Connoisseurs of tea will soon be able to get a closer look at the gardens that produce oolong and Darjeeling green teas if Harsh Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty Development Ltd, has his way.
The Kolkata–based realty development group is readying a tea tourism project in Darjeeling having teamed up with the Makaibari Tea Estate, one of the oldest estates in India, located at Kurseong in the foothills of the Himalayas. The plan: offer domestic and foreign tourists an exotic vacation option. “We are working on the finer details of the project and hope to finalize it in six months,” said Neotia. “The project will definitely be high-end luxury and target largely foreign clientele.”
This won’t be the first tea tourism project in this part of the country. Tata Tea Ltd had started a pilot project in Dam Din tea estate in September.
“What we are offering is a plantation life style. The response is very good and we will scale up the operations,” said Dipankar Borah, vice-president, north India plantation operations, Tata Tea.
From a three-bedroom bungalow, Tata Tea now wants to expand the project to other tea gardens. It is in talks with the state government to explore possibilities of offering other facilities such as golfing and river rafting. It owns four tea gardens in north Bengal.
Ambuja Realty has taken part of the tea plantation on lease from the 149-year-old Makaibari estate. It is firming up plans for a leisure hotel, which will offer a vacation in the hills in the midst of plantations that grow some of the best-known teas in the world.
Makaibari, located 4,500ft above sea level, is the first tea garden in the world to be certified for trade. It is also the first to market Darjeeling greens, oolongs and silver Tips. The estate has a heritage bungalow, but it is not clear if this would be converted into a hotel or a new property will be built. Tea tourism is a growing business in India.
“Local tea estates have been hosting tea tours in a small way but there is potential to do this on a larger scale,” Neotia said. “Once we get this up and going, we might look at one more project of the same kind.”
West Bengal’s tea gardens, more than 150 of them, could prove to be a significant revenue generator and the government has embarked on a project to develop a tea tourism circuit in the state.
Work on development of infrastructure in select pockets in north Bengal, including Malbazar and Murti, is scheduled to start soon. The Union government is also gearing up to tap this segment. It has instructed the state to amend existing land regulation norms. This will enable the tea gardens to use part of their estates for tourism.
Indian tea plantations are concentrated largely in Assam, Darjeeling and the Nilgiri mountains.