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Wah Tea Estate, Kangra

When a tea estate gives its year of establishment as 1857, it truly merits respect as an historic estate. Wah Tea Estate in Kangra was set up in the backdrop of the War of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, in a watershed year that changed Indian history forever, as the British Raj consolidated its dominion.

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, tea estates were sprouting up around India, all as independent initiatives in different regions. In 1859, Thiashola was set up in the Nilgiris by employing Chinese prisoners of war; Dunsandle also in the Nilgiris, was set up around that time. In Darjeeling, Makaibari was established in 1859, while Ambootia was set up in 1861. The first seedlings for the Darjeeling and Nilgiri estates came from China; though Darjeeling has retained much of the China variety bushes, the Nilgiris has moved onto other hybrids.

Tucked away in the Himalayan foothills in Himachal Pradesh state in India is Kangra district, where tea took root after Dr Jameson, then Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens in Peshawar in the North West Provinces, on a visit in 1849, declared that the district was right for tea cultivation. Seedlings were brought in from China and the first estate was set up in 1852. The second half of the 19th century saw a small, but thriving tea industry take shape in Kangra. Importantly, till today, this region, now largely forgotten, remains 100 per cent China tea bush country, yielding tea with a distinct cup character. In its hey day, Kangra was the tea of choice in Afghanistan and Central Asia, and even reached Europe and USA.

Kangra tea fell off the map when a devastating earthquake struck the region in 1905 and badly disrupted the industry. European planters left the region, handing over their estates to their workers or local traders. Starved of capital and improvements in cultivation and processing, this tea region today struggles to survive, although the Himachal Pradesh government as also the Tea Board of India have made several attempts to support the growers. Today, there are just a handful of private tea estates, in an area where small growers comprise 96 per cent, holding an average of 2 hectares each. The total area under tea in Kangra is around 2300 hectares, grown at elevations ranging from 900 to 1500 metres.

Which is why Wah Tea Estate, with a continuous history of cultivation since 1857, deserves all the attention it can get. The name Wah derives from Wah in Pakistan – the first owner was the Nawab of Wah whose family sold out and left after the Partition. In 1953, the estate was taken over by Sheoparshad Jaiprakash & Co., of Kolkata.

In a vivid demonstration of the several lives a tea plantation can have, Wah, in the last couple of years has seen remarkable revival thanks to capital investments and direct supervision by the owners. Today, this estate produces both orthodox black and green tea at quality standards that would satisfy the most discerning buyers.

Kangra is tranquil and unpolluted, where the pine-scented air is said to have curative powers. With a mix of tropical and sub Himalayan varieties, oaks and majestic cedars ride the crest of every hill. The Dhauladhar range of mountains, part of the Himalayas, rise dramatically from the foothills and provide a serene backdrop to the tea town of Palampur.

Nearby is Dharamsala, the district headquarters of Kangra, which is the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a second home for more than eight thousand Tibetan refugees.

Some of the old colonial flavour lingers in the stone church of St. John in the Wilderness, where the British Viceroy, Lord Elgin, is buried. Sir Francis Younghusband – leader of British India’s fateful incursion to Lhasa has Kangra (Dharamsala) connections. His parents lived in a bungalow in a pine forest and later bought land in the Kangra Valley to pioneer a tea plantation. Robert Shaw was a renowned explorer and an early Kangra tea planter.

The bounty of water and the unique climate – cool breezes laden with moisture from the snows and warm sunshine have given Kangra its tea gardens. Water abounds here – the streams are full of life.

Why should the world care if Kangra tea survives? Because it lends diversity to India’s basket of teas, and provides a choice for Western tea buyers looking to improve their repertoire. Support from buyers is what is needed to bring Kangra tea back into the world tea map. Wah Tea Estate, as a leading light of the district, is all set to reclaim its destiny.

Contact: Wah Tea Estate, P.O. Palampur, Dist Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, INDIA
Email: wahtea@gmail.com; Contact Person: Deepak Prakash
Phone No: 9831158666 / 91-33-32939693

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