|TEMI: SIKKIM’S OWN TEA STORY
Feel the bliss of silence, writes SOMEN SENGUPTA as he takes the route to Temi that passes through the hills enveloped under the cool and dark shadows of thick pine and oak.
The popular notion is that Sikkim has no great story of tea plantation like Assam or Bengal do. The colonial chronicles recorded till the middle of last century are overloaded with great stories of tea plantation on the laps of Darjeeling and Assam that glorifies great British business brains. It is all how a crop totally unknown to the natives of India, was converted into a most lucrative commercial crop of India that finally changed the culture and commerce of a region. From Kangra to Dooars and again from Assam to Darjeeling to down south in Nilgiri, the golden saga of tea plantation in India is actually the best illustration of British entrepreneurship that gave them a huge business advantage over China in international trade market. It changed the fortune of the East India Company and later the British crown directly.
If this is true, then there is another small yet important story that was completely overlooked. A king with a noble objective of State welfare, adopted tea plantation in his tiny Kingdom and achieved success no less than what the British had attained in the mid 19th century. This is the story of Sikkim’s tea saga and it all started from the Temi tea garden. Temi became popular after Sikkim became a part of India in 1975 and tourist started frequenting it ever since the Sikkim Government built up accommodations. However, its emergence was seen in a turbulent era.
When in the 1950s China invaded Tibet, the Indian Government opened its gates for the Tibetan refugees to settle down in India. However, various regions of Sikkim which then weren’t a part of the Indian Republic started feeling the pressure of the refugee issue. Overnight there was a need to provide subsistence to this new influx of people from Tibet. In 1969 the last king of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal planned to grow tea in the southern side of his kingdom. He chose a hill top at the altitude of 5,500 metre to 7,000 metre, where many years ago Scottish missionaries had set up a bungalow for social work. The village named Lamatar where this tea plantation came up was to provide subsistence of many locals and the uprooted people were just 18 km from the famous Sikkim town Ravangla. The tea estate was named Temi and is now recognised all over the world for its tea. Slowly the name of the place changed to Temi.
Give luxury a break in Temi’s green world and simply rest your exhausted soul under the hospitality of Sikkim Government’s tourist guest house which is standing in the middle of the tea garden. Its one side faces the tea garden while other side faces the horizon over which Mount Kangchenjungha appears in less than 50 km. The modest accommodation of this tourist guest house is the best seat to enjoy Temi’s opera of nature’s beauty.
Sit in the balcony of your accommodation to feel the bliss of silence. The route to Temi passes through the hilly region of Himalayas enveloped under the cool and dark shadow of thick pine and oak. From late October the area is enveloped under blooming cheery blossoms. The pink colored flowers rule the landscape. The green tea garden that runs over an area of 440 acres is a treat to fatigued eyes. A walk through the garden towards the tea plant where organic tea of Temi is processed and packed for commercial marketing is the best stress buster. The tea plant does not encourage tourists to visit it but if you can manage to enter with special permission, you can get an enriching and educative tour of the tea plantation.
If you luckily arrive here on a clear day, over the horizon a giant will welcome you with her family. It is the mighty Mt Kangchenjungha along with Singalila range of Himalayas. Embrace yourself to enjoy a huge mass of snow capped Himalayan range where the most beautiful peak of Indian Himalayas is burning bright. Viewing Kangchenjungha from Temi tea garden is not an ordinary event.
As soon as the first ray of the sun kisses the snow, the mountain turns orange and then golden. Finally before becoming white it turns a pale pink. In front of your eyes all these colours change in a span of half an hour and its magic prevails all day.
A full bloom Kangchenjunga is a glorious experience and no one can overcome its impact. Nowhere in the world any mountain range has so many giant peaks appeared in one range as is found in Kangchenjungha. You have to be extremely lucky to see such an amazing amalgamation of five snow peaks in one group. The massive range comes with other famous peaks viz Kabroo 1 and Kabroo 2 and many more nameless ones. In fact the view of Kabru 1 and Kabru 2 is more throbbing as they appear in massive size. Kangchenjunga is now world’s third highest peak.
In 1852, an Indian named Radhanath Sikdar calculated and found the height of peak no. 15 to be 8,848 meters. Soon peak 15 was named after Mr George Everest and Mt Everest officially surpassed Kangchenjunga in height. Now it is only India’s highest peak. The meaning of the word Kangchenjunga is “five treasures of snow”. It represents all five peaks gold, silver, games, grains and holy books. Local people of Sikkim count it as sacred as God.
The thing about Temi is that you do not have much to do there. Though there is the provision to play badminton in the tourist guest house and also of camp fire at night, it is better to submit yourself to nature. A hot cup of organic tea and eyes engrossed in the endless beauty of Himalayas is the ideal way to enjoy this small heaven of Sikkim where many years ago hundreds of refugee uprooted from their home in Tibet found a new meaning of life under the sacred shadow of Kangchenjungha. No doubt that The Dalai Lama, the supreme religious leader of Tibet, also came here once to enjoy the pristine beauty of this tea garden and mighty Himalayas which rendered support to the people who fled Tibet with him to find a new motherland in this country.
This article was published in The Pioneer on 19th February 2017
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