“Good evening, Mr Kothari,” said Mr Gowswami, manager at Murphulani, when I arrived at the estate late evening. “Good to see that you didn’t meet any wild elephants on the way.”
“Maybe the elephants too wanted us to reach Murphulani,” I said, with more relief than I dared show.
I was travelling with my colleagues and we had arrived from Golaghat town. But the estate lies close to the Nambar and Bijule reserve forest, surrounded by the Mikir Hills, and with an elephant corridor passing through it. Needless to say, I was sufficiently nervous.
Mr Gowswami was hosting us in the estate manager’s bungalow. A first gen planter, his passion for plants and nature was very evident from our conversations. His tea career began in 1992, and he has grown in the ranks from Factory Assistant to now, Manager. And I couldn’t have asked for someone better informed than him to show me the estate and their teas.
The next morning, we set out to tour the estate. Every estate has its own charms, its own uniqueness but I must say, of all those I visited, I will remember Murphulani for it’s breathtaking beauty. I have never seen landscape like this before. Mr Gowswami took us to Bogijan, a division within the estate, that he described as “paradise itself”.
I smiled, because of course, everyone says that of their estates and gardens. I’ve personally described Darjeeling like that. But Mr Gowsami, as it turned out, was not exaggerating. What I saw cannot be described in words. We were in a tea garden surrounded by hills on three sides. As we stood there, some light rains fell adding to the beauty of the landscape.
There was nothing else to do but stop and admire it.
Murphulani has been named for the Mur flowers that had filled these lands before they were cultivated for tea. On the gardens live and work people from the Karbi Anglong, Chutiya and Dimasa tribes, whose origins date back to the 1100s when they came from Tibet. Up until 1854, these lands were part of the Dimasa kingdom. The last general, Senapati Tularam Hansu fought the British occupation, and following his death, these districts were annexed by the British.
Assam’s connection to the British seems far deeper than Darjeeling. During WW2, Japanese forces entered India nearing Assam. Remnants of this are still seen even here in the tea gardens – we sit in the verandah of a bungalow and hear of a bunker below, of sites of battle cannons, of airfields that has seen a lot of action… And so too here, at Murphulani, except I am constantly distracted by the sheer views.
After we sample the teas, Mr Gowswami shows us more of the estate. From where we stand, the sun sets behind the hills lighting the lush green tea field a golden yellow. I have never seen anything so stunningly perfect in my life.
Photographs by Avishek Mondal