As the state government planned to implement the Teesta Barrage Project for better production of the Kharip crop and for the development of economy from the agriculture sector in this region as well as southern north Bengal, a section of the local people in this region, especially in areas in Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and even North Dinajpur, were forced to convert their agricultural fields into small tea gardens and also start pineapple cultivation as per the demand in the market as well as the climate and soil conditions.
Work on the Teesta Barrage Project is still going on slowly, as the project has lost importance in many areas after locals changed their cultivation pattern in the region for better earnings.
However, the economic condition of the farmers is not so good, though small tea growers here contribute over 50 percent of the total tea production in the region, due to some technical reasons, including some issues related to the administration. Similarly, organised as well as registered tea gardens (RTG) are in the same boat, while planters in both Darjeeling Hills and the Dooars have a long list of ways to develop the present industry, which was introduced by the Britishers by converting agriculture, forest and other categories of land to tea farming in Darjeeling Hills since 1840.
Jeewan Prakash Gurung, in his book titled ‘All in a cup of tea,’ showcases 87 tea gardens, which were set up during the British rule, and talks about the different types of land that were converted into tea plantations in Darjeeling Hills, which is now famous the world over for producing good quality tea. Mr Gurung also tries hard to provide an elaborate background of those land and such gardens.
The Alubari Tea Garden was established as the first tea plantation in Darjeeling in 1840 under the Kurseong and Darjeeling Tea Company. Alubari means ‘potato field,’ indicating that potato fields must have been converted into a tea garden. Significantly, the Britishers did not face problems converting the land like the Left government had to face problems setting up Tata Motors at Singur, the so-called potato and paddy producing area, in Hooghly in West Bengal.
The small garden near Darjeeling town comprising only 22.58 hectares, in between elevations of 5400 and 6500 feet, produced two tons of organic tea annually, according to Mr Gurung. Similarly, the Britishers converted many agriculture and forest land into 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling, including Ambootia, Badamtam, Happy Valley, Dooteriah, Jungpana, Longview, Margaret’s Hope, Makaibari, Malootar, Nagri, Oaks, Orange Valley (Bloomfield), Peshok, Poobang, Rangaroon, Rohini, Rungli Rungliot, Rangmook and Cedres, Singbulli, Turzam and many others, which are popular among tea drinkers.
“In Lepcha language, Singbulli means the place where tigers roar. This tea garden comprises 473.95 hectares under tea between tea elevations of 2100 and 4600 feet. Peshok is a Lepcha word, which means dense forest,” Mr Gurung says in the book. A very interesting information that the author gives his readers is about a place in Darjeeling Hills that used to produce mangoes.
“But in the 1850s, the area was converted into a tea plantation, which was named Ambootia, which comes from the local word ‘Aam Batay’, which means ‘mango tree'”, he says. The Britishers also converted bamboo bushes into tea plantations, according to the author. He cites records that show that Badamtam meant ‘bank of bamboos’, and the tea plantation was set up after removing the bamboo bushes there. Like Badamtam, the Malootar tea plantation was set up after removing bamboos.
“Malootar means ‘land of bamboos’. However, Oaks garden was set up after removing oak trees in Sonada Valley,” Mr Gurung says. In 1859, an area of medicinal plantation was converted into Dooteriah, the tea garden of 444.92 hectares. According to Mr Gurung, the name comes from a medicinal plant called ‘Dhaturah.’
He adds that at a time when the government is trying to keep vultures alive by running captive breeding centres in North Bengal, a tea plantation was set up at Giddhapahar, locally known as the “hill of the vultures.” Similarly, the hub of white crested pheasant, locally known as ‘Kalej’, a now endangered species, was converted into the Kallej Valley tea plantation. On the other hand, Gyabaree was set up in the millet fields.
‘Gya’ means millet and ‘Baree’ is field. Similarly, maize fields were converted into the Makaibari Tea Estate in 1859, Mr Gurung says. Also, keeping tourism development in mind, a tea plantation was developed in the name of Happy Valley in1852, comprising 145.16 hectares, between elevations of 3500 and 6500 feet.
On the other hand, another tea plantation, Salimbong, derived from the Lepcha word Sulbung, which means the land of orange trees, was also set up. Some gardens were named after natural places like the Teesta Valley, named after the river that originates from Sikkim. In Lepcha language, Tukhda means mist/fog. Similarly, Poobong is a valley behind clouds in the Lepcha language, while Rohini tea plantation, on the way to Darjeeling from Siliguri, was named after a local word ‘Rahanu’, which means to stay as a stopping point for travelers, Mr Gurung says.
Yet another popular tea plantation, Jungpana, also has a story behind it. The book ‘All in a cup of tea’ says: “The story goes that there was a British planter, who had a chowkidar called Junga Bahadur. The planter was extremely fond of hunting and Junga Bahadur was his constant companion. One day, while hunting in the area, they were attacked by a tiger. Junga Bahadur immediately jumped to the forefront and saved his master, but in doing so, was grievously injured. In his dying moments he asked for water (pani) before succumbing to his injuries, and thus the name Jungpana (the place where Junga Bahadur was given pani) came into being.