Tea Tourism in West Bengal

West Bengal plans to develop tourism centered around tea.
Tea tourism is high on the West Bengal government’s radar. It intends to upgrade accommodation, construct log-cabins, renovate heritage bungalows and undertake landscaping to give a boost to this sector.
While the state is seeking funds from the central government — state tourism minister Manab Mukherjee has asked Ambika Soni for Rs 8 crore for a “tea tourism package” — it has received a host of proposals from the tea-estate owners, says Mukherjee.
Some tea-estate owners have already got tea tourism off ground. Among these are Rajah Banerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate, the Chamarias of Phaskowa and Anshuman Prakash of Glenburn Tea Estate.
Glenburn, which was opened to tourists around three years ago, is a exclusive boutique hotel where guests put up at the Burra Bungalow, or the Glenburn Lodge on the banks of the Rangit.
At Rs 8,000-10,000 per person per night, it is very high-end, and as much as 80 per cent of the clientele comprises foreigners. In Dibrugarh, Assam, the owners of Mancotta Tea Estate have taken a similar initiative to open up the heritage “chang” bungalow to visitors.
Tea-tourism at Makaibari, an initiative that’s about a year old, is of a different kind. Visitors here have the choice to stay at the heritage Stone Lodge where the four suites have separate toilets and running hot-water, or they can stay in any of the 20-25 houses of tea-garden workers where they can be close to nature and the community.
Says Abhra Bhattacharjee of Help Tourism, which has been working with Banerjee to initiate tourism on Makaibari Tea Estate, “The objective is to encourage tourism while also ensuring that the benefits reach the communities directly affected.” In Makaibari, all activities are managed by locals through a group called “Hum Tera”, which stands for both “we are for you” and “we 13”.
Even the revenues from tourists go to the villagers. Besides visiting the tea-factory, horse-riding and bird-watching, guests are encouraged to sample local culture and handicrafts. In addition, they can also get a feel of a restored Darjeeling Himalayan Railway engine.
While tea-tourism is quite a hit with foreigners, local traffic too is opening up, says Bhattacharjee. “Earlier, the mix of foreigners to Indians was 80-20, now it is 60-40.” Help Tourism has bookings for its lodges for the 2007 season too.
But all these tea-estates — Makaibari, Phaskowa, Glenburn, Mancotta — are not too far off motorable roads. Not all gardens have this advantage.
Says Prakash of Glenburn, “The roads are a huge deterrent, especially for the foreigners.” Banerjee had to lay down two-kilometres or so of road to the Stone Lodge.
He has also put in Rs 4 crore to do up the cottage, and accommodate the staff. But looking at the response, the investment has more than paid off.
Banerjee is now looking to develop the lodge into a five-star property, and is in talks with established players like Fortune Hotels, Carlton and Mayfair, as well as banks for the Rs 15-20 crore investment required. There is obviously more to tea than just the usual cuppa.

Source: Business Standard