We first heard about Namsang from Mr. CS BEdi and Mr. Indrajit Roy of Rossell Teas. That there was an estate right inside a forest making some excellent teas was a call we could not ignore. So, this summer, my colleagues and I included Namsang in our itinerary. From Tinsukia, we set out to Namsang village. The estate is located very close to the Assam/Arunachal border, near Deomali town. Our destination, we were informed, lay along the banks of the Buri Dihing river and inside Jeypore Reserve Forest.
Travelling through Assam, one is constantly marvelling at the forests and wildlife but never before have I had to enter a forest to reach a tea garden. At Nagahat, we stopped; it was the outer edge of the estate and from here on, the forest began. Mr N. Baruah, Namsang’s Manager had sent the garden vehicle to help us navigate our way in. I struck up a conversation with the driver. How often do you see wildlife, I asked. He said everyday, the elephants passed by. I wasn’t sure i wanted to encounter a herd of wild elephants and yet, I was a little disappointed when I didn’t.
We drove about 9kms through a dusty road before stopping at the Manager’s bungalow, where Mr Baruah was waiting for us. As bungalows go, this is among the most beautiful that I have seen. And with a magnificent view of the vista. Across the river lay the state of Arunachal. And where Namsang meets the Dehing river was a spot known as Namsang mookh, famous around here for its spectacular views. There was silence all around; one could hear the birds singing around and smell the fresh air which was blowing along with the drizzle of rain. It looked like as if the estate was cut off from this world, the kind of place that I have always wanted to visit.
Conversation soon turned to tea, and after lunch, we set out to see the garden. We learnt that Namsang, along with the adjoining hills that are now part of Arunachal, were originally home to the Noctes and Wancho tribes, also known as the Namsang Nagas. The British, meanwhile, had a camp in Sadiya district and once suffered an attack by the Khamti tribes. With heavy casualties, they decided to move out of here and chose Joypore on the banks of the Burhi Dehing river, in the early 1830s. They tried to interest the Nocte Nagas in tea cultivation. When the British levied heavy taxes on the local people, the Nagas left the hills and moved to what is now present day Arunachal .
The China plants in the Joypore division were brought from Calcutta, raised from seeds imported from China in around 1834. The Assam plants were raised and propagated from the seeds of the indigenous trees discovered at Namsang by Dr. Wallich and Bruce in 1836. Mr Baruah informed us that around 127 of the original tea seeds were planted here.
The first section at Namsang was planted in 1837 – we saw the monument that had been built in January 1937 to commemorate the estate’s first centenary. As early as 1838, a small quantity of Namsang’s tea sold for remarkable prices in the 1838 auctions in England. By 1888, the estate was planted for commercial viability. From the Jhanzie Tea Association Limited, it was bought by Jokai Assam followed by the Dhunseri Petrochem & Tea Limited. In June 2012, Rossell India Limited took over and have been running it since.
Since the estate is surrounded by forest, this area is very humid and receives heavy rains. These do hamper the daily working of the garden. But inspite of this, the garden makes some fabulous teas, some of the best we have tasted in Assam. This tea estate generally makes Orthodox teas. Interestingly, the Namsang teas are more similar to Ceylon than Assam, in flavor.
We spent the night in Namsang, in the Manager’s bungalow. It was quiet and so peaceful. If I close my eyes and think of Namsang, I know that’s what I will always remember – a very private, very isolated and very peaceful tea garden where for two days I enjoyed the hospitality of my fellow tea folks and that peace.
Photographs by Tridib Konwar