Assam to honour Scottish pioneers of tea

Assam has begun a hunt to trace descendants of two Scottish brothers to commemorate their contributions in discovering wild tea bushes in the country some 170 years ago.

The government is planning to honour family members of Robert C. Bruce and his brother Charles at a three-day ‘Tea Tourism Festival’ beginning Dec 4. The Bruce brothers are believed to have first discovered tea bushes in Assam with the help of some local tribal chieftains in 1823.

We are in touch with our external affairs ministry to help us locate family members of Robert and Charles Bruce so that we can invite them for the festival,” said S.C. Panda, Assam’s tourism commissioner.

We want to felicitate family members of the Bruce brothers who were pioneers of tea in Assam,” Panda told IANS.

The tea carnival to be held in this tea-growing town of Jorhat, 310 km east of Assam’s main city Guwahati, is also expected to be attended by a host of foreign tourists.

Apart from Assam’s exotic wildlife, we see enough potential in attracting tourists to visit tea plantations,” Panda said.

Long before commercial production of tea started in India in the late 1830s, tea plants were growing wild in the jungles of Assam with local Singpho tribal people eating the leaves as a vegetable with garlic, besides drinking the brew dipped in boiled water.

According to various historical records and documents, it was in 1823 that Robert Bruce, a British trader, first discovered tea plants near here with the help of a local Singpho tribal chieftain.

Robert died soon after and his plan to establish a nursery was followed up his brother Charles who was then an employee of the East India Company.

It was sometime in the early part of 1830 that Charles set up the first tea plantation in eastern Assam’s Sadiya town with the first 12 chests of manufactured tea from indigenous Assam leaf were shipped to London in 1838.

Today Assam accounts for about 55 percent of India’s total annual tea production of about 820 million kg. India is the world’s largest tea producer.

Tea tourism is still a virgin field and yet unexplored. It would be an exciting experience for foreigners to have fun amid tea plantations,” Dhiraj Kakoty, secretary of the Assam chapter of the Indian Tea Association, said.

Writer: Syed Zarir Hussain, Jorhat (Assam)