By Pradeep Singh
Interestingly, in the successful, and no less in significance, management of Doon tea estates, important roles were played by three categories of people, none of whom were native to the Valley. The tea estates were owned by the British, while the manual work on the tea plantations were carried out by “Purbiya” labour, especially got from eastern United Provinces (present Uttar Pradesh). The security of the estate and its extensive properties was in the hands of Gorkhas who had only a few decades earlier fought the British at Nalapani and Khalanga and subsequently a number of them settled in the Valley. It was only at a later stage that tea estates changed ownership with the entry of landed native gentry in some of the cases.
Thus, while the tea estate owners were motivated by profits from land grants on easy terms, the Purbiya workers and Gorkha security guards contributed to the prosperity of the owners and revenue for the state exchequer. Later, these early Purbiya settlers encouraged and invited others from their native villages to come to Doon and seek employment in the tea gardens and also sugarcane plantations that were also coming up due to the government’s efforts to extend agriculture on recently cleared forest lands.
Doon’s tea gardens were largely in the western portion of the Valley or what was then known as Pachhwa Doon. There were some which were practically in the present-day city limits: Harbanswala, Arcadia, Sirmour Tea estates. Further to the west lay Ambari, Herbertpur, Annfield, Hopetown, Udiabagh and Goodrich tea estates. In the city proper, what is today Dalanwala was the tea estate of Colonel Dick before it became an English hamlet of cottages, bungalows and gardens separated by green hedges. Several of the western Doon tea gardens were managed by two tea companies, The Dehra Dun Tea Company Ltd and the East Hopetown Estate Company Ltd.
In the more inaccessible eastern part or the Parwa Doon, there were just four tea estates: The Raipur tea estate on the land granted to Raja Lal Singh of the Lahore Darbar and his descendants; the Banjarawala tea estate in one of the earliest settlements of Doon; the Gorakhpur tea estate (at present Defence Colony) owned by Mr Quarry and, then, there was the Mohkampur tea estate, the property of Shiekh Mohammed Inamullah where today is located the Indian Institute of Petroleum. Thus, where the tea estates were owned and managed by British and Europeans like the Quarrys, Raynors, Dicks, Herberts in the decades to follow native landowners like Colonel Shamshere, Rai Bahadur Jodha Mall, Lala Balbir Singh, Ch Sultan Singh and also the Darbar of Guru Ram Rai came to acquire these tea estates, more so after independence and in the 1960s.
For Doon, the British Raj era in its social manifestation was best exhibited by the tea estate owners and their families. They lived their lives in comfortable isolation on their rambling estates with their exclusive resident staff. Their spacious bungalows had a unique character of colonial architecture with amenities for a comfortable lifestyle, where a cosy library and a billiards room were at hand. Most Doon tea estates had well maintained lawns, gardens and often an orchard of leechie, mango, plum and guava trees. Many of these tea plantation owners participated in the popular annual Flower Show in which, for years, entries from Mr Quarry’s Gorakhpur tea estate won the first prizes. Late afternoon tea parties were routine and customary in the tea estate circle where cups of tea were enjoyed with cucumber sandwiches and Hartley and Palmers rich tea biscuits.
This company made special biscuits suitable for dunking in tea without affecting its flavour. Not surprisingly, Huntley and Palmers expanded their trade almost at the same period the British tea gardens started ruling the international tea trade from the latter part of the nineteenth century and Doon gardens made their humble contribution in this too. Ironically, many tea gardens of Doon came up on land cleared from forests and, in the heydays of the British tea trade, the wood of the beautiful tea boxes was furnished by Doon and also Simla and Rangoon. – Concluded
(Pradeep Singh is an historian and author of “Sals of the Valley A Memorial to Dehra Dun”)