden in the evening, arms entwined, singing tribal songs in
wailing voices.

 The bungalows ran like well oiled machines. I found myself surrounded by a string
of house elves who always knew exactly what to do. They swept and dusted like
there was no tomorrow. If it was Tuesday, they would be polishing the silver, on
Wednesday (games day) some instinct told them to clean Sahib's Golf clubs and
lay out our tennis shoes. The malis, or gardeners, knew exactly when they had to
put out the strawberry runners, or if the African violets needed manure. There was
even a "paaniwalla" whose job it was to lay out the boss's bath with water that
was just the right temperature for a luxurious soak.

 My cook was an ancient Barua from Chittagong. They were a community of
professional cooks, belonging to the Mug tribe, who were famous for their excellent
skills. A few days after I arrived, he proudly waved a sheaf of dog-eared letters
under my nose. These were his prized certificates. To my horror, one of them read,
"Barua was a Mug. He thought I was!" I let it slide, however, having already tasted
his soufflés and Brandy snaps. There was no way that I was going to send him away
and start slaving away in the cookhouse with it's cast iron, coal burning stove and
attempt to produce food of dubious quality on a daily basis.

 There as simply too much to do. There were parties to attend, flower shows to take
part in, tennis to play and generally  have a jolly good time , which was what everyone
was doing  in the tea gardens in those days. Even as late as the 1980s, garden
managers were doing pretty much as they pleased, and their word was law. If the
workers considered the manager fair and just, he was "mai baap" which loosely
translates to "God". He looked after their welfare, employment and personal problems
and sat on judgement when they disobeyed orders, or quarreled with each other.
He was expected to play the feudal role to perfection. The men lived by a code of
machismo: work hard, play hard and, above all, drink hard. Tea was full of fun-loving
outdoorsy people who had come to the gardens from Public schools because it
seemed like a good thing to do in an unspecialized age.

 Though they were lonely and a long way from home they managed to have a very
good time. Three times a week, everyone went to the club to play games. Thakurbari
club, which was close enough for us to visit on weekends, not only had its own Golf
Course and collapsed swimming pool, but a squash court, six tennis courts, and billiards
and bridge rooms. Perched on a hill with a good view of the surrounding gardens, it
was a wonderful place. This was pre TV, pre internet India.: the club was the centre of
entertainment and social interaction.

 After games and a grand high tea, everyone showered and dressed for the evening.
Sometimes we watched a movie, though the man who went from club to club with his
16-mm projector invariably got his reels mixed up. You were likely to see Bonnie and
Clyde shot to bits in the first half hour and immediately after, come to life start robbing
banks.  No one really cared. The alcohol was flowing and people were here to have
a seriously good time. Some evenings, the record player was switched on and we
danced to oldies in the old ballroom. Never mind that the floorboards were a little
loose and creaky. Though the dusty piano was definitely out of tune, it was good
enough for raucous sing songs.

 The bar was the real heart of the club. The old Bearer knew just how to mix a gimlet,
and brandy was served in goblets. In winter, the fireplace would be stoked up and
stories of larger-than-life planters, the legends of life planters were told and re-told
around it. No one wanted to go home to their silent bungalows just yet. In those
days people thought nothing of travelling 60 or 70 miles to attend a party or a club
evening. If there was any danger at all, it was from speeding trucks or herds of
wild elephants blocking the road on the way back.

 Things are a little different now. It is no longer as safe as it used to be and movement
is restricted. With dish TV and computerization, planters tend to stay home more.
Work pressures are greater now so there is less time to play games and rush around
the district looking for action.

 Despite this, however, people manage to have a good quality of life in the tea gardens.
The gardens of Assam remain islands of serenity in a world gone mostly mad.

August 31 2010
Click here to see the latest thinking on the AMBASSADOR vintage car

August 28 2010

Dr Pradhip Baruah is asking for help as regards information about the tea drinking
habits among the Tribes of Assam : Origin and Development

If you can help please get in touch direct with Dr Baruah -
his e-mail is



Thanks to Clive Roberson this story reached all the way from Harare

A Great story by Ray Woolley--an amazing feat of travel to support the Kalimpong Homes

  Dear all,

 The Introduction to BIKE BENGAL 2010

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and other varietals have for a considerable time played a significant part in the decision making process of the Woolley household.
 Promises, commitments, and arrangements have largely been subject to the euphoria that comes about when these converted life enhancing fruits come together with good company and kindred spirits.

So it was that on the 23rd of September 2009, and having received the previous day a glowing report from my doctor, that I met up with one of my long standing friends at a curry evening in Inkberrow near Worcester in England.

The impromptu evening which was organized by hosts Stella and John Harris brought together a group of ex Malawi and Kenya gentlemen and of course their ladies who had been bonded in their youth through a general love of Rugby Football.

 During the evening a degree of interest was being shown to a circulating document which was being passed around by Clive Peacock whose presence at the party was the main reason we were all there anyway. When the document reached myself my interest was immediately aroused by the title BIKE BENGAL.  The combination of curry, poppadoms, vindaloo, red wine and the mention of a bicycle riding event immediately wet my appetite and interest.
The following morning Clive explained that both he and his lovely friend Jackie Graham were planning to raise funds for a children's home /school in West Bengal by riding from Kolkata to Kalimpong in a sponsored charity cycle ride in February 2010.
Both Clive and Jackie had lived in the tea plantations in the area of Kalimpong, give or take a few hundred kilometers and both knew the school.

In a moment of mounting inquisitiveness I thought that maybe it would be a better idea to throw my hat rather than my sponsorship brass into the ring and asked Clive to let me have more comprehensive details of the event.

 Details soon followed from John Webster the main mover and organizer of the ride.
 This was to be the third ride, the others being in 2006 and 2008.
 Having had a taste of visiting the Orient on a few occasions including a trip in 2008 to Laos and Vietnam I vowed never to go East of Mombasa ever again.
 However the temptation offered by BIKE BENGAL was too much for me to miss.
I am very pleased to have had the experience and enjoyment that this worthwhile trip gave to me.
Training for a 700 kilometer ride in a strange environment was a challenge in itself as nearly all my training I do by myself.90 % of the training that I did was within Borrowdale Brooke estate where I live and I can't count the number of times that I have been round the estate roads but at least it is safe and the surfaces are good.

I could have done without the speed humps though. These proved to be less than a considerable factor on the under carriage when compared to the real humps and bumps on the actual ride.
My longest non stop distance was 90 Kms a bit less than I would do for the 114 Kms Cape Argus which is a race against time ( bettering your previous own ) I also did a few hour long work outs at our local gym.

                         The Trip
 I left together with bike for Kolkata via Addis Ababa and Mumbai on the 8th of Feb and Clive met me at the airport mid morning of Tue the 9th. Following a noisy, hairy drive through the city we proceeded to the Baptist Mission to drop off the Bike and then on to the Tollygunge Club where Clive and Jackie were established and where I had booked for a few nights before meeting the other riders on the 13th at the Baptist Mission.
The Tolly as it is known is an Oasis 9 kms south of the centre of a pulsating chaotic city.  After a wash and brush up the three of us set off for an afternoon tour of the city   Magnificent but mostly tired buildings many of which were built during the time of the Raj were blended into the chaos of shanty buildings and traffic. Some well cared for parks and open spaces with colourful flowers and shrubs gave at least some relief from the hustle and bustle of the city where it seems that everything is being repaired or made.

 We drove across the Howdah Bridge which was built across the Hugli River by the Brits.Although a spectacular site its designer must have had a large share in a steel works and rivet factory. Huge amounts of metal which we were informed came from the UK.

After seeing a large statue of Queen Victoria which was well maintained and cared for and set in the grounds of the Victoria Park we returned to the Mother House near to the Baptist Mission. A plain unassuming building housing the Missionaries of Charity which is partially a museum for Mother Teresa of Calcutta and almost a place of pilgrimage and a sanctuary of calm and quietness in the poverty stricken surroundings.

Quite moving even for Woolley and Peacock.
The following two days were spent re-cuperating in the Tolly's many facilities. We even looked at the Gymnasium but thought it would be better to save our energy and get used to the local food and drinks which I might add were excellent and we had a variety of bars and restaurants to chose from. Our favorite turned out to be The Shamiera which is open to the elements overlooking the 18th hole and fairway of the Tolly's golf course. We became well known by the waiters.

On Wednesday the 10th we met by chance a splendid gentleman caressing a glass of Scotch who enquired of our association with the Tolly. We explained that we were here to participate in a charity bicycle ride and on further discussions Kumar turned out to have visited people in Malawi whom we used to know not least Clive's ex boss, Bob Ferries.
Kumar Sardana had been the past Chairman of The India Tea Machinery Association and had visited Malawi, Kenya and other African states. He knew most of Clive's old haunts as well as mates in his Assam days as a planter.   Enough said !!!

Next evening Kumar sent his chauffer to collect the three of us and we had drinks at his wonderful apartment block before taking us to the Calcutta Cricket Club where he was the second longest living member.  The club was about to close as the hour was getting late but Kumar had the bar re-open and we all had dinner before giving us a tour of the photos and memorabilia of the second oldest cricket club after Lords.
Kumar is a gentleman of the "old school" and he was not the last that we met on our return to the Tolly after our epic ride.

On the Thursday whilst Jackie was chilling at the club before meeting some of her Calcutta friends Clive and I took a taxi into the heart of the city as we had a few things to buy for our trip but instead we finished up at the Oberai Grand Hotel to try and check out their pink gins.

The Oberoi Grand is listed as the best luxury hotel in India 2009.

On receiving the bill for two double pink gins each we came to the conclusion that the title must have been awarded on the basis of its pricing for drinks.
A grand hotel indeed but the gins came with a tot of what tasted like Fernet Branca not Angostura bitters.   The rupees that we dished out for the gins led to the cancellation of our shopping trip.

Friday we booked out of the Tolly and dropped our bags off at the rendezvous at the Baptist Mission where we were to meet the other riders and spend the last night before a 6.00 am start the following morning.
During the day I realized that I had parted company with my passport and after trying several leads decided to report the loss to the police. The New Market police station is in an area of rogues, pickpockets and vagabonds but the police were courteous and had inherited the British system of form filling. I received a well stamped lost property document which I was advised to take to the British High Commission which was closed being a Friday.

Back to the Baptist Mission to meet our rider colleagues and to get our room allocations and a briefing regarding the ride.   Ken Hammond the tour leader told us that unfortunately John Webster had not been able to make it due to his wife's falling sick in the last few days.

We were briefed by Ken and the ride organizer Prakash Gupta about what to expect.
A lead vehicle which we were advised to keep close behind would show us the way and give us some protection from on coming and out going traffic.
A follow up vehicle would be behind the last riders and would act as sweep up vehicle. i.e. bodies, bikes, casualties ,water bottles ,cameras, dropped spares etc.
This vehicle also had the tour physician / medical attendant / masseur on board.
His excellent services were used and needed all the way.

A further vehicle was allocated carrying the cooks, camp and tent erectors, water carriers, tables, chairs, pots, pans, food drinks etc, etc.  Following the briefing we all went into Calcutta city to The Barbeque restaurant that served excellent food and Kingfisher beer.
Clive and I had to get up at 3.30 am to finish getting our bikes ready as the ride was to be started from the Baptist Mission at 06.00 hrs in order to avoid at least some of the early morning traffic and because we had a 135 km ride in front of us in uncharted territory.

                                     The Ride
After many photographs including a TV interview given by Ken Hammond the tour leader and after being adorned by floral lays and red roses for mounting on our bikes we were given a prayer of blessing and good wishes by the officials of the Baptist Mission.
We then set off in as close a bunch as possible through the city and on to Dum Dum at the north of the city of Calcutta where we had our first accident of the tour.
Sandy Coldwell got knocked off his bike at an intersection by another vehicle.
The medical team were immediately in action and fortunately we were just opposite to a hospital where Sandy was patched up having quite a lot of cuts, abrasions and bruises to his upper arms and shoulders. With his arm in a sling he was unable to ride for the rest of that day but being an ex London Scottish rugby man he made a great recovery and rode the rest of the days to the finish in Kalimpong.  Ken and his son Jonathon Hammond also had a couple of near misses and it became clear that caution and avoiding buses, lorries, rickshaws, taxis, taxi- cycles, handcarts with 30ft long bamboo poles as well  as cows, goats, sheep, dogs, and thousands of people would need great concentration.
The whole ride demanded that we needed to keep as close together behind the lead vehicle which meant that we rode at the pace of the slowest riders.   We stopped for refreshments about every 20 to 30kms and the catering support vehicle went ahead to set up lunch tables for us at pre selected venues.
Food and non alcoholic beverages were excellently served and prepared by our Nepalese cooks and helpers.

We arrived at our first night stop at the University sports fields in Krishnagar where the one man tents and mattresses were already set up for the night and a welcoming hot towel and mug of tea awaited us.

Bags unloaded and ablutions completed we rendezvoused in the dining tent for drinks and an excellent supper.   Tired as we were we experienced our first evening of the call to the faithful by an amplified Mullah. One of many of the drawbacks brought about by modern technology.
Sleeping tablets and earplugs helped but pre dawn wailings still prevailed.

 A great breakfast and early start set us on our way again and this was to be repeated for the next four days.   We pulled in for the next four nights at Baharampur, Suti, Gojol, and Dalkola all under canvas.
A few further minor accidents occurred requiring iodine, plasters and the odd bandage. Phil Taylor was taken out when a little boy ran across the road straight into his front wheel. Prakash took the wailing mother and child to the nearest clinic and he was fine. Phil dusted himself down and was a bit shocked but not injured. The crowd that gathered fortunately did not turn out to be too hostile and a settlement was soon reached.

The novelty of seeing a group of ancient Brits on bicycles drew attention wherever we went and everyone was friendly if not bemused.  In most of the chaotic towns and villages that we passed through local cyclists looked on us as being a challenge to their own cycling prowess and sprinted past us for the odd few kms but we just kept plodding along.
We were unfortunate to witness a terrible but not unsurprising accident bearing in mind the terrible standard of driving.
A bus was cut in half by a lorry which we learned had left over 20 people dead and many more injured. At another accident in one of the towns a bus ran into the back of a van carrying bamboo poles which penetrated the bus windows and god knows what else.

The van driver hit the vehicle in front of him and then whilst trying to pull off the side of the road lost control and went straight through a roadside open shop demolishing it and its owners and contents.

As bicyclists we knew that we were more than vulnerable and safety defensive riding brought our average speed down sometimes to a stop and walk situation. Crossing the Ganges River at a point where it was dammed and had a mile long road and rail bridge we were only allowed on the footpath where soldiers were armed to the teeth. After crossing, some of the party started to take photos of the river, dam and bridge and were almost arrested by the very unfriendly military.

More negotiations before we could get along the road.  At one of our night stops at a school sports field I finished up as choir leader with dozens of kids and got them singing" one man went to mow" which they took up with gusto and one little girl burst into "Oh my darling Clementine "which as they mostly did not speak English  surprised and delighted us all.
On the last night of camping at Dalkola our Nepalese staff gave us a great evening with a traditional barbeque and Nepalese dancing.

We had a whip round and presented them with the proceeds for their excellent services and friendliness that they had showed us.

Ken gave a speech and vote of thanks and then lit the bonfire that they had made which is sign of respect .After breakfast we said our farewells to our little but giant hearted friends who set off for their village in Nepal.

On day six the longest ride of about 140 kms we came across the only European chap that we had seen since leaving Calcutta. He was stood on the side of the road miles from anywhere with a placard that read "GO JACKIE GO "
Unfortunately Jackie had gone past him and was the only rider who didn't see him. At the next stop we discovered that Jackie was an old friend of the mysterious stranger and was expecting to see him but not at the place where he was. A mobile phone located him and he joined us for drinks at our next stop.
Andrew the placard bearer had motor biked it many miles from Darjeeling to help encourage Jackie on the ride and she had missed seeing him on the way.

A couple of Kingfishers beers sorted it out!  We night stopped at a very luxurious hotel The Royal Sarova Premiere in Siliguri
Showers and toilets with seats were so very welcome and our camping days were over.
During the evening at the Sarova we were advised that a general strike had been called for in Siliguri by the Communist party who seemingly are the most powerful organization in West Bengal. We were advised to start our ride early morning (What's New) in order to avoid what could turn out to be violent response by the military.
At 0600 hrs we set off on the last but most arduous day of riding.  After passing many numerous military barracks and road blocks out of Siliguri we came across the real scenery of the foothills of the Himalayas and rode through undulating country roads alongside the Tista river.
At many of the villages we came across graffiti and signs saying "Gorkaland is ours "as the people of the area want it to be an Independent state separate from West Bengal.

After riding through forested and stunning views of the river which starts in the Himalayas and is clear blue and clean with high banks and meant a fair degree of climbs and down hills we crossed the Tista and the climbing began for the last 20kms to our destination.  The winding escarpment climb was only completed in the saddle by Andrew Burridge. Not sure if Richard and Jonathan managed it as well.
Most of us had to get off our bikes and walk which even that was a challenge due to the steepness of the hills.
 I fell off my bike into a storm drain fairly early on in the climb when trying to re mount on a steep slope. The tour medic dressed my wounds and sprayed me with iodine and a bandage but the biggest blow was to my ego.
Thereafter Peacock's saying of the week was that
        "Woolley fell off getting on"  
The climb had no areas where one could recover for a short while and get your breath back.  In order to not blow my gasket completely I pinched the odd ride in the support vehicle and walked and rode where I could.
We all made it to the Southern outskirts of the town of Kalimpong where many photographers, the local TV cameras, the Principal, the Bursar and the CEO of the homes met us together with the school band.
After gathering what was left of our bodies together and after being draped in traditional neckerchiefs we continued on foot with bikes behind the very smartly Tartan kilted dressed girls and boys' band of Fife and Drums etc.  The whole town's traffic was stopped by the police whilst we made our way to the other end to be told that we had another mile to climb to the school. This was about the same gradient that we had just been on and further walking, riding, panting and sweating was only nullified by the fantastic encouragement   by the ecstatic welcome given to us by the schoolchildren lining the route.

I was particularly touched by a chorus from a group of boys and whilst I was actually riding the last couple of hundred meters uphill to the school gates of shouts.

"You can do it Sir "and we did it!!!!

                     The post ride events

The reception at the school/homes was a once in a lifetime experience    Moving, touching, emotional and genuine.   Hundreds of the well mannered, disciplined and smartly dressed children were present to welcome us being addressed by the Chief Executive Officer Philip Gibson a charming Scottish no nonsense gentleman.   He spelled out to the children the sacrifices, dangers and costs that the riders had put in to ride over 700 kms so that the homes and children would benefit from their efforts.
He also pointed out that that there were many other people who had supported the BIKE BENGAL event not least the sponsors of the individual riders and the organizers of the tour.  We were then individually called up to the podium where we each presented an envelope to certain children to whom a portion of our sponsorship was allocated.
My pupil was Michele Paul.

More thank you's  were read out by the Bursar and the children were then released from the occasion whilst we got stuck into tea and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off as befits a right Royal welcome.
Off to the Himalaya Hotel for rest and recuperation thankfully with our bikes and ourselves being transported by vehicle. As was befitting Peacock and Woolley were allocated rooms on the top floor. More climbing.

The following morning we all attended the magnificent but uphill school church.  One of the most if not the most memorable services that I have ever attended.  A spotless beautiful cathedral like church was packed to capacity with the children.

Front row seats were reserved for us, the guests.

The very apt sermons and hymns were followed by two pieces of choir music that were so outstandingly sung by the school choir that they would not have been out of place at the Albert Hall.  It was impossible to keep a dry eye as they were so moving and brilliantly sung and orchestrated. Absolutely outstanding.

After more thanks by nearly everyone from the schools senior staff we were presented to the employee's representatives.
The school has a staff of about 250 employees as they have so many different departments, workshops, estate management, its own farm, clothing department, bakery, kitchens, hospital as well as all the teachers and administrators.
These cater for the needs of over 1500 students.

The employees' representatives treated us to a traditional dance show with the employees' children showing us gurkha style dances.  A visit to the school museum enabled me to try and trace Tom English's ancestors namely his uncle Eric an ex Senior Policeman in West Bengal who he believed was married to a daughter of the founder Dr Graham.   Tom is a friend and sponsor of mine so it was with a sad heart that I was unable to find any records of Uncle Eric.  However the aforementioned Jackie Graham thought that he might be related to her as her family history associated with the area were Onslow -Grahams.
More research to be made on that front.

We were then treated to a superb lunch hosted by the chief executive Philip and Mrs. Gibson. The superbly situated Jubilee House and garden were of course uphill.

However the gin and tonics and outstanding food more than made up for the last uphill struggle of the tour.  So to the rider's farewell dinner at the Himalaya Hotel where we had some impromptu speeches over a great meal and a couple of brandies.

Next day we lounged around the gardens of the hotel hoping for the mist and cloud to clear so that we might catch a glimpse of Kinchinjunga the third highest mountain in the world. It did not happen so 11 of us then departed by our own bus from where we had ridden the day before. The rest were traveling by various forms of transport to Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam.
Going down the escarpment was more scary than going up but the scenery was beautiful.

The last leg of our trip was to get on the overnight train at Siliguri station for Calcutta. The sleeper couches with curtains did not afford much privacy but as I started off on a bottom bunk I thought that it would not be so bad.

Unfortunately Sandy our ex rugby playing mate fell sick and finished on the central aisle floor alongside my bunk in a state of collapse. Clive and I had quaffed some gin to ease the burden of second class travel and I was left to try and revive Sandy who looked a funny colour.I called the train manager who organized for a doctor to board the train at the next station stop.

The doc asked me had he been taking alcohol and I honestly said no but I had.
Having given Sandy some Indian potient he then put him into my bunk where he immediately fell asleep leaving me to scramble up to his vacated top bunk. This was just another type of uphill struggle.

After a somewhat disturbed sleep we arrived in Calcutta and on to the Lytton Hotel where most of the remainder of the party were staying their last night.
Clive and Jackie had booked into the Tolly where Clive found my lost passport which had been handed in to the office by the housekeeping staff.

The very next day Clive met me at the Lytton where we dis-assembled our bikes and packed them into the bike bags and went to the bar where Clive handed over my passport in ceremonial fashion.  It was to be the last day for the seven remaining riders and they planned to spend the last night at the Barbeque restaurant.
I returned to the Tolly with Clive to meet up with Sandy and long standing friends of his fathers. His father was the ex Chairman of James Finlays one of the famous tea companies in the world and Sandy's friends had all worked for him many years ago in the tea areas of the north of India where we had been.

Both Clive and Jackie knew many acquaintances of most of the very pleasant Indian gentlemen and even I knew of some of their acquaintances from Kenya, Uganda and Malawi days.
The following day a friend of Jackie's and Clive named Mary took us shopping into downtown Calcutta. The next couple of days we chilled out at the Tolly until it was time to set off for my return home via Mumbai and Addis which was a bit of a marathon.
At Mumbai departure gate I was whisked away to an office where they wanted to know where I had got the passport which had been reported lost in Calcutta.
After signing numerous forms and paper reports I was allowed to leave.  Very efficient but causing some delay.

I arrived safe and sound but tired in Harare and my bike was still in Addis.

Two days later it arrived and so the once in a lifetime event was over.


 The Epilogue

                          Many thanks are due
To all who so very generously sponsored me.

To all who encouraged me and gave me some advice on India.
To the Reverend John Webster for his all embracing information circulars. We missed him.

To Farouk in Calcutta who organized transport in the City etc.

To the helpers at The Baptist Mission

To Prakash Gupta and Binod Prasad and their team without whom we could not have even begun to ride the tour. They were outstanding.

To Ken Hammond who led the team and liaised the arrangements as we traveled.

To the officials, workers and schoolchildren for an exhilarating welcome

To my fellow riders who were such good company and fun. We shared the heartaches, dangers, noises, ablution facilities, falls and tumbles and
laughter together.

To my good friends Jackie and Clive whose company was more than memorable.
To anyone who helped in whatever capacity.
To Michele my long suffering wife who still thinks I am mad but let me go anyway.
A massive thanks from me to John Tarbit who persuaded me to go and kept the communications coming through to Zimbabwe


 The riders.
 Anthony Bagram.     London                              England.  A steadfast yoga stretching fanatic and ex pupil of  the homes. Great company.
Andrew Burridge      Edinburgh                        Scotland. Ever smiling and a terrific rider. Delivered an important document to me at the start.

 Sandy Coldwell        Ballachulish                      Argyle.     Unbelievable stamina and doggishness on a local bike. Severe hearing problem and never heard a Mullah in full voice.
Tina Dennis              Marlborough                        Wiltshire.  Rode the whole way in a frock and never missed a fag break. Made me proud to be English.

Caroline Eckersley    Burford                           Oxfordshire. A great communicator and cig smoking mate of Tina's. Able to ride long stretches with hands off the bars.

David Fisher                 Bonnington                    Kent. Quiet man until his bike was irreparably smashed and he had to ride on the spare bike. But he did it.
Vanda Fraser             Livingston                       Scotland. Knew the territory and an ex pupil of Kalimpong. Everyone knew her. She helped us all and smiled the whole way.

Jackie Graham           Twyford                           Berkshire. Fun loving lady and looked after her "boys" who are eternally grateful.
Jonathon Hammond   London                          England. Ken's son and strong rider but who seemed to attract punctures and attacking Rhesus monkeys.

Ken Hammond           Aberdeen                        Scotland. The boss and ex pupil who could barely contain his emotions. Looked after all of us.
James Machardy        Bishops Stortford.             England. Exceptionally steady strong rider who just got on with it and helped Ken on the admin.

Clive Peacock            Reading                            Berkshire. Just kept plugging away and helping me to keep up my dehydration cures.

Christine Powley        Livingston                     Scotland. Archies daughter and almost as strong a rider as a mountain climber where she climbed the whole of the escarpment.

Janice Small              Isle of Arran                     Scotland. Strong accomplished rider and always ready to help. Lovely lady
Richard Small            Isle of Arran                     Scotland. Excellent rider and communicator who kept us informed of hazards and events that were happening.

Philip Taylor               Petersfield                      Hampshire. Experienced rider and bike fixer. One of the tour scribes

Archie Tollin               Livingston                       Scotland. Wonder man. 82 years old who put many of us to shame. But encouraged all of us.

David Willis                Holywell                            Hertfordshire, Steady but sure cyclist who nearly missed lunch by riding past the picnic set up. Sheer concentration

Ray Woolley              Borrowdale                       Zimbabwe. Nothing to report

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April 15 2010
The editor is delighted to have the opportunity to show the writings of an old friend Aline Dobbie on this web site--and we thank her for her first hand description of her recent trip with her husband Graham

The Assam Bengal Cruise                
                  by Aline Dobbie

We had spent a couple of days in Kolkata; it had been meant to be three days but Indian Railways managed to provide such a catastrophic journey from Varanasi that we lost an entire day travelling in less than ideal conditions.  So, it was a complete and happy contrast to find ourselves on a Jetlite aircraft departing Kolkata at 0700 hours on the 13th February this year for Guwahati capital of Assam.

When the aircraft, which arrived a few minutes early after a satisfactory short flight, was circling I could see in that silvery light of the early morning a huge river - indeed, the mighty Brahmaputra.  This sacred river which is the only male sacred river in Hindu mythology is considered the ‘son of Brahma' and I was excited.  In all my life and travels in India I had never yet been close to or on the Brahmaputra.  In my childhood one did not travel except for family transfers and when I was a teenager after the Chinese Army invaded Assam it became a prohibited place; now however the whole North East of India is really trying to place itself as a good and different tourist destination and so here I was about to touch down in Assam for the very first time!

The airport at Guwahati is clean and pleasant and we were met by a smiling Dipankar on behalf of Assam Bengal Cruises.  Guwahati in the early morning on a Saturday was a sleepy place and quiet and with very few people around so we - that is Graham and I - were able to see a lot and Dipankar was determined to have us driven around and appreciate his city.  I liked it; it reminded me of a lot of Indian cities of my childhood when the population had not yet soared to stratospheric levels and the wide streets and municipal buildings are gracious and there is a Strand alongside the river.  The population is 2.5 million people who were not much in evidence that morning.

Our first stop was up the Nilachal Hill to see the holy Kamakhya Temple.  Yes, well with respect I am always more appreciative of what are known as ‘unliving temples' and heritage site temples because I in no way want to watch animals being sacrificed and abhor that sort of voyeurism.  Interestingly later in the day one of the female tourists on the cruise went on at some length about how awful it is to enact animal sacrifice in this day and age....and though we had only just met I asked politely ‘well then why did you watch?'

There is a note about this temple which people may find of interest - I did take plenty of photographs of buildings, holy men and devotees and live animals - I think Guwahati is the place on which the imaginary Surpur is based in Gita Mehta's wonderful though tragic book Raj. I had only just managed to read that book whilst in India and there were so many descriptions that seemed to fit it - Graham then read it on my insistence and we both agree that it is a very fine book and though fiction very informative in so many ways.

So, having paid my respects to the temple we went to somewhere that meant infinitely more to us both; The Guwahati War Cemetery for those who died in World War II.  Graham and I were deeply moved by this peaceful well kept place and spent a long time paying our respects to the Fallen.  What especially struck us and made us feel a little better is that there was no deference or preferment - the dead from the rank of brigadier down to the waterman in all religions are laid there; Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew and then to one side there are the graves of Japanese and their Chinese Labour.   All these souls interred in a peaceful garden on a slight slope and in the morning sunlight it was very moving.  For those of my generation whose late fathers fought in that war and returned safely it was a time to give thanks as well for what we had had - our childhoods and stability and security which so many others were deprived of - and have we learnt, no; wars continue and we watch with dismay and sadness currently at the toll of lives in Afghanistan.  The Cemetery Keeper is a nice young man and we said our good byes and went to join the ship.

We arrived at the ghat and boarded the MS Charaidew by embarking on her country boat which she takes with her on her journeys and from there we embarked on the ship herself.  We were early and received a very fine welcome and were taken to our cabin and we asked for breakfast.  We had woken at 0400 hours and had light refreshment in Kolkata at the ITC Sona, brought by a thoughtful butler, but now it was after 10.00 hours and we were hungry and thirsty.  What better, fresh orange juice, papaya with nimbu (lime) followed by tomato omelettes and good Assam tea. Pratick is the very friendly Manager of the cruise and he has charming Staff who all hail from the north eastern states and were so friendly and helpful and eager to please.

The top deck of the Charaidew is where one spends one's time relaxing and enjoying the changing scenery of the river and its banks and life - both human and animal.  It is spacious with cane chairs in white with green cushions and I soon realised that is the Assam Bengal livery - green and white.  The cabins are currently also decorated in those colours and everything on board has been manufactured either in Assam or nearby using local materials such as bamboo for panelling and floors and furniture and local soft furnishings.  The ensuite shower room has an excellent shower which produces scalding hot water with power so one might be ‘adventure cruising' but not having to do without the essentials like a flush w.c. and good vanity basin provided with toiletries and the shower.  There is a ‘dhobi' (laundryman) on board and clothes are returned the same day in excellent order - but then I would not ask him to process something too special and delicate.  The beds are comfortable and serviced daily and bottled water is provided, as is a torch because at 23.00 hours the generators are switched off and there is no current for electric lights which results in perfect tranquil peace moored up to a huge silt bank of the river. The generators are switched on at about 0600 hours every morning.  There is an electric plug for hairdryers which is essential. The lounge is a pleasant area with a bar that operates in the evening and on the top deck there is usually fresh tea and coffee served and cool drinks available in the chill cabinet on an ‘honesty box' arrangement for the drinks.  The dining room is on the lowest deck and guests are seated as they wish on long tables with buffet style service.  The food to our way of thinking was outstanding, given the limitations of being on an old river boat on the Brahmaputra.  The Chefs produced excellent food with their versions of western cuisine but particularly with lovely curries and accompaniments. All the guests thought like us and the staff was very attentive and appreciated that we complimented them on the food.

However, I am getting ahead of myself.  I am now going to return to the River! India is a land of rivers and many of them are considered sacred rivers. I think immediately of the Ganges (the Ganga), the Yamuna, the Godavari, the Chambal, the Narmada, the Tungabhadra, the Kali, the Bhagirathi, the Mandovi, the Periyar and the Cauvery and the Krishna - all rivers that I have known through living near them or visiting different parts of India.  But the Brahmaputra, this is big.

The Brahmaputra originates as the Yarlung Tsangpo in the Jima Yangzong glacier near Mount Kailash in the northern Himalayas.  It then flows east for approximately 1,800 kilometres (1,200 miles) at an average height of 4,000 metres (13,000 ft).  This makes it the highest of the major rivers in the world and at its easternmost point it bends around Mount Mancha Barwa, and forms the Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon which is considered the deepest in the world.  The river enters Arunachal Pradesh and it makes a very rapid descent from its original height in Tibet and finally appears in the plains where it is called Dihang.  It is then joined by two other major rivers the Dibang and Lohit.  From this confluence it becomes very wide and is called Brahmaputra.  It flows through the entire state of Assam and is sometimes as wide at 10 km (6.2 miles) and in flood it can reach 22 km in width.

Definitely to the observer it seems to be much less polluted than the other major rivers of India but it also has challenges in that the petroleum refining units contribute considerable pollution along with riverside industries of all types.  The main problem of the Brahmaputra is that it constantly floods and even more so now with so much deforestation.  By the point at which it conjoins with the Ganga it flows into the huge Ganges Delta - the largest delta in the world - which serves both India and Bangladesh and in its lower course the river is both a creator and a destroyer depositing huge quantities of fertile soil, but also causing disastrous floods that wash away everything in their path as is often seen in Bangladesh particularly.  For me the huge white silt banks of the river were a new experience and astonishing in their size; at night in the moonlight one could be forgiven for thinking they were icebergs not silt/sand!

Lounging on the top deck in a rattan chair or on the wooden loungers placed for maximum sun one just watched the world go by at a sedate pace.  On my first morning I had hardly sat down when I saw a large grey living beast in the water and realised excitedly that it was a River Dolphin.  Subsequently we saw masses of them but I am afraid however much I tried my photography of these fast moving creatures did not work but it was such a pleasure to see them and we decided that actually like most others of their kind they like to show off and are inquisitive.  Knowing how depleted the Ganga is of the Gangetic Dolphin it was really heartening to see so many on so many occasions.  That first evening as the sun moved into a glorious sunset and the dolphins played and the boat was finally moored to a silt bank it was very special.

The second day started early for me with a cup of tea and I went up to watch the sunrise.  Later after breakfast we cruised upstream and then the party disembarked on to the country boat and went off the visit a typical Assamese village.  This was both interesting and good fun and the villagers made us shyly welcome and some little boys showed off (as little boys are prone to do anywhere in the world) and we saw that latrines had been built for the village houses to counteract the habit of leaving human waste all over the place.  This will be a hugely beneficial addition to village life as the incidence of various diseases will automatically fall I imagine with better hygiene - it is always sobering in India to see this sort of development and realise that the youngsters own cell phones before they have been introduced to a flush w.c.

Most of the guests, indeed I think all of them, were having a wonderfully relaxing time and we were taken on a sunset trip to see the outskirts of Orang National Park, and then very early the next morning on the fourth day we visited Orang National Park arriving by the country boat and scrambling up the silt bank.  The jeeps were waiting and we had a comprehensive tour of the park but without too many dramatic sightings.  However for Graham and me the memory will be of the abundance of scarlet silk cotton trees and indeed some with yellow and others with orange flowers.  These have featured in our childhoods and were looking marvellous.  There was some good bird life and a few deer but nothing really dramatic though it was enjoyable.  It was thoughtful that tea and coffee was provided on the country boat at the end of our jeep safari when we were all thirsty.

On day five we cruised to Tezpur and visited the 6th century Da Parbatia temple and then explored the town by cycle rickshaw.  The municipal gardens called Cole Park have several medieval stone carvings saved from sites all over the region.  The garden is very well cared for and there was an absence of litter and it was a pleasant experience.  Then we wandered into the local markets and pottered around. 

One of the highlights of the trip for us was the very excellent barbecue that the staff arranged on the sand and I think everyone enjoyed that.  The next morning we went for a short walk at sunrise before casting off.  On day six we continued upstream and passed below a huge modern bridge across the width of the river to moor at Steemer Ghat (which is oddly spelt as you might observe).  In fact it was quite a wild place with a small village nearby the gardens of which were filled with bright scarlet ramshorn poinsettias and in the afternoon we drove to Kaziranga's Eastern Range for a jeep safari; this is little visited and though enjoyable with one or two good sightings of rhino was a little disappointing.  Of course the silk cotton trees were there flowering in abundance!  The next morning we set out early and arrived for an elephant ride which was excellent at the Central Range.  We saw plenty rhino close up and other animals and enjoyed the interaction with the domestic elephants and their calves.  We were then driven to a lodge on a nearby tea estate for an excellent breakfast which had the most sublime puris as part of the menu.  After a rest and breakfast we then visited a tea estate and the shop nearby that sells the various delicious types of tea.  CRC means curled rolled and chopped and orthodox is the other variety.  Graham and I are enthusiastic tea drinkers and like leaf tea particularly and now that teapots are sold with fine mesh baskets internally it is so easy to return to leaf tea.  I recall with amusement how people of one's parents' generation initially disapproved of tea bags - and with good reason because most of them seem to have the dust of tea in them whereas some of us grew up with really top quality tea being served daily.

We then visited another tribal village which was interesting; it is always good to see the folk of different cultures and the weaving in bright colours was delightful.  The livestock was plentiful with somnolent pigs and their piglets and poultry and kid goats all interacting with young children and shy mothers around their homes.

We then returned on the route to Diphlu River Lodge; this had opened in January 2008, providing much-needed top-class accommodation at Kaziranga National Park, which is of course a World Heritage Site. The position of the lodge is second to none: only the boundary river separates its extensive grounds from the National Park itself, and the jungle views are exceptional.   I saw a coven of Adjutant Storks, may be a coven is not the right description but they looked amusing all standing huddled together! Assam Bengal Navigation runs the lodge to the same exacting standards of the river cruises on the Brahmaputra and the Hugli, while their Bansbari Lodge at Manas National Park on the Bhutan border offers simpler but comfortable accommodation for another wildlife experience.  I loved these particular lodges as the interiors were really well thought out with good touches like - a jug of fresh cold milk in the bedroom's fridge - I talk constantly about this to luxury properties as most of us discerning tea or coffee drinkers hate UHT in little packets! It was an eureka moment at which Graham chuckled.


The National Park covers about 430 sq km, bordered on the north by the Brahmaputra River and on the south by the Karbi Anglong hills and is home to the endangered Rhinoceros unicornis;  the park has the largest number of one-horned rhinoceros in the world which roam its swamps, grasslands with tall thickets of elephant grass and areas of mixed deciduous and tropical semi-evergreen forest. It is home to a wide variety of other animals and birds, and the open vistas make it relatively easy to see many species of wildlife in a day; naturally I would have loved to spot a tiger but that did not happen though other Charaidew passengers have been lucky in the past. I had enjoyed my two visits; the one to the Eastern Range and the early morning elephant ride in the Central Range but that afternoon was the best.  Four of us set out for the Western Range with Babu the naturalist.  Everyone else seemed to want to take it easy.  When we arrived at the Park one of our party asked Babu ‘So tell many rhinos will we see now?'  Babu paused and said laconically ‘Sir maybe 35 to 40....' At which we four looked at each other and talked about bets and exaggeration.  Yes, well, Babu knew what he was talking about and we had the most glorious and successful afternoon in which we saw a number of wonderful animals including a monitor lizard, wild elephants and swamp deer, wild buffalo, a number of different types of eagles and kites and then rhino.  Oh yes, rhino and rhino and rhino - in the distance, in the nearby swamp and really close up.  In all we saw 36 rhino whilst in the park and on the way home we spotted two more.  You can imagine Babu was grinning, and so apparently was I when I returned and blurted it all out to another friend.  For us the vista of rhino and buffalo and swamp deer with the odd wild elephant near a shallow lake as the sun was setting is a special memory that gave the four of us great pleasure at the time; Kaziranga is not easily reached and needs dedication on the part of the traveller but well worth the effort.  This was a thoroughly good day!

That evening was the last one for most of us and so a special effort was made by the Staff to look very beautiful or handsome according to gender and so we the guests also put on glad rags and had a superlative dinner with beautiful menu on each place setting. This cruise was a splendid experience and one I recommend; if possible for the wildlife enthusiast I would suggest a couple of nights at Diphlu River Lodge at the end before travelling to your onward destination.  As it was most people took the transport back to Guwahati the next morning but we moved onward to Jorhat by car for one night.

My gallery of the journey can be accessed at or

Aline Dobbie


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March 31 2010

Thanks to Larry Brown, below are three interesting cuttings from today March 31st  newspapers

1/ From the Kolkuta Telegraph
     Nameri Home for killer tiger
2/ From the Times of India
     Stormy Skies takes tolls in NE
3/ From the Times of India
Indians better than Britons in English




March 30 2010

The following story is thanks to Gogi Bajaj

This is a story which the Editor has not heard of before but I have been advised that it should be shared by Koi Hai readers--all news on "tea" wrong , right  or indifferent will be enjoyed by ex Tea Planters --this dedicated clan just love reading about tea, as it has been part of their lives 

For All the Tea in China: 
How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History

By Sarah Rose


For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History
By Sarah Rose
Hardcover, 272 pages
Viking Adult
List price: $25.95

Read An Excerpt


March 28, 2010

By the mid-19th century, Britain was an almost unchallenged empire. It controlled about a fifth of the world's surface, and yet its weakness had everything to do with tiny leaves soaked in hot water. By 1800, tea was easily the most popular drink in the country. The problem? All the tea in the world came from China, and Britain couldn't control the quality or the price. So around 1850, a group of British businessmen set out to create a tea industry in a place they did control: India.

For All the Tea In China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History is Sarah Rose's account of the effort to control the tea market, what she calls the "greatest single act of corporate espionage in history."

"The task required a plant hunter, a gardener, a thief, a spy. The man Britain needed was Robert Fortune," Rose writes. Fortune was the agent sent to sneak out of China the plants and secrets of tea production.

Before Fortune, England engaged in trade with China, sending opium in exchange for tea.

"The Chinese emperor hated that opium was the medium of exchange, because a nation of drug addicts was being created. So the emperor confiscated all the opium [and] destroyed it," Rose tells NPR's Guy Raz. "England sent warships. And at the end of the day, they realized that if they were going to keep pace with the British tea consumption and not deal with the Chinese, they had to own it themselves."

Enter Robert Fortune, a botanist in an era when the natural sciences were on the ascent in Britain. Think of botanists in mid-19th century England as research and development scientists in 1970s Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) - the company that developed the Ethernet and many other computing technologies, says Rose.

Many of these 19th century botanists had university degrees and were trained as doctors, but Fortune, who was Scottish, grew up poor.

"He kind of worked his way up through the ranks of professional botany, learning with professional training instead of book training," Rose says.

Around 1845, when the young botanist was in his early 30s, he took a two-year trip to China in search of plants. Upon his return, he published a travelogue in which he described his adventures.

"He was attacked by pirates, he was attacked by bandits, he encountered all kinds of disease and storms, and he also goes in disguise, dressed up as if he were a wealthy Chinese merchant," Rose says.

His memoir having captured the imagination of Victorian society, Fortune was approached by a representative of the East India Trading Company, who asked him to return to China, this time to smuggle tea out of the country.


Courtesy of the author

Sarah Rose has worked as a journalist covering food and travel in Hong Kong, Miami and New York. For All the Tea in China is her first book.

"They wanted really good tea stock from the very best gardens in China, and they also needed experts. They needed the Chinese to go to India to teach the British planters, as well as the Indian gardeners."

Fortune succeeded. He managed to get seeds from China to India, and the impact on the tea trade was immense. Within his lifetime, India surpassed China as the world's largest tea grower.

"It astonishes me," Rose says. "China has pretty much never really come back from that, certainly not in the Western markets. Now that Asia has such a booming economy, the Chinese are again pretty fierce tea producers. But it took a hundred-plus years."

So was Fortune history's greatest corporate thief, or the man we can thank for the tea we drink?

Rose says that to understand his role in the history of tea, it's useful to think of Fortune - who considered himself a gardener and China expert - in the terms of the market in which he existed.

"Today we have Monsanto, and there are patents on everything. But in those days, even the notion of a patent or intellectual property was just being articulated in legal systems. So he didn't see himself as stealing something that didn't belong to him. He thought plants belonged to everybody."

Excerpt: 'For All The Tea In China'

by Sarah Rose

For All The Tea In China

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History
By Sarah Rose
Hardcover, 272 pages
Viking Adult
List price: $25.95

Chapter Four

Shanghai to Hangzhou, September 1848

Fortune was patient as the coolie attended to his new coif. A small blue and white tea bowl sat nearby on a dusty crate, and swirling its sediment of leaves, Fortune spilled the cooling liquid out onto the dirty deck. Floors were the place to toss garbage in China, it seemed, and he was consciously trying to behave in the Chinese manner to make his disguise credible. And so, in the Chinese way, he had warmed the porcelain bowl by rinsing it with the hot water. Green tea was not Fortune's preference, absent the civilized comforts of milk and sugar, but he was coming to appreciate the custom of drinking it plain and unadulterated.

Fortune was a constant curiosity when traveling as a Westerner. To the Chinese, the Scotsman looked grotesque. He was tall, his nose was much longer than a nose need be, and his eyes were too round; although round eyes were generally considered a sign of intelligence, Fortune, with his halting Chinese, would have sounded like a child to them. Even the simple act of eating brought him unwanted attention. 'He eats and drinks like ourselves,' observed one member of a crowd, watching him on his first trip, Fortune recalled. ''Look,' said two or three behind me who had been examining the back part of my head rather attentively, 'look here, the stranger has no tail'; then the whole crowd, women and children included, had to come round to me to see if it was really a fact that I had no tail.'

Not surprisingly, his servants insisted that they would join him only if he took steps to disguise himself upon leaving Shanghai. 'They were quite willing to accompany me, only stipulating that I should discard my English costume and adopt the dress of the country. I knew this was indispensable if I wished to accomplish the object in view and readily acceded to the terms.'

The style of the day required that all ethnic Chinese men shave the front of their heads as an act of fealty to the emperor. The tonsure of nearly 200 million people was a potent symbol of the invading Manchurian court's power over the individual. The Qing emperors used the edict as a way of controlling the population, of transforming a multiethnic, heterodox society into a conforming one. Refusing to be shaven was considered an act of sedition.

Having finished attaching the queue, the coolie now took his rusty razor to the front of Fortune's head and began to create a new, higher hairline for him. 'He did not shave, he actually scraped my poor head until the tears came running down my cheeks and I cried out with pain,' Fortune wrote. 'I suppose I must be the first person upon whom he had ever operated, and I am charitable enough to wish most sincerely I may be the last.'

On that first day of his journey, Fortune reviewed the itinerary and the rationale for his offensive. The job would require several years in China to complete. To jump-start production in the East India Company's tea gardens, it was critical that he bring back several thousand tea plants, many thousand more seeds, plus the highly specialized techniques of Chinese tea growing and manufacturing. He would somehow have to persuade workers from the finest factories to leave their homes and accompany him to India.

Before Fortune could identify the perfect tea recipe, however, he needed to obtain the basic ingredients themselves: the finest classes of tea that China had to offer, both green and black. To this end he decided to make at least two separate tea-hunting trips - one each for green tea and black tea, for the two were never grown together in the same region. Green tea and black tea required different growing conditions, Fortune believed. The best green tea was in the north, whereas the best black came from mountains in southern China.

From For All The Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. Copyright 2010 by Sarah Rose. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 

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March 21 2010
The Editor thanks John Gill for forwarding the cutting from  the Times of London March 11 2010

Pilot Project will bring wonders of the web to nations poorest


Rhys Blakely--

    India is to embark on an ambitious scheme to provide all it's 630,000 villages, no matter how remote, with Broadband Internet access.
    The plan is to use the internet to improve education and health services in areas blighted by poverty and to help to bridge the cultural chasms that separate India's regions and castes. It would also enable the country's outsourcing businesses, clustered in cities such as Bangalore, to serve Western clients from most isolated hamlets.
    The Government run scheme will focus initially on the Northeast, an area in the grip of several insurgent battles, as well as the poorest tribal and border regions, which often lack reliable mobile telephone coverage, let alone the Internet.
    A spokesman for Sachin Pilot, the minister of State for Communications and IT confirmed the polans yesterday. A deadline of may 2012 has been set for every village with a population of more than 300 people.
    Analysts say the target is extremely ambitious. According to official figures, there are a mere 7.2 million broadband subscribers in India a country with 1.2 billion. Hardly any of these connections are in villages, where only about 14 per cent of adults have mobile phones, compared with more than 80 per cent in cities, according to government statistics. Across the world about a quarter of the population is using the Internet, according to a recent UN report.
    A glimpse of how the gaping digital divide may be bridged came last month when a new government-run WiMAX network was launched near Guwahati, in the northern sate of Assam. A kind of souped-up wi-fi, the wireless technology allows internet access to any suitable device within about 10 miles (16KM) of a central mast. It is well suited to remote regions, officials believe.
    Assam is also earmarked to become the first state in India to have fibre-optic cables, capable of trafficking large volumes of data at high speed, installed at "village level", according to Mr Pilot.
    The national internet drive will be financed by the state run Universal Service Obligation fund, into which private telecoms operators must pay 5 per cent of their gross earnings .It is worth about  $3.5 billion ( £2.3 billion ). It will be spearheaded by the state-owned telecoms company BSNL, which is being asked to enter challenging regions that private operators have avoided.
    There are also plans to provide satellite telephones to villages too far out of reach to supply with conventional telecoms services.
    About two thirds of India's population live in villages. mobile phone operators are seeing explosive levels of subscriber growth, but the telecoms network still connects only about 4,500 towns and cities and 65,000 villages.
    The scheme is one of several grand projects designed to drag all of India --not just the privileged elite --- into the information age.
    Another is probably the biggest Big Brother project yet conceived; the planned issue to every citizen, many of whom posses no documentary of their existence, with biometric identity cards. They will contain personal details that the project's head, outsourcing guru Nandan Nilkani, wants to be linked to a "ubiquitous online database" accessible from anywhere.

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February 21 2010
This item is from the BBC web site

All the cats were spotted in the Jeypore-Dehing forests (photo: Kashmira Kakati)

India's Eastern Himalayan rainforest could have one of the world's largest number of wild cat species, after seven species were recorded in two years.
The wild cats, including the rare clouded leopard, were photographed by remote cameras with motion sensors.
Wildlife experts say the discovery is encouraging considering the ongoing threat to animal life in the area.
The study was conducted over two years in 500 sq km (5,380 sq ft) of forest by wildlife biologist Kashmira Kakati.
All the cats were photographed in the Jeypore-Dehing lowland forests in Assam state north-east India.

The seven species caught on camera include the rare and elusive clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), marbled cat (Pardofelis marmorata), and golden cat (Catopuma temminckii), and four relatively widely distributed species - tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), and jungle cat (Felis chaus).
Deforestation, poaching and major engineering projects, such as hydro-electric dams, threaten the long-term survival of wildlife habitats.
Crude oil extraction and coal mining are also taking their toll.

Wildlife Conservation Society-India spokesman Ravi Chellam said that rainforests were important for preserving biodiversity and creating a livelihood for local communities.
"The entire forest here should be protected as a single conservation landscape, free of disturbance and connected by wildlife corridors," he said. 


Alan Lane has kindly defined exactly where the Jeypore-Dehing Forest is

The Jeypore-Dehing Forest Reserve is indeed on the South Bank of the Brahmputra River. If you look at the ITA map for the Dibrugarh District, you may note the area on the map from Keyhung TE to Namdang TE, including Namsang, Dirok, Makum gardens . That area comprised what is now the Jeypore-Dehing forest reserve.

The Jeypore-Dehing Forest reserve extends from near to Duliajan to Digboi on the northern bank of the Buri-Dehing River, and on the southern bank of the Buri-Dehing River from near to Namroop to Margherita. When I lived in Mahakali TE in 1964 it extended from that tea estate all the way to the Burma border. Sadly, a lot of it has been chopped down for firewood, and also in the past, for making plywood tea chests!!

I had to visit the Jeypore Plywood Factory (near to Namroop - actually shown on the "Dibrugarh" map as Jaipur) in 1965 to overhaul their Crossley QVD engine. Whilst there I took the opportunity of watching what happened to all the large forest trees that were brought in to the factory.

The trunks were lifted in to the factory and put on to two spigots for rotating. As it rotated, a long blade - similar to your wet razor - was fed against the trunk. As it moved inwards the cut of the trunk produced one long sheet that rolled out onto a wide bed to the stop end. An electric saw then cut the sheet of wood into specific lengths. These were then removed to a drying room and a majority of the moisture was removed. After that the sheets were then coated in a shellac glue and on passed to a large hydraulic press. The press also was fed with high temperature steam to make the shellac liquid and then the sheets were pressed into a set pattern - each sheet was located a different way to the sheet above and below it, and the assembled pressed stack was removed to another heated room for drying out. These sheets then went through to the cutting and manufacturing room to make the tea chests. The time taken from a tree coming out of the holding yard to being tea chest was about a couple of hours.

If you think of the number of tea chest manufacturers in Assam and Bengal, consider then the amount of deforestation that had to happen to feed this industry alone, not forgetting the smaller trees that were turned into charcoal as well. No wonder the governments had to act, and close down the plywood factories - and thank God they did. 
Thank you Alan for taking the time and trouble to help us


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 February 16 2010

 We are grateful to Jackie Lane for finding this article from the Assam Tribune --Jackie was from a well known Digboi family.  Husband Alan did the work to get it to the Editor of 
Thank you both

AS A CHILD, when I had visited the oil township of Digboi, it's magnificent lush green natural surroundings with the very well-maintained roadways, general cleanliness, attractive bungalows on hilltops and their immaculately kept lawns and flower gardens, had greatly impressed me. In fact, at that time, I literally fell in love with Digboi as a ‘dreamland' and wished to stay in this beautiful township forever! Strangely, later on, God fulfilled my wish, when I, along with my husband SN Sharma (popularly known as SN), landed up at Digboi in 1958 as a newly married couple, where he had joined as an executive with the erstwhile Assam Oil Company.

Being Nature-lovers, we considered ourselves very lucky to live in Digboi, that too, for thirty odd years of the best period of our lives. But no regrets! Our two children grew up with the smell of crude oil mingled with the fragrance of wild flowers, orchids of different hues, the whistling and chirping of the birds, the haunting cries of the Hoolock monkeys, and, of course, the trumpet of the wild elephants and even the leopards visiting the bungalows, which were situated near the surrounding jungles.

That reminds me of the late 1980s, when our daughter got married and the groom's party was staying in bungalow number 72, situated near the Digboi Golf course (18 holes course), where a very exciting incident took place. Early in the morning, following their arrival, some early risers amongst them were shocked to see two tiger cubs tearing and playing with the cushions of the cane chairs which were meant for the downstairs verandah of the bungalow. They shouted with great excitement for the others to come out and see the unique scene. The mother of the cubs was sitting near the fence (according to the onlookers), watching the fun and frolicking of her cubs. Soon, the cubs left along with their mother to the nearby jungles. Our son-in-law Tridib, along with a few others of the party, came running downstairs to the verandah to see the damage done by the wild visitors. Tridib immediately rang us up at our bungalow and told us jokingly that we had arranged their stay in that particular bungalow to put them in the mouth of those felines!! We were really embarassed and apologised for that unusual incident. Of course, the big cats (leopards mostly) of Digboi were also fond of dogs and they turned out to be only dog-eaters, luckily not man-eaters! The unusual disappearance of the pets of many executives who lived mostly on Shillong road bungalows were the common target of the leopards during the 1970s and the 1980s.

Elephants, too, used to visit the Digboi housing areas through the roads and backyards. Once, one makhona crossed the railway crossing and came towards our bungalow number 3. At first, we thought it to be a domestic one, but, when we saw a crowd beating drums and making noise behind the majestic animal, we realised that it was indeed a wild one. Immediately, we rang up the local Forest Department staff, who, of course, quite promptly took action and diverted the makhona to the nearby forests, to everybody's relief. The huge animal eventually went away without causing any damage to property and lives.

Again, when mist filled the nearby hills during winter, the flying squirrels used to visit our bungalows. They came out of their burrows from the nearby jungles and hills in search of food at night. Normally they eat insects, ants and fruits, which were then quite abundant in and around Digboi. These cute creatures were mostly attracted by the lights inside our houses, mostly on the Shillong Road and the Digboi Club areas. They remained on the nearby trees and rooftops for quite long, perching on the trees and looking through the window panes and curiously showing us their faces. We, along with our two children, enjoyed their visits very much.

There were also many kinds of birds (some migratory), who used to visit us in different seasons, in search of food and shelter. They, particularly the mynahs, often sang melodiously and made whistling sounds. There were also green pigeons, hornbills and wild ducks in the housing areas. Luckily, no shikaris were there around that time! These were some of Nature's gifts to us, which we enjoyed so much during our stay in Digboi.

In a remote industrial township like Digboi, our lives would have been very dull without some social activities. Most of these social activities revolved round the Digboi Club, which, along with the neighbouring ‘tea-clubs', helped to make our lives fuller. We, the ladies of the Digboi Oil township, had (and still have) a very active and well organised ladies club. This ladies club often organises events and shows to raise funds for charity purposes. Once, when our ladies club arranged a show titled - ‘Arabian Night' for its fund raising programme at Dibgoi Club in the late 1970s, with myself as the president of ladies club, we duly flashed messages quite ahead of the function to all the neighbouring clubs (to publish in their club bulletins), to ensure large participation in the show. In one such club bulletin, it was jokingly written that "... some top belly dancers have also been flown in from an Arab country for this show...". However, this particular issue of the bulletin somehow got into the hands of one of the ministers (name withheld) of Assam, who during the course of his speech at a public meeting in Tinsukia, mentioned that while the people of Assam were suffering economically, the AOC Digboi should not have flown in belly dancers from Arab countries for entertainment, spending a huge sum of money. However, the minister and his informers did not realise that those artistes were none other than late General Rawlley (Ex. GM of AOC), and Mr and Mrs N Jallenawalla, Mr and Mrs B Choudhury (all from nearby tea estates) and many others from Digboi itself! I still remember how the club hall was packed to capacity and at the end of the show how the crowd was disappointed to see the hairy chest and beard of Mr Jallenawalla, when he removed his artificial bosom and veil from his face! It was really hillarious a and very successful performance.

The club meets of both OIL and the tea-clubs were also grand affairs, and so were their flower shows, Bihus, swimming galas, X-mas and New Year Eve parties, besides the Digboi Theatre group's presentation of wonderful dramas, which were some of the noteworthy yearly events that nobody wanted to miss.

Apart from the said club programmes, there was Ram Leela organised during the Durga puja festival at Digboi. Ram Leela was a must for us, which we, along with our friends and children greatly enjoyed, particularly the role of the bidi smoking Sita Maiya! The ‘Friends Durga Puja' at Shantipara, was a most popular and enjoyable function for us all. I still remember the garma-garam khichidi and labra bhaji along with paayas, which we all relished with friends of all caste and creed, young and old, sitting together to enjoy the food and the ambience. Another attraction at this puja was the musical evenings presented by the children and wives of the executives and also the officers themselves. The skits written, produced and acted by Dr Bhupati Das (now MD of NRL) were very entertaining. Those were the days of togetherness and brotherhood and kabhi khushi, kabhi gham, which we miss so much! But, readers, not to misunderstand that we had only khushi times. The working people had a very strict work schedule and they did work very hard during their working days.

Anjali Sharma

February 8 2010

                                                      For immediate release

               THE (LAST) YEAR OF THE TIGER?

By Sally Morningstar

"The eyes of the tiger are the brightest of any animal on earth. They blaze back the ambient light with awe-inspiring intensity. It would be a tragedy, and a terrible dereliction of duty, if we allowed that magical fire to burn out" - Billy Arjan Singh, Indian hunter turned conservationist

15 August 1917 - 1 January 2010

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On February 14th the Chinese will be celebrating their New Year's Eve and in the Chinese Zodiac 2010 falls in the Year of the Tiger. Many wildlife species are endangered, but it is now thought that the Wild Tiger is one of the most critically endangered of all.  In the 20th century three of the eight sub-species of tiger became extinct; the Balinese in 1937, the Caspian in the 1950's and most recently the Javan in the 1980's. The five remaining sub-species are all critically endangered - these are the Siberian, largest of the tigers, the Bengal, the Sumatran, the Indo-Chinese and the South China tiger. The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of the sub-species and the South China Tiger is closest to extinction, it is believed there may only be 10 in the wild.  Although tiger derivatives are totally illegal and it has never been proven medically, tiger parts raise significant amounts of money because many Chinese believe they can cure certain ailments. Because of this and their increasing awareness of the need to conserve their wildlife, China has recently made changes to their animal welfare legislation and tightened their laws on the illegal hunting, trapping and farming of wild tigers. 

The critical decline of the wild tiger is not just happening in China; it is an Asian issue.  A villager in India can earn double their yearly wage by killing a tiger. It is not surprising that these animals are so readily poached and exploited when an undamaged tiger skin can fetch between £6000 and £8000. Due to loss of habitat, intense exploitation, lack of conservation and political will, an international population of 100,000 in 1900 is now thought to have dwindled to around

just 3,200 left in the wild, leaving a dangerously low gene pool with which to try and increase tiger numbers. We are losing a tiger a day in the wild. Latest figures suggest that India has around 1,200, Russia approximately 350, Sumatra about 350 and the Indo -tiger around 1,200. That is it!

De-forestation, trophy hunting, poaching (and human poverty) have ground away at the tiger's place in the world so that, today, very little of it remains. The imminent and total extinction from the wild of this most noble of creatures is perilously close.

In the Forests of the Night


Tiger and man do not live comfortably together because both man and tiger are at the top of their particular food chain and man is the tiger's only predator. The tiger shies naturally away from humans and is a solitary creature. It is also highly territorial and can be very ferocious. Sadly it is the tiger's fearsome reputation that goes before it and it is true to say that on occasions, a tiger will attack humans, but this is normally due to lack of prey and clashes of living area.  Tigers are renowned for their power and strength and ability to floor their prey with one leap and a bite to the neck. Because a tiger will always attack from behind, local people have been known to wear masks on the back of their heads when out in the forest in the Sundarbans.

Because tigers are typically shy and solitary, scientists and conservationists can really only speculate on the actual numbers still left in the wild, but they all agree that - without concerted and immediate effort - we are likely to see the total extinction of the wild tiger within 10 years. The Chinese zodiac runs in twelve year cycles, meaning that 2010 could well turn out to be the very last year of the Tiger where these magnificent animals still existed in the wild.

Helping the Wild Tiger

"It would be a sad day if the only place one could see a tiger is in a zoo"

Phil Davis - Tiger Awareness

Double Brace:

There are several tiger conservation and protection programs already in place working to save this species from extinction.

Individuals can help by raising awareness of the critical situation that tigers are facing and by supporting tiger conservation organizations such as those listed below. Another option is to adopt a tiger or make a donation of what you can afford to the tiger project of your choice. You can also contribute by organising your own fund raisers and by educating others and encouraging them to help this cause as well. My wish for 2010 - the year of the Tiger - is that this most regal of big cats (the largest cat of all) remains with us for a long, long time, I, for one, sincerely hope it is not too late to save them.

The International Tiger Coalition -

An alliance of more than 35 organisations united under the common aim of stopping the trade in tiger parts and products, from any source.

Tiger Awareness -

A registered charity working directly with local organizations in India, at ground level, where the funds are most needed and given directly by them.

Tiger Watch -

Based in India, Tiger Watch is doing an excellent job in rehabilitating tribal hunting families in Ranthambhore, India. They are successfully reducing poaching in the area with their work.

Tiger photograph courtesy of Phil Davis, Tiger Awareness

For further information, interviews, articles, photographs - please contact:

Phil Davis - Tiger Awareness - +44(0)1455 447 315     

To contact Sally Morningstar- freelance writer:

+44(0) 1458 830742

+44(0) 7962 437353

Any and all proceeds/fees accrued from this press release/article will be donated directly to tiger conservation projects


January 27 2010

This article is taken from the Independent Newspaper in the UK--kindly forwarded to the Editor by Peter & Merle Bartlett --and we thank them--Editor

Trail Of The Unexpected: 
The root masters of India

The extraordinary bridges over the Khasi river 
valleys are living works of art
By Jini Reddi     

This is taken from the Independent of Saturday January 23rd 2010

I was in the wettest place on earth: Cherrapunjee, a region in the verdant, little-visited north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya. Now, though, the skies were a clear, brilliant blue. I'd come to trek to Cherrapunjee's mysterious living-root bridges. These structures are as much works of art as examples of environmentally friendly bio-engineering.

"They're Meghalaya's Taj Mahal," said Denis Rayen, the owner of the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, as we sipped cold drinks on the front lawn and watched a band of local musicians perform a medley of folk tunes and Bollywood favourites for the guests.

The six bridges are the creation of the tribe who live in the area's isolated valleys: the Khasi. They, or rather their forefathers, dreamt up the idea of coaxing the roots of the Ficus elastica tree (otherwise known as the Indian rubber tree) along hollowed-out trunks of betel palm and bamboo in order to cross rivers. The bridges take 25 years or so to become functional, but they can bear the weight of up to 50 people at a time, and last for five centuries or more.

They're also well hidden. Rayen, a former banker from Chennai who married a woman of Khasi descent, discovered the bridges for himself nine years ago, while building the resort.

"I was exploring trekking routes and headed off with some villagers. I crossed a mountain stream on one and did a double-take," he said. Recognising their potential appeal to tourists, he has since painstakingly mapped out hikes to the bridges. The most popular hike takes visitors to the Umshiang double-decker root bridge.

Getting to it takes dedication. The resort is the only place to stay for miles. It is 11 miles from Cherrapunjee town, high above the Khasi Hills which rise from the Bangladeshi plains to the south. The last leg of the journey is via a winding road overlooking magnificent ridges and gorges from which tumble frothy waterfalls. It is a picturesque reward for the six-hour drive from the airport over the border in the Assamese capital of Guwahati.

The next morning, I doubled back on the road to the small village of Tyrna, where the six-mile trail starts. From there it was a dizzyingly steep descent into the heart of a forested valley.

We passed through lush tropical vegetation and cliff-and-waterfall scenery; from time to time giant yellow butterflies danced around me and birds flitted about the treetops. All the while I was assailed by the heavenly scent of orchids and hibiscus flowers.

Nongthymai, a small farming village, started where the steps ended. A noticeboard outlined the village rules, which Peter translated for me: "No loitering after dark, no swearing, no alcohol, no litter, no graffiti, no washing under the public tap." Indeed, the village was scrupulously tidy, the small plots of land around the homes neatly filled with potatoes, pumpkin and cauliflower.

The Khasi are predominantly Christian, as a result of the arrival of Welsh missionaries in the 19th century. As we trekked through the village, I didn't spot a single Hindu shrine, deity, plume of incense, or tikka-foreheaded child. Rather than saris, the women wore the Jansiem, a toga-like swathe of cotton. It was slightly disconcerting: a snapshot of an India without the familiar visual clues.

Beyond the village, we walked through more forest along slippery, moss-covered boulders. Then it all got a bit Alice in Wonderland: more giant butterflies in rainbow colours; weird mushrooms jutting from the trees; a long, green caterpillar inching sedately across my path. Peter pointed out a black-and-yellow spider the size of a small plate.

We crossed fast-flowing streams on swaying steel suspension bridges and parallel to one of these I spotted three unfinished root bridges, connected by tiny islands.

But it was the 200-year-old double-decker root bridge I had come to see. After two hours, as we approached the village of Nongkriet, there it was. The roots of a single tree crossed the river on two levels, like a mad piece of macramé crossed with a tangled beard, bits of seaweed and a hairy den of tarantulas. It's a bridge for hobbits, not humans.

I walked gingerly across the top level, which spanned 70 feet, then the slighter shorter bottom one, careful not to get my foot stuck in a stray root. It didn't collapse.

Why would the villagers build a bridge on two levels, I wondered. "Because they fancied it," said Denis when I met him later. "There's even a triple-decker bridge in the works."

The Umshiang bridge overlooks a small waterfall and rock pool. After a swim, and a lunch of jadoh, a sort of pork biriani, I tried to imagine the bridge in the swirling mist and rain.

Suddenly, I saw a figure crossing it. Not a hobbit, just a mop-haired teen making his way to the next village. Cherrapunjee's living root bridges might rival the rain for romance, but for the Khasi they'll always be a practical, environmentally friendly means to get from A to B.

Travel essentials:   Cherrapunjee

Getting there
The gateway to the region is Delhi, which is served daily from Heathrow by Air India, British Airways, Jet Airways and Virgin Atlantic. From here, connecting flights to Guwahati are operated by GoAir, JetLite and Kingfisher.

Pictures of Calcutta at night.  Click each picture to make it larger.  Click it again to return to the selections.