DARJEELING: The army stepped in on Tuesday to build a metal bridge at the landslide-hit area to help resume traffic movement. Sunday's landslide had devoured a 30-metre stretch of the Lebong Cart Road. Vehicular movement from the main town to the northern parts had to be diverted to the upper stretches where the road is narrow and small.

The 113 Engineer Regiment of the Indian army at Lebong surveyed the landslide site near Sharma Garage just above the Happy Valley tea estate. "Work to build the bridge would begin from Wednesday and we hope to resume vehicular movement within three days," said Brigadier R S Rawat, of the Dogra Regiment. The bridge on completion will be christened 'Mayaloo 113' after the regiment's number.

The PWD will continue with the repair of the road work. "We were already in the process of restoring the road that was damaged prior to the earthquake and the landslide. Now we will concentrate in strengthening the road from the bottom," said a senior PWD official.

The Dogra Regiment is located at Lebong about four kilometers from the landslide area.

The Lebong Cart Road connects the town with Singamari, where Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's (GJM) main office and reputed boarding schools and colleges are located. It also leads to Sikkim via Jorethang. Several Darjeeling Tea plantations are also located beyond the landslide site.

Trilok Dewan, the Darjeeling MLA visited the landslide site with the army and district administration officials. "It is encouraging to see the army at the fore. I request the district administration to ensure that the army is not impeded while they are at work to restore traffic movement," said Dewan.

Bengal Governor M.K.Narayanan arrived in Darjeeling on Tuesday and visited the landslide area in the afternoon. He will be meeting officials of the district administration later in the evening to take stock of the situation in the Hills post the earthquake and landslide.

Source: Times of India

Darjeeling: Just when the life of people in the Hills was are limping back to normalcy after the 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the entire eastern India, a massive landslide devoured a 30-metre stretch of Lebong Cart Road late Sunday night, cutting off connectivity with the northern parts of Darjeeling. However, no casualties have been reported in the incident.

Lebong Cart Road connects the town with places like Singamari and some Darjeeling Tea gardens such as Phoobsering, Barnesbeck, Singla, Ging and also the army cantonment at Lebong. All vehicular movement has now been diverted from the Birch Hill Road.

"Incessant rain in the past 24 hours has damaged a vast stretch of Lebong Cart Road. We have diverted all traffic flow to the north side of the town from the upper stretches. It will take about a month to repair the road," said Darjeeling DM Soumitra Mohan.

No property has been damagedin the incident that occurred. However, according to civil defense officials, more rain could prove to be dangerous. "The September 18 earthquake in Sikkim has also affected the Hills. Cracks have appeared on several roads that need to be plastered to avoid water seepage," warned Gopal Rai, a senior government official. Incidentally, the road was already damaged and repair work had started prior to the earthquake and rainfall.

Several schools in the northern half of the town asked students to return home because of persistent rainfall. One school declared Puja holiday before schedule.

"We did not want to take any chance. So we declared the Puja holiday from today itself. The situation is quite precarious in the Hills with the recent earthquake and now this incessant rainfall," said Father Kinley, rector of St Joseph's School at Singamari.

Vacation at the school was supposed to start from Friday.

With the road cut off, the residents of Singamari may face difficulties in getting their drinking water, which is supplied by tankers.

"The Birch Hill Road is too narrow and a one-way lane. Traffic system will be in disarray from now with heavy vehicles, including that of the army and water supply,

plying on this road. Besides, it will be difficult to travel more than 2 km on foot everyday to reach town for work," said Mohan Tamang, a resident of Singamari.

Source: Times of India

Darjeeling, Sept. 25: The Darjeeling administration will organise a tourist festival here in December, keeping with the spirit of the times when the government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have settled for an autonomous set-up to end the three-year-long agitation in the hills.

The district administration, which will fund the 16-day festival, will be helped by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the DGHC, a district official said.

Raju Pradhan, the assistant secretary of the Morcha, has been made the working president of the festival committee.

“The Darjeeling Tea and tourism festival will start from December 20 and will go on till January 5, 2012. We are yet to decide on the name of the fest,” said Pradhan, who was selected the working president at the first meeting of the committee held in Darjeeling yesterday.

“Besides cultural shows, we will also hold indoor and outdoor games, adventure sports, cross-country runs, mountain biking, body building competition, felicitation of celebrities, and various exhibitions,” said Pradhan. “The festival will be held in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik simultaneously.”

The administration had last organized such a fest — Darjeeling Tea Tourism — in 2000.

Later, for three consecutive years starting 2004, the citizens of Darjeeling had organised a highly successful festival across the hills, which they called the Darjeeling Carnival.

Jazz artiste Louis Banks, among others, had participated in the carnival. But it was stopped from 2007 on when the statehood agitation was renewed and tourism took a beating because of bandhs and highway blockades.

This time, the October season was promising but the September 18 earthquake, which devastated Sikkim, has had a ripple effect on Darjeeling. This is largely because tourists usually come on a Darjeeling-Sikkim package trip.

Pradip Tamang, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, said: “The October season looked very good this year but following the earthquake in Sikkim, I think we will lose about 20 per cent of the bookings. Many tour operators are trying to sell the Darjeeling-Dooars or Darjeeling-Kalimpong circuit but North Sikkim, which has been cut off this time, had always been a huge attraction,” said Tamang.

Around 3.5 lakh domestic tourists visit the Darjeeling hills annually. Half of this number usually come during the peak October-November season. Before the Sikkim earthquake, the hotels in Darjeeling were completely full for about the first 20 days of the season.

The administration is now banking on the festival to extend the season.

“Winter tourism is not much of a hit in Darjeeling. We now hope that the tourism festival will help extend the season right up to January,” said a district official.

The Darjeeling Carnival, too, used to be held in December with the aim of extending the season.

While many travel agents have welcomed the initiative, Tamang felt the administration should also look at improving the infrastructure.

“Only the tourism festival will not help if the infrastructure is bad. The administration must prioritise issues like upgrading roads across the hills,” said Tamang.

Source: The Telegraph

Time to tea off

There is a different tea for each time of the day. Aastha Khurana tells you more

Indians are fond of having tea. They mix and blend different types to suit their tastebuds. But what many people are unaware of is that there is a particular variety of tea for each part of the day.

A cup of ‘green tea’ is a healthy way to start your day . “Green tea kills oxidants in body and helps weight loss. It helps detoxification of skin. Besides inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissues. It has also been effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots”, says Dr Ritika Samaddar, HOD, nutritional therapy, Max Healthcare. She, however, adds that green tea should be avoided after six in the evening as it can lead to insomnia.

Darjeeling Tea (black) is the best mid-morning tea. Black tea tastes the best when brewed in a kettle. “Black tea blends with every flavour. One should have it with fresh herbs like tulsi and rosemary in the morning. During evening, cinnamon and cardamom are well suited. It is also good for students during exams as it helps them stay awake,” says Radhika Batra Shah, a noted tea connoisseur and tea consultant with Godrej Nature’s Basket.

“Black tea can help prevent heart attacks, and stomach, prostate and breast cancer. The chemicals found in black tea slow down cancer growth”, says Dr Samaddar.

After a heavy lunch, flower teas like chamomile, jasmine and lavender work wonders. “Flower teas blend beautifully with black tea for a stronger version,” Radhika adds. Chamomile tea has an aromatic and fruity flavour and is known for being effective against toothaches and insomnia. It helps settle indigestion and reduces skin irritations. Jasmine tea can be taken at any time of the day and goes well with food. It aids digestion, has antibacterial properties, helps prevent heart disease and has anti-ageing component.

Regular use of floral tea can make a significant contribution. Apart from having medicinal benefits, floral tea also gives a sense of calm and peace.

Oolong tea is the best accompaniment to meals. “It helps people with heart-related issues. It can promote longevity by stimulating bodily functions and strengthening the immune system. It promotes the development of healthier and stronger bones, protecting people from osteoporosis,” tells Radhika. Oolong is popular with men as it tastes like having a cigar.

White tea aka bedtime tea is the perfect choice to end your day. “White tea thins the blood and improves artery function. It helps lower blood pressure and reduces blood sugar. It reduces stress and increases energy. It is good for people who are on a diet as it keeps them away from sweets. It increases metabolism by encouraging the body to burn more fat,” says Radhika.

Source: The Pioneer

Rescuing poor Darjeeling tea garden girls from traffickers’ traps

Rangu Souriya is the recipient of the Godfrey National Phillips Bravery Award, 2011

Rangu Souriya grew up in Darjeeling. Among her several childhood memories, she remembers clearly how young girls in and around Darjeeling used to go missing. Many of them who lived in the Darjeeling tea gardens and also in the villages were lured by jobs and were trafficked, never to return.

Among her recent memories, she vividly recollects how in 2006, for the first time she rescued a 13-year-old girl from Delhi, where she was working as a domestic help. Souriya says the girl, who was taken there on the pretext of job and had harrowing experience there.

“On the promise of a better lifestyle, she was hauled up in a house in New Delhi as bonded labour and was treated like an animal,” she says.

Souriya, now 32, runs an organisation called ‘Kanchanjunga Uddhar Kendra’, located in Silliguri. She helps in the rescue of girls from the hills, particularly of Sikkim, North Bengal and Nepal, who have been trafficked to various cities in India and even abroad.

“It is because of the prevailing poverty and poor living conditions in tea gardens, that a lot of traffickers are able to lure women and girls by assuring them jobs. They either sell those girls as bonded labour to other states or push them in flesh trade in Arab countries,” says Souriya.

The girls from North Bengal, Nepal and Sikkim are particularly trafficked to Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. Souriya says recently many girls are taken to Arab countries from where it becomes very difficult to bring them back. Souriya with the help of NGOs in Saudi Arabia was able to bring back five trafficked teenage girls back to India in February 2011.

However, she points out that there are still many trapped there. Souriya was honoured with Godfrey National Phillips Bravery award 2011 under the category of ‘Special Social Bravery Award’ for her contribution to changing lives of so many girls.

She still rues the fact that she is able to bring back only 12 women from the clutches of traffickers operating in Gulf countries.

It was during her college days that Souriya made up her mind that she will do something for the girls and now she says that it givers her immense pleasure and a great feeling when she sees the missing girls unite with their families.

With the help of a few like-minded people, she is trying to set up a home for the rescued girls. She says the girls who are unable to get back to their parents should be provided some kind of training so that they are able to sustain themselves.

“Since 2004, We have helped rescue 500 women and girls who were either sold as bondage labour or were pushed in the flesh trade in different parts of India and other countries. Officially, it is 300 girls in police records,” said Souriya. She admits she does not get cooperation from the administration in her work. In some cases, delay on the part of the administration helped the traffickers escape away with the girls. She has also helped the authorities get some traffickers behind the bars.

Source: Express India

Jay Shree sees sugar, tea output rising 8%

Jay Shree Tea and Industries expects 8% growth in its tea crop and sugar production this fiscal, its managing director DP Maheswari said.

“Tea production till now is higher by one million kg and I think the crop would be higher by 2 million kg by the year-end. Last year production was 24.1 million kg and it should be around 25.5-26 million kg in 2011-12,” Maheswari told reporters on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the company.

Production of sugar, a sector into which Jay Shree diversified a year back by buying a Bihar-based sugar mill, M P Chini Industries, would also post same growth on the back of increased cane availability from the 1,000 acre plantation that came with the acquisition.

“In view of the dull market and high sugarcane prices, the company has taken steps to improve productivity and reduce costs. Hopefully, cane availability would be higher this year and the mill is likely to produce 42,000 tonne of white sugar this season. There would also be improvement in recovery from 9% to 9.5%,” vice-chairperson Jayashree Mohta told shareholders.

The company produced 38,662 tonne of white sugar in 2010-11 against 25,053 tonne in the previous year.
“As soon as we acquired the mill, we deputed a number of scientific experts to suggest ways to increase productivity and that is taking place now. We have planted cane of improved clonal variety, which is of better quality,” Maheswari said.

Jay Shree is now looking at newer export markets for its tea as there has been a sharp drop in shipments to some traditional markets.

“Despite Indian tea prices being lowest in the world, export is down mainly due to recent problem in Egypt and payment crisis in Iran. There have been talks with the commerce secretary last evening in Kolkata and we were assured that the Iran payment issue would get sorted out very soon,” Maheswari said.
“We trying to enter US and Australia and have started supplying CTC tea to China.”

Indian tea prices are now lowest in the world as many of global suppliers are now facing production crunch. “The Indian crop till July is higher by about 29 million kg while world crop is down by 24 million kg. The major contributors to this lower crop is Kenya where output is down by 33 million kg; Uganda which produced 14 million kg less while production in Sri Lanka is lower by five million kg,” Mohta told shareholders.

Maheswari expressed disappointment over prospect of tea prices.
“Prices are not doing well. There are number of factors. Among them there is now a very peculiar phenomenon that is happening in the industry. In four months we are producing almost 65% of production. Against an average production of, say, 70 million kg a month industry is producing 140-150 million kg, and this is depressing prices.”

According to Maheswari, an understanding among industry players to even out monthly production during the tea season is difficult as the industry is too fragmented.

Source: DNA India

This is a book that you need to read after coming home from a hard day’s work, with your feet up, while sipping — what else — a cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling tea. In today’s fast-forward world, such indulgences are rare and the easier option is to dunk a tea bag into a cup of hot water and pretend to enjoy the resulting mix. In truth, we are denying ourselves one of life’s great pleasures. If there’s one item produced in India that confidently carries the tag “the world’s finest”, it is Darjeeling tea. Of all the tea produced in China, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Turkey, Darjeeling carries a special cachet, much like caviar, foie gras or truffles. In most duty-free shops across the world, the one item with a made-in-India tag will be a pack of Darjeeling tea.

Tea is also grown in Assam, the Nilgiris, and the Dooars area of north Bengal, so what makes Darjeeling tea so special? Actually, it’s a lot like premium wine, where what the French call terroir — soil, climate, terrain, location and other factors — imparts a unique quality to whatever is grown there. Anybody who has been to Darjeeling, one of India’s loveliest hill stations, will have experienced its unique, old-world atmosphere and flavour, much like the product that is nurtured in its tea gardens.

Of course, there’s much more to what makes Darjeeling, and Darjeeling tea (the black variety as opposed to green tea made in China) so very special and Gillian Wright is eminently qualified to bring us up to speed on the magic and mystery behind Darjeeling’s famous product. She has made India her home for the last 20 years and collaborated with Sir Mark Tully on a number of books. More importantly, she has also produced a book on the hill stations of India.

The British, as we know since we inherited the passion, are a bit mad about tea but were also pioneers of tea production in India. All the original managers of tea gardens in the early days were from Britain, mainly Scotland.

The British connection may have inspired Wright but it’s not just a coffee-table variety with lots of pretty pictures. This is a serious, in-depth look at the history of Darjeeling tea and the elements that go into its making, but one that is made lively and entertaining with her style, personal involvement and discussions with a range of people, from retired and current tea planters, manufacturers, buyers at tea auctions and workers, including the nimble-fingered women who pluck the leaves from the bush.

Wright treats this book much like one would brew a cup of Darjeeling tea, allowing it to simmer in the pot and absorb the aromas. That process constitutes her research into how the tea plants first made their way to India from China to set up an industry that would, ironically, displace China as the leading maker and exporter of tea. We also learn that currently, the biggest buyers of high value tea like Darjeeling are Japan and Germany, where tea is becoming fashionable, and not Britain or America. Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption, equalling all other manufactured drinks in the world — including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol — put together. Darjeeling, owing to its geography, soil and climate, has been producing premium teas for a century now, and they are still considered both rare and expensive, comparable to some of the most expensive wines. If you want to know why, Wright’s effort is worth savouring.

Source: Indian Express

Orthodox whole leaf teas dearer at Kolkata auctions

This week at Sale No. 38, the total offerings (packages) at three North Indian auction centers at Kolkata, Guwahati and Siliguri were 4,40,723 compared with 4,13,519 in the corresponding sale of the last year, according to J Thomas & Company Pvt Ltd, the tea auctioneers.

The offerings at Kolkata were 1,83,509 (1,88,413) comprising 1,56,057 (1,39,901) of CTC/Dust, 22,356 (42,436 ) of Orthodox and 5,096 (6,076) of Darjeeling Tea. The lowering offerings were due to the drop in Orthodox and Darjeeling packages.

The offerings at Guwahati were 1,50,518 (1,29,313) and Siliguri 1,06,696 (95,793) and comprised only CTC/Dust.

Selected clean and better liquoring Assam CTC teas were around last with few lines appreciating. The remainder were irregularly lower following quality. Well-made Dooars sold readily at firm to occasionally dearer rates, while the remainder tended irregularly easier. Tata Global was active. There was good support from Hindustan Unilever. Western India dealers were active for the liquoring sorts.        

Source: Business Line

India tea imports down 22 per cent in April-July, 2011

NEW DELHI: India's tea imports declined by 22 per cent to 5.19 million kg in the April-July period of the current fiscal.

The country had imported 6.62 million kg of the brew in the same period last fiscal, as per data released by the Tea Board.

India, the world's largest consumer of tea, imports the leaves solely for the purpose of re-export to other countries. The dip in imports thus signals less re-exports.

India's tea imports from China, Kenya, Malawi, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Iran, Argentina and Nepal declined in the first four months of the 2011-12 fiscal.

Imports of tea dipped by 19 per cent in July, 2011, to 1.67 million kg from 2.06 million kg in the year-ago period.

In the January-July period of the current calender year, imports of the brew fell by 19 per cent to 9.42 million kg from 11.64 million kg in the same period of the previous year.

India, the second biggest producer of tea in the world, accounts for about 28 per cent of global tea production and 14 per cent of trade. There are about 1,600 tea estates in India. The industry employs more than two million people.

Source: Economic Times

KOLKATA: In its bid to make the Darjeeling cuppa less expensive, the government, along with the Tea Board of India, is trying to make use of renewable energy in the gardens of Darjeeling. Almost 20 gardens have showed interest and submitted their respective detailed project reports to the ministry of renewable energy (MNRE).

"We have received detailed project reports from gardens interested in having captive micro hydel generating units, which we forwarded to the MNRE. The latter has sought some changes in these DPRs and has asked the gardens to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the state government regarding use of those waterfalls within its gardens for hydel power generation," a Tea Board official said.

According to the official, Tea Board has asked Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) to inform the tea garden owners about the changes sought by MNRE. DTA informed that there are around 60 water heads in the Darjeeling gardens. There are around 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling now.

By using this renewable energy, the tea gardens can surely curtail their cost of production. Uninterrupted power supply is a genuine problem in that zone and the gardens entail huge expenses when they run operations on diesel. All these costs add to the tea prices.

"Already the Makaibari Tea Estate has prepared a project report and given it to the MNRE. Two others - Dooteriah and Kalej Valley Tea Estate and Rongmook Ceders - have started working on this project," said Bengal power and renewable energy department's chief adviser S P Gon Chaudhuri.

One of the niche Darjeeling Tea garden, Makaibari Tea Estate, has submitted its DPR to the MNRE and the department has asked it to seek NOC from Darjeeling Gorkha Hills Council (DGHC). "We plan to generate hydel power from river Rakti, which is running through our estate. We plan to generate 4 MW from it, which we will be able to use for our gardens and the surplus we can supply to the grid of West Bengal State Electricity Board for the adjoining villages," said Rajah Banerjee, owner of Makaibari Tea Estate.

He said once installed, this generating unit could help cut production costs by 5-6%. According to Gon Chaudhuri, it will cost Rs 60 lakh to install 100 KW micro hydel generating units in each tea garden. "The Centre will give Rs 15 lakh as subsidy."

Earlier, the West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation (WBGEDC) and the Tea Board had jointly mooted this proposal and submitted to the Centre. "We are playing the role of facilitator and coordinator in this project," said Roshni Sen, deputy chairman of Tea Board.

Source: Times of India

New Delhi: Three days after the earthquake, Sikkim is still battling the aftermath. With many villages cut off, there are fears the quake horror could get worse. The death toll has now crossed 80, with 53 dead in Sikkim alone.

Relief and rescue operations have picked up speed and with the weather clearing up, authorities hope to get access to stranded areas. In fact on Tuesday, the Army was able to reach Mangan - the epicentre of the quake.

Meanwhile, electricity has been restored in Gangtok and officials say other towns will have full power supply within the next few days. However, restoration of communication lines still remains a big challenge. National Highway 55, which connects Bagdogra to Darjeeling and National Highway 31, that links Gangtok to Bagdogra, have been restored.

On the ground, relief and rescue workers have raced against time to open the arterial National Highway 31 that cut off the state since Sunday evening. By Tuesday evening rescue workers were able to clear the landslides both from Baghdograh to Gangtok and Gantok to Mangan. In the process, though, two Army jawans were killed.

Nine helicopters were mobilised and 10 doctors airlifted to Chungthang in North Sikkim. The Army has also deployed 10 medical units.

The Army says restoring communication lines beyond Mangan will be the next big challenge.

"The biggest challenge right now is to get the lines of communication through, to supply food to needy people. Road beyond mangan is very bad and it will take more than 20 days," said Lt Gen Bikram Singh.

The enormity of the damage is finally emerging, besides the loss to human lives. Over 15,000 houses were razed to the ground and more than 1 lakh were partially damaged. While the State Government is gradually restoring essential services like power and water supplies, the Government is yet to fully assess the economic damage.

Surviving the Sikkim quake

The Sikkim earthquake severed all communication links in the initial hours, causing many across the country who have family in Sikkim to fear the worst. Some have still not been able to contact their loved ones in the quake-hit areas.

In seconds, several lives lost, livelihoods destroyed and altered forever in the quake that jolted the North-East. But some like Devendra Jain were lucky though. His son and his family had left from Bhopal to Jharkhand on September 14 and were supposed to leave for Gangtok thereafter. He has now learnt through CNN-IBN that his family has been rescued and is safe. But he still hasn't been able to speak with them.

In the Motihar villlage in Bihar, 26-year-old Pankaj Singh's family is praying with all their might but have not heard from him since last afternoon.

The number of causalities has steadily risen, but even the loss to property has been immense. What's worse is that the roads to north Sikkim were blocked and bad weather and landslides slowed down help.

"All of a sudden tremors started and everything started moving. We went out and prayed to God. People started moving here and there for the safety," said a local.

The earthquake came lasted for a few seconds and went away but the ordeal for those who came under its wrath seems to have only just begun.

Locals abandon homes in fear

Fear is what greets you when you enter Sikkim. People huddled together, children sleeping under the open sky, families cramped inside cars. Sita Pradhan, 26, is still shaken, with an ailing 65-year old mother, she is on the streets with her seven-month-old baby, unable to sleep.

Pradhan said, "We are scared and we will spend the night out here."

Eight-year-old Minal did not go to school after the earthquake. She heard that some of her friends were injured in the quake. Sitting under the open sky with her six-year-old brother Ayushman, she still trembles at the thought of Sunday night.

Minal said, "Suddenly there was earthquake, my mother and I ran under the stairs. After than we went out and we have been sleeping under the open sky."

Families unable to sleep are camping outside in their cars. Saheb, 25, thinks it's better to have his dinner outside. But there are also those who don't just blame nature for their woes.

What you see in Rongpo is complete darkness - no power, no mobile connectivity. Cut off from the rest of the world are families who are spending their nights under the open sky, an experience that many of them wish they never had.

Source: IBN Live

Darjeeling tea party – India’s best cuppa

We reckoned that the menu and the cooking had not changed much since the British left India in 1948. The location on a rise overlooking the town is superb, with mountain views on all sides.

DARJEELING, India – Waiting on the platform for the train to Darjeeling, we made a beeline for the “chai wallah,” the tea vendor who can be found at every railway station throughout India. The chai he brews, called masala chai, is a sweet, thick, milky beverage, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, perhaps cardamom. The mixture of tea leaves, water and milk is boiled up in a vast cauldron together with the aromatic spices and plenty of sugar, left to simmer throughout the day, and served to the customer by the chai wallah pouring it through a strainer into the cup. It was a refreshing and fortifying drink for the journey ahead.

The ride to Darjeeling begins in the plains, passing through lush jungle forests. As the train climbs into the Himalayan foothills the view opens up, revealing the plantations where the world famed Darjeeling tea is grown.

Afternoon tea was already a popular institution in England in the 18th century, made from tea imported from China. In an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly the British East India Company introduced tea into India in the 1830s, and British colonists began to cultivate tea plantations, first in Assam then in Darjeeling.

However tea drinking within India only took off when the British-owned India Tea Association launched a campaign to encourage factories and mines to provide tea breaks for their workers. It also supported independent chai wallahs throughout the vast railway system. Today some 70 percent of India’s tea production is consumed in India, and masala chai is firmly established as India’s favorite drink, one of the enduring legacies of the British Raj.

The English style of tea drinking, then and to this day, is very different. The 4 o’clock afternoon tea ritual directs that the tea leaves are spooned into the teapot (previously warmed) and boiling water is then poured onto the leaves to produce a strong, aromatic infusion. After waiting three minutes for the brew to develop flavor, tea is poured, and small amounts of milk and sugar are added to the clear brown liquid in each porcelain cup.

And this, it so happened, was the formula which produced our next cuppa when we reached Darjeeling. We checked into the Windamere, a nostalgic hostelry left over from the Raj-era, just in time for afternoon tea. The furnishings in our bedroom said it all: chintz curtains, framed photographs and letters on the wall describing polo matches, boar hunts, dinner at the officers’ mess, visits by the Viceroy, and furniture dating back to the 1920s and ‘30s. Originally a boarding house for bachelor British tea planters, the Windamere was converted into a hotel in the 1930’s, and is now listed as a Heritage Hotel of India.

Afternoon tea lived up to our expectations. We were offered cucumber sandwiches, sponge cake, and scones with jam and clotted cream, washed down by a pot of Darjeeling tea, immaculately served by a whitegloved attendant, with frilly apron and cap. Windamere terms are full board only, so during our stay there we had to consume the three meals plus tea provided daily. Breakfast was porridge, eggs and bacon, fruit and poor coffee. Lunch and dinner were adequate but boring, so we graded the kitchen as 6 out of 10. We reckoned that the menu and the cooking had not changed much since the British left India in 1948. But the candle-lit dining room was charming, as were the comfortable sitting rooms, filled with books and pictures from a bygone era, and the roomy bedrooms with a wood fire lit in the grate on a cool evening, and hot water bottles provided in winter. The location on a rise overlooking the town is superb, with mountain views on all sides.

Darjeeling has much to offer the visitor. Top of the list is the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, which dominates the horizon. We crept out at dawn to Observatory Hill, a short walk from the Windamere Hotel, to view the sun rising, a pink flush on the mountain’s snow-covered peak. Organized tours take the visitor by taxi to Tiger Hill, a higher location, with a covered shelter and hot drink thrown in to counter the chilly morning air. Other attractions include the Darjeeling Zoo, and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a training center for would-be Everest beaters. It has a fascinating museum with historic artifacts from the ascents of Everest and other Himalayan highs. In the courtyard there is a statue of Sherpa Tensing, who was the first, together with Sir Edmund Hillary, to reach the Everest summit. Darjeeling with its multi-ethnic mix is a great jumping-off point for the neighboring countries of Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan. We visited the Tibetan Refugee Selfhelp Center, for refugees who fled Tibet following the Chinese invasion of 1957.

And then there is tea tourism, a new attraction for visitors to the tea growing areas of India. The climate in the hills is pleasant, and the steep slopes of shimmering green tea plantations stretch to the horizon. Visitor centers offer tours of the fields and the factories, and explain how the tea is produced. On a number of estates the owners have transformed the original planter’s bungalow into an up-market guest house or boutique hotel. Our choice was Glenburn, near Darjeeling, for a few days of Raj-style luxury and a crash course in tea-lore. The estate was started by a Scottish tea company in 1859 and is now owned by the fourth generation of one of India’s tea planting dynasties, the Prakash family.

Driving through the Glenburn estate we could see the pickers, squatting between the rows of tea bushes, each with a basket strapped to his or her shoulders. The women, nimble fingered, pick faster than the men, and bring in a higher yield. It is backbreaking work, and the pickers work long shifts. The estates, originally established by British tea planters, have been taken over by large companies, or are privately Indian owned. The estate owners are in effect a semi-autonomous feudal authority for the district, providing services and running the lives of the local villagers who work for them. Nowhere in India is the great divide between rich and poor more in evidence.

Guests at Glenburn are pampered from the moment of arrival. This was truly a “Jewel in the Crown” experience. We were greeted by our hostess Neena, and served a welcoming cuppa on the verandah, with its view of Kanchenjunga on the horizon. The complimentary laundry service dealt with our huge bag of dirty linen, returning it the next day in a pristine pile. The rooms are gorgeous, each a suite with sitting area, superb bathroom and private verandah, elegantly furnished in understated country style. The meals were imaginative and tasty, breakfast served in the garden under a pomela tree and lunch on the verandah. For dinner, after an aperitif on the lawn, the guests gathered round the candle- lit mahogany table in the dining room, a house party of 14, for a congenial evening of civilized discourse and delicious food and wine. Except for us, all the guests that week were Indian, and included the owner and his family.

In addition to food and drink and relaxing on the verandah, Glenburn offers a flexible program of sightseeing activities. Ours included a gentle walk through the tea gardens encircling the house, with a guide who gave us detailed information on every imaginable aspect of the tea bush and its cultivation. Hikes and excursions are arranged for visitors in accordance with their energy levels. Chauffeur driven transport is available at all times, and this includes transfer to the hotel and to the next destination. One morning Neena sent us off on an expedition through the plantation, a long hike with views of tea gardens, villages and the distant mountains, down to the river which is the border with Sikkim. We cooled off with a swim and paddle in the shallow, fast-running waters, and together with our fellow guests enjoyed a sumptuous picnic lunch, brought from the house by jeep, prepared and served al fresco by at least half a dozen servants. The cost of staying at Glenburn is currently 11,000 rupees, (approx. $230) per person per day, sharing a room. Except for drinks from the bar, everything as described above was included, and tea (or coffee or soft drinks) available at all time. The staff’s service and readiness to meet the visitor’s needs was efficient, warm and welcoming.

Our tea education concluded with a visit to the Glenburn Tea Factory. We saw the tea pickers coming in to have their baskets weighed after the early morning shift.

Their loads are tipped onto long benches for “withering,” to reduce the moisture and soften the leaves. This is the first stage of the process which converts the freshly picked green leaves into black tea. Next comes “rolling,” which takes place in the cool, dark fermentation room. This releases the essential oils and gets the fermentation-oxidization started. Then at a pre-determined moment, the fermentation process is halted and the leaves passed through a hot air dryer, the moment which determines the taste and quality of the tea. The finished product is sorted and graded, and packed into plywood tea chests, lined with aluminium foil. Over the years this process has been refined and developed to suit a wide variety of teas grown in different climates or at different altitudes. But the basics remain unchanged.

Finally the tea-tasting, a ceremony every bit as serious as a wine-tasting session in Burgundy. The plantation manager explained to us with great passion the characteristics and individual flavors of Whole Leaf, Silver Needle, Golden Tips, Oolong, and Flowery Orange Pekoe, the precise timing for picking Spring Flush, Summer Flush or Monsoon Flush, and the qualities that make First Flush Darjeeling the world’s costliest tea. We sipped and sniffed and cleaned the palate with dry biscuits, were duly impressed with the skill and dedication that is invested in producing these delicate flavors, and swore we would never again use a teabag.


Tea prices to stay firm as global output slips

Kochi, Sept. 19: Tea prices are likely to remain firm as production shortfalls loom large before Indian and global tea markets.

Persistent rains over the tea growing regions of South India during August and September is likely to adversely impact the crop. Though the rains seem to have abated by the third week of September, sources said, much of the damage has been done.

The surfeit production from North India made up for the sharp production shortfalls from South, said Mr R. Sanjith, Head of Commodities, United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI).

Production affected

The incessant rains had affected plucking operations in South India. But it does not seem likely that the increased North Indian production, which had helped to buttress the slippages from South India, is likely to continue into the next few months.

Along with India, production shortfalls in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Uganda are likely to drag global production lower.

Kenya and Uganda

Global production had dipped by 11 million kg by July on account of huge shortfall from Kenya and Uganda. A dip in tea production from India could further tilt the delicate demand-supply balance in the global markets.

Indian production was higher by close to one million kg while Kenya reported a huge shortfall of 31 million kg. Ugandan production had slipped by over 5 million kg. Latest reports also indicate that persistent rains have begun to affect the tea crop from Sri Lanka. The island nation's tea production was up by close two million till July 2011. Sources in the trade said that all that could now change.


Tea exports from big producing countries, excluding China and Sri Lanka, had dipped during the current year. Indian exports witnessed the steepest decline on 17.5 million kg till July 2011, while Uganda recorded an export shortfall of six million kg and Kenya close to five million kg. The decreased tea arrivals in the coming months could mean that the prices are likely to remain firm.

Growth in China

While several countries recorded fall in exports, China reported brisk growth by close to 14 million kg by June 2011. Kenya was the biggest tea exporter in the world last year, accounting for over 25 per cent of the global tea trade, followed by China and Sri Lanka with over 17 per cent and with India with over 11 per cent.

After the sharp rise in tea prices during 2009, there was a dip in 2010 and the prices are continuing to rule at last year's levels. The emerging trends in global prices could become evident depending on the world production trends in the coming months.

Source: Business Line

18 people lost their lives as a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Sikkim on Sunday evening. The death toll is at 18 which includes 7 in Sikkim, 4 in West Bengal 2 in Bihar and 5 in Nepal.

The armed forces have deployed teams for relief and rescue activity, the centre is also sending emergency teams in. But heavy rains, intermittent power cut, and loss of mobile phone connectivity did hamper rescue operations in the initial hours.

At 6.10 pm on Sunday evening, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Sikkim. Mangan, 54 km from Gangtok, was the epicentre of that quake that left a trail of death and massive damages in its wake. It was not just Sikkim that was shaken, the tremors were felt in Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, North East and Nepal.

The quake has cut off Sikkim. Mobile connectivity has been hit. The national highway is closed after heavy rains followed by landslides and there are reports of people being trapped. The Army has already reached out to the affected.

The Center has rushed in teams of the National Disaster Response Force. They have been flown in from Delhi and Kolkata till Bagdora from where they proceed by road. But the bad weather and landslides are posing huge challenges.

The quake has given a rude jolt to Sikkim and many parts of northern and eastern India. Several homes and properties have been damaged but a clearer picture of the extent of damages is yet to come out.

Rescue operations underway

Rescue operations began within hours of the quake striking. Army columns in small teams have been deployed across Sikkim to provide humanitarian assistance. These columns comprise medical teams with first aid kits as well as engineers. 400 personnel from the National Disaster Relief Force have reached Bagdogra from where they will move by road.

30 columns from the 33 Cors in Siliguri are also engaged in rescue activity. Bihar is sending 160 personnel in. The BSF rescue team and the dog squad are there too. The DGP of Sikkim who was in Delhi when the disaster occurred will set out for Gangtok on Monday.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel rescued 200 civilians including 22 tourists, they've taken refuge at the Pegong camp. An IAF team carrying supplies is on its way.

Bihar, Gujarat offer assistance

States like Bihar and Bengal are also sending rescue teams to Sikkim. Others too have offered assistance.

"When the earthquake happened I too felt the termor. Our departments are on the job, we are gathering information," said Bihar Chief Minis Nitish Kumar.

"On behalf of the people of Gujarat I convey my condolences. Such a situation demands cooperation from all. The Gujarat government is ready to extend support to all those who have been affected," said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Source: IBN Live

The offerings at Kolkata were 1,83,368 (1, 78,537) comprising 1,48,434 (1,31,620) of CTC/Dust, 29,198 (40,914) of Orthodox and 5,736 (6003) of Darjeeling Tea. In other words, the offerings of Orthodox and Darjeeling Tea have dropped. 

The offerings at Guwahati were 1, 35,625 (1, 15,335) and at Siliguri 1, 10,328 (99,360). 

Selected clean and liquoring Assam CTC teas were irregular around last while the remainder were lower. Well made Dooars sold readily while the remainder tended irregularly easier. There was good support from Tata Global and Hindustan Unilever. Western India dealers were active for the liquoring sorts. 

The inquiries from North India and local sections were fair. Exporters operated on the bolder brokens and fannings. 

Orthodox whole leaf grades sold at firm rates. Brokens and fannings were steady around last levels. Continental buyers operated on the tippy sorts. 

Source: The Hindu

India dust tea rises on demand; CTC drops on quality

MUMBAI, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Dust tea prices in India, the world's second biggest producer of tea, rose at this week's auction on good demand from packet tea manufacturers, while CTC fell due to poor quality leaf supply, dealers and industry officials said on Friday.

Price of CTC (crush-tear-curl) tea was at 124.85 rupees per kg, 1.43 percent lower than 126.66 rupees at the previous weekly auction.
Dust tea rose 0.63 percent to 123.01 rupees per kg from 122.24 rupees at the previous auction.
"Quality of CTC was poor compared to the arrivals in the previous auction. That's why it fetched lower prices," said Kalyan Sundaram, secretary, Calcutta Tea Traders Association. "Packet tea makers were actively buying dust tea."
Tea exports by India could fall nearly 7 percent in 2011 to 180-185 million kgs partly due to payments problems with Iran and unrest in the Middle East, a senior industry official said on Sept. 14
India is the world's second biggest producer of tea after China. It exports CTC tea mainly to Egypt, Pakistan and the UK, and the premium orthodox variety to Iraq, Iran and Russia.
The country's tea production in July rose 8.2 percent to 133.27 million kgs, on conducive weather, while exports fell 8 percent to 15.26 million kgs due to poor demand from the Middle East, the Tea Board said on Sept. 8.
Prices in the latest auction (Sept 13-15)

(Quantity in kg; price in rupees per kg) ----------------------------------------------------------
Variety Offered quantity Sold quantity Avg Price ----------------------------------------------------------
CTC Leaf 2997127 2219571 124.85
Dust tea 1568846 1163630 123.01
Prices in the last auction (Sept 6-8)
CTC Leaf 2917786 2369358 126.66
Dust tea 1614557 1194400 122.24
Source: Calcutta Tea Traders' Association (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Sunil Nair)

Source: Reuters

KPMG reviewing Tea Board schemes

Kolkata, Sep 16 (PTI) International consultancy firm KPMG is making an assessment of the various schemes of Tea Board and the final report would be submitted by the end of the month, Tea Board Deputy Chairperson Roshni Sen said today. "KPMG is doing an assessment to review the various schemes and has submitted the draft report. The final report will be submitted by the end of the month," Sen told reporters on the sidelines of the AGM of the Tea Association of India here. Sen said that among the various schemes which are under review are the Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTF) and the orthodox subsidy scheme. She said that at present, Tea Board is facilitating disbursement of loans to companies at soft rates and repayment is being made by the proceeds at the auctions. The official said KPMG had suggested that instead of Tea Board distributing loans to companies, the government should give interest subsidy. On the orthodox subsidy scheme, Sen said that Tea Board had proposed for its continuation in 12th Five-Year Plan to the Planning Commission. On the Iran payments crisis, Sen said it has not resolved yet and is hurting export of orthodox tea. Sen said that e-auction process would be streamlined in consultation with the industry. Minister for Development of North-East Region P S Ghatowar said that the tea industry should not discriminate between workers of West Bengal and Assam.

Rain, poor sunlight likely to hit tea output in South

Persistent rain and low sunlight are expected to take toll on South Indian tea production. “Rains are often good for the tea crop but they should be interspersed with consistent sunshine to facilitate good plucking operations,” said an official of the United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI). South India's tea production till July was down by close to 3.6 million kg on account of lower production in all the States. The only saving grace was that production from Nilgiris, which account for more than 50 per cent of Tamil Nadu's production, had not been affected. But all that seems to be changing now. “Unlike the previous months, production shortfalls are expected from the Nilgiris region as well in August. With persistent rain continuing into September, the production shortfall period could be further extended in this region,” Mr R. Sanjith, Head of Commodities, UPASI, said. July tea production in South India, and Tamil Nadu in particular, was higher due to higher output from the Nilgiris region, though lower production was reported from Kerala and other parts of Tamil Nadu. South Indian tea prices in general have been picking up in recent months, remaining just a notch above last year's levels. Last financial year ended with tea prices ruling firm to dearer at South India's auction centres. During the first quarter of the current year, prices were a tad lower than last year, although not very significantly. Prices have been rising further during the second quarter and the trend is likely to continue in the coming months. What has been holding the price line has been the lower production from South India. This was despite a huge increase in north Indian tea production by 33 million kg till July 2011. As the two regions, North and South India cater to different segments of the international markets and different taste segments in the domestic market, prices have not been overtly affected. The huge production shortfall reported from Kenya — estimated at 35-36 million kg — has also helped to keep international prices firm. While earlier reports had indicated that Sri Lankan production had not been much affected, more recent reports suggest that there could be shortfall of 1-1.5 million tonnes from the island nation. This could also go to strengthen the international prices in the short run.

Tea output in first seven months up 6.37%

India's tea production in the first seven months of current calendar has increased by 6.37 per cent over the same period of last year, reveals an analysis of the latest data available with Tea Board and producers' organisations. Between January and July, production increased to 491.59 million kg (mkg) from 462.16 mkg during Jan-July 2010. This increase of 29.43 mkg marks a growth of 6.37 per cent. The increase would have been more had it not been for a decline of 3.60 mkg in South Indian production. North India posted a gain of 33.03 mkg. North Indian output rose by to 348.14 mkg from 315.11 mkg. Assam continued to dominate India's tea map with a production of 234.32 mkg (last year: 204.50) accounting for 47.67 per cent (44.25 per cent) of the country's overall output. West Bengal's production increased to 110.38 mkg (107.33) of which, the share of Darjeeling tea, hailed to be the tea champagne, was 4.99 mkg (4.20). South India's production dropped to 143.45 mkg from 147.05. Tamil Nadu's output declined to 100.19 mkg from 103.27 mkg. Kerala and Karnataka also posted lower production. Source: Business Line

Siliguri, Sept. 2: The chairman of the Siliguri Tea Auction Centre and a businessman were arrested today for allegedly leading a group of people who had attacked a bar with crooners at Sevoke Road yesterday. The STAC chairman, Gangadhar Agarwal, and the owner of a chain of sweet shops, Pradip Bansal, have been charged with theft, assault and mischief and remanded in 14 days’ jail custody. Traders shut down the auction centre and the wholesale grocery market in Khalpara, where Agarwal and Bansal reside, to protest the arrest. Around 40 people carrying Congress flags barged into Rave Up, a bar where singers perform live, and went on the rampage. In his complaint filed with Bhaktinagar police, the owner of the bar, Vijay Sharma, alleged that the attackers had heckled his staff and taken away cash from the counter. “All of them suddenly entered the bar and smashed the furniture. I have no clue why they attacked my bar as only live singing is allowed and there is no question of dance performance to which they were objecting. Two of my employees have suffered injuries as they tried to dissuade the attackers,” said Sharma. Recently, a forum known as Singing Bar Pratibad Mancha had emerged in town with the backing of the Congress. “Our key demand is to stop the practice of singing and dancing in bars. We have been organising a movement in a democratic manner for the past three months and have no connection with yesterday’s incident,” said Jayanta Saha, the joint convener of the Mancha. The office-bearers of the Mancha and bar owners held a meeting on Wednesday and it was decided that there would be no dance performance in any outlet selling liquor in Siliguri. “Regarding live singing, a seven-member committee comprising the representatives of the Mancha and bar owners’ association was formed to look into the issue and decide on timings, dress code of the singers and other issues,” said Saha. He said both Agarwal and Bansal were members of the Mancha and were wrongly implicated in the case. The duo were arrested from their homes. As the news spread, the tea auction came to a halt. “We did not participate in the auctions today to protest against the arrest of the STAC chairman,” said Bajrang Sethia, a senior member of the Siliguri Tea Traders’ Association. Around 100 million kilogram of tea is traded at the centre annually. The auction will resume at 9am tomorrow. Shops downed shutters in Khalpara as both Agarwal and Bansal were from there. “Both are our members and we protest the way they have been falsely named in the case,” said Kailash Agarwal, the secretary of the Siliguri Merchants’ Association. The arrested men were produced in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Jalpaiguri. The judge, Debabarata Mukherjee, rejected the duo’s bail petitions and ordered 14 days’ jail custody for them. They would be produced in court again on September 16. The North Bengal Musical Bar Owners’ Association has denied the allegation that dance performances are held in their outlets. They said all musical bars would be closed for an indefinite period from today. “We condemn the way a bar here was ransacked without any provocation yesterday,” said Rohon Sarkar, the association’s secretary. “Unless the issue is resolved, we will not open our establishments.” Sources said Darjeeling district Congress president and Matigara-Naxalbari MLA Shankar Malakar would hold a meeting with the bar owners tomorrow. He is known to have backed the Mancha and protested against such bars. The Darjeeling district magistrate, M.K, Gandhi, said the district administration gave permission for only singing in bars. “We don’t allow live dance in bars. Permission is given for live singing with certain conditions.” Source: The Telegraph

Tea prices remain firm as arrivals ease at Kochi auction

Kochi Sept 3: Prices remained firm at the Kochi Tea Auction even as arrivals have begun to ease on account of heavy August rains in the tea growing regions of South India. There was 9,87,000 kg of dust and 3,41,000 kg of leaf tea on offer at the auction. Prices remained firm to dearer at the CTC dust auction, particularly the good liquoring and medium grades. Plain grades quoted around last week’s levels. AVT, Tata Global, Hindustan Unilever and Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation were active on good liquoring grades. Loose tea traders lent useful support. Upcountry buyers and exporters remained subdued. Primary grades were steady at the orthodox dust auction while secondaries inched lower. There were several withdrawals from the orthodox dust auction market. Leaf Auction High grown grades remained firm to dearer at the orthodox leaf auction following quality. Other Nilgiri teas tended to ease. Medium bolder broken and whole leaf grades were firm to occasionally dearer. Most other orthodox leaf was irregular and sometimes quoted lower. Traditional exporters, including those to CIS countries were active. Fannings were absorbed by tea bag manufacturers and exporters. Upcountry buyers lent useful support on whole leaf grades. HUL was not active. There was good demand at the CTC leaf auction where good liquoring grades were firm to dearer. Others grades were irregular to easier. Exporters were active on medium/plainer grades. Superior grades were absorbed by upcountry buyers. HUL lent fair amount of support. Top Prices Pasuparai FD fetched the top price at the dust auction at Rs 142 followed by Pasuparai SFD at Rs 133, Injipara SFD and Injipara SRD at Rs 129. At the leaf auction Pascoe’s green tea fetched the top price at Rs 289 followed by Chamraj OP and Chamraj FOP at Rs 206 even as Havukal OP fetched Rs 205. Source: The Hindu