India’s North Eastern state of Assam conjures up images of endless stretches of undulating lush green tea estates and rightfully occupies the numero uno position as one of the world’s most densely cultivated tea-growing regions that produce some of the world’s best teas! No wonder Assam Tea sets the benchmark for other tea varieties to follow today.
The evolution of Assam tea is a legendary affair and takes one back to the days of Scottish adventurer: Robert Bruce, who in 1823 was taken aback by the proposition of an indigenous Assamese nobleman named Maniram Dewan that a certain plant variety, aka “tea-like leaves” possessed magical potion and deserved to be clinically lab-tested; his conviction was probably strengthened by observing the native Singhpo tribal community, who have been reportedly brewing this wonder tea leaves and drinking it as an elixir. The rest, as we say is history, with Assam gradually evolving as one of the world’s biggest tea-producing regions.
Today the very name “Camellia sinensis var Assamica” epitomises everything that is robust, masculine and healthy. There is no denying the fact that Assam Tea comes packed with bioactive ingredients and is one of the best immunity boosters that you can lay your hand upon; from the buzzing Indian street side tea stalls to the uber luxury Harrods in London!
The soaring popularity and global demand for Assam tea are best reflected in Harrods’ tea section thus:
Sourced in India, Harrods Assam tea N. 30 will leave you feeling invigorated, thanks to its bold taste and colour. Ideal for early winter mornings, it is rounded with a malty flavour and once combined with milk, results in a refreshing full-bodied blend of tea.
As a past native of Assam, I still depend upon garden fresh Assam tea sourced out of some of the best tea estates of this incredibly beautiful North Eastern state of India. Like a Bengali and his fish are inseparable, likewise, an Assamese and his cup of tea are inseparable.
A year back, while I was talking to my folks back in Assam on my mobile, I was informed about the world’s first “Elephant-friendly tea estate” in Udalguri, Assam; a place renowned for its flora & fauna and the bastion of the fascinating Bodo tribal community. I vividly remember my high school days in a boarding school in Tezpur (Assam) and, every time my dad would come to fetch me home for vacations, I would piggy ride on my dad’s 4x4 WD Maruti Gypsy, passing through Udalguri town, on that beautiful 175 Kms stretch from Guwahati to Tezpur.
I am familiar with Assam’s tea estates but never heard of an “Elephant-friendly tea estate" and that too is the world’s first such estate! So, I first set aside one full day for Udalguri on my annual trip to Assam 3 months back. From the state capital Guwahati, it is a 3 hours drive to Udalguri’s Elephant-friendly tea estate on NH27 and Kachibari village is where the tea estate is located. This is the land of the Bodo tribals; one of the most primitive and colourful indigenous tribes of India’s North East, who trace their origins to Tibet. The fairytale-like setting at this one-of-a-kind tea estate at the edge of the India-Bhutan border is every bit inspiring; you can literally see the Bhutan Himalayas spanning across the horizon.
As we sipped piping hot Assam tea inside Tenzing Bodosa’s tea estate & eco-resort on the surreal backdrop of the Bhutan Himalayas, we were witness to an unparalleled wildlife drama that unfolded; herds of elephants alongside their babies gently crossing the threshold of the Bhutanese boundary and entering Tenzing’s tea E estate, which he has so beautifully setup with exclusive “Green Corridors” for the elephants to feed upon, especially on bamboo shoots that are a perennial favourite with the herds and grows profusely in this part of India’s North East.
Tenzing Bodosa is today the poster boy of the billion-dollar global tea industry, pegged at a whopping US $ 207.1 billion and India is a key (top five) global tea exporter. The North Eastern state of Assam produces approximately 50 % of India’s total tea and has a history dating back two centuries and more... Being a native of Assam, it didn’t take long for Tenzing to realize that the land and the tropical climate were ideally suited for tea cultivation and Assam has been witnessing the burgeoning growth of small tea planters, with more and more youths participating in the "tea revolution".
In 2007, Tenzing took the vow of growing tea in his own backyard, which for centuries together were used for paddy cultivation by his ancestors. Defying all odds, he began his trailblazing tea journey. Initially, like other tea planters, Tenzing too used pesticides and fertilizers to increase his productivity and profit levels. However, somewhere deep inside, he was disgusted and the very idea of using chemicals to increase crop yields was revolting.
Tenzing’s never-say-die spirit then brought him in touch with a Canadian NGO: Fertile Ground and under their tutelage, he received hands-on training on organic farming at his nondescript tea estate in Udalguri. Let me tell you, the tea industry is very competitive and Tenzing had to compete with thousands of other tea planters, big and small, who manufactured tea by using chemicals and initially had to struggle with the escalating production cost.
Tenzing’s remarkable tenacity reminds me of those immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson who once was quoted as saying:
A great man is always willing to be little.
I for once feel that Tenzing’s humility, perseverance and hard work, traits that are prevalent in the tribal communities of India’s North East, stood him in good stead in his evolution as the person behind the world’s first Elephant; friendly tea estate.
Tenzing’s big leap in the highly competitive global tea arena was in the year 2016 following a visit by Sebastian Beckwith, the CEO of the renowned tea trading firm: In Pursuit of Tea. Whose hallmark is to source tea from some of the world’s best tea estates in Asia. Beckwith’s visit to Tenzing’s Tea Estate in Udalguri catapulted him to the rarefied realms of global tea exclusivity and his first big shipment was worth INR 500,000, courtesy of Beckwith’s order.
Needless to say, Beckwith’s in-depth knowledge of the global tea trade and his invaluable guidance to Tenzing at various times offered him insight into the highly competitive global tea markets. Thanks to Beckwith’s patronage, Tenzing’s Elephant-friendly organic tea gradually found markets in affluent Western countries like the US, UK, Canada and Germany.
BBC Travel nicely summed up Tenzing Bodosa’s exemplary wildlife conservation efforts thus:
In the Indian state of Assam, tea farmer Tenzing Bodosa has found his own way of creating a more symbiotic human-elephant relationship. The most unusual part of Bodosa’s farm, though, is its buffer zone, where the tea fields end and the jungle begins. While most local growers cut down the plants elephants eat that grow around their farms, Bodosa adds to the vegetation, planting bamboo, star fruit and other plants elephants love. Bodosa’s innovation has not gone unnoticed; he has trained about 30,000 farmers on his tea-farming practices, and his garden has been certified by the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network as the world’s only elephant-friendly tea farm.
The entire North Eastern region of India is considered an important elephant migration area. Scientific research indicates that Asian elephants favour forests with high vegetative cover and sparsely populated areas for their migration. The state of Assam, which happens to be one of the world’s principal tea growing areas and the fact that tea estates have grown up along Elephant migration routes resulting in rampant human-elephant conflicts, Tenzing Bodosa’s innovative path-breaking elephant-friendly conservation efforts viz-a-viz tea estates has become the new global benchmark in wildlife conservation!
With the Indian government’s pro-active approach to highlight the North East as the next big composite tourism destination; virgin, unexplored and unusual, a visit to Tenzing Bodosa’s 3 hectares elephant-friendly tea estate in Udalguri offers prospective international visitors with an extraordinary opportunity to set out on a rendezvous with Asian Elephants right in his backyard.
Out here at Tenzing’s tea estate, love is overpowering; no barbed wire fencing, no treacherous trenches, no armed forest guards or surveillance staff. The sight of early morning tea pluckers going around the bushes, collecting tea leaves on their bamboo basket, while right next to them are elephant herds grazing happily on the estate’s exclusive vegetative buffer zone: a scene straight out of a fairytale land and perhaps one of the best specimens of human-wildlife friendship anywhere in the world.
Here at Tenzing’s Elephant-friendly tea estate, time slows down and visitors start a new dialogue with mother nature. Needless to say, the connection is deep. Deep, because you have purposefully come to indulge and savour the manifestation of one of the world’s finest solo Elephant Conservation efforts and Asian Elephants are classified by the IUCN in their Red List of endangered wildlife species.
Traveller’s fact file:
The elephant-friendly experience:
The Conscious Tourism Experience at Tenzing Bodosa’s Tea Estate in Udalguri is one-of-a-kind. As a prospective visitor, please be informed that Tenzing’s Tea Estate is a Certified Elephant Friendly Tea Program, which is a joint endeavour of two world-class affiliates: the University of Montana and Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN).
From the Estate’s Tree-house, you have every chance of observing Asian Elephants wandering with their calves and grazing in the Estate’s buffer zone.
For those who are obsessed with “organic” things, Tenzing offers hands-on training in organic farming techniques and has already trained close to 70,000 farmers. What can be more rewarding than participating in the estate’s reforestation drive and watching how children lend a hand to planting Elephant-friendly trees?
Reaching the place:
The LGBI International Airport in Guwahati, 115 km. from Udalguri is the nearest international airport and well served by routine domestic and international flights operated by Air India, Indigo, Spice Jet, Air Asia etc. Hired taxis are readily available from the airport and the journey time to Tenzing Bodosa’s tea estate is approximately 3 hours.