Tea Garden in Uttarakhand Garhwal and the Chowfin family -Devendra Kumar Budakoti

Budox 19 Min Read

Tea Garden in Uttarakhand Garhwal and the Chowfin family; While the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam in north east India and used by the local tribal’s, its commercial production started only in the late 1830s, by the East India Company. It was Robert Bruce and his brother Charles, an employee of the East India Company which reported that the tea plant was a native of the Assam area and named for who established the first tea garden in upper assam.

A long story in easy words is earlier China was the main source of Tea procurement. When the East India Company lost its monopoly in tea trade from China, it saw India as alternative place to have tea gardens.

In 1833, Charles Bruce was given the task of establishing the first nurseries, and sent off to China to collect tea seeds.

This was done as some company officials were not sure that the tea plant really was indigenous to India and insisted on importing the Chinese variety.

Charles Bruce and the other pioneers cleared suitable areas of land on which to develop plantations, pruning existing tea trees to encourage new growth, and experimenting with the freshly plucked leaves from the native bushes to manufacture black tea.

Bruce had recruited two tea makers from China and with their assistance steadily learnt the secrets of successful tea production.

book The Chowfins of Garhwal
The Chowfins of Garhwal Book

Interestingly the native plants flourished, while the Chinese seedlings struggled to survive in the prevailing climatic conditions and it was eventually decided to make subsequent plantings with seedlings from the native tea bush.

Meanwhile the Assam Tea Company began to expand into other districts of north east India. Cultivation started around the town of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas in the mid 1850s.

Around 1857, tea cultivations were also tried in other Himalayan regions. As mentioned earlier tea cultivation was first introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea.

Using the Chinese planting and cultivation techniques, the British launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export.

In 1848, Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist successfully smuggled tea plants and Chinese tea experts to India to develop technologies and oversee production to optimize the profits from Black Tea. After many failed attempts, Camellia sinensis was able to grow there but eventually, production of the native Camellia assamica plant was found to be far more lucrative.

For many years China tea seed was imported regularly into India and from these seeds, nurseries were raised in the government Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and the plants were sent to Upper Assam, Uttarakhand and the Nilgiri hills in south India.

In the Himalayan region, tea seedlings were planted near Bhimtal and Almora. Later on, experimental gardens were successfully established with China plants in Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra districts on the Himalayan foothills.

Tea plantations in Dehradun, first started by Britons in 1863 are still operational although many of Dehradun’s tea pockets like Banjarawala and Kargi have been converted into residential colonies.

Tea cultivation in Garhwal

Gadoli Church and school near Pauri town Garhwal
Author at Gadoli Church and school near Pauri town Garhwal

The first Chinese tea expert who came to Garhwal was Asi Wong around 1850s at the invitation of East India company.

Asi Wong was a Buddhist by birth and married a Hindu lady in Garhwal.

His family got the surname of Chowfin after his sons got baptized.

His grandson Harry Ensign Chowfin has written a family history, with the title, ‘The Chowfins of Garhwal”, which has been printed by his daughter Doreen Chowfin Choudhry and edited and given creative direction by his grand daughter Madhupriya. 

About the book, Ms. Doreen writes, “April 2013 saw the publication of a manuscript that had been written almost fifty years ago, The Chowfins of Garhwal by Mr Harry Ensign Chowfin.

The book is a family archive and a memoir of the Chowfin family, the first member of whom came around the mutiny of 1857 with the East India Company as a tea expert to the Garhwal region to plant tea gardens. What follows is a fascinating journey of the family to become preachers, teachers and military men in and around Uttrakhand region.

The book records the life and times of the family but also of close friends, associates, missionaries in Garhwal, the Messmore Intercollege, the Gadoli school and vignettes of life in Garhwal between 1898 and 1970 seep into the book.

Read about how the children in Gadoli school used wooden takhtis to write on and got lessons under pear trees. Peep into the classrooms of Messmore in the 1920’s and see how high the standards of education were.

Learn about the first Christian graduate of Ewing Christian College and share the concerns of teachers in Lucknow Christian College in the 1970’s. Meet the first awardee of the Kumaon Centenary Scholarship and read about the first fighter pilot from Garhwal in this account. The author joined the British Army in 1917.

He was a record keeper and his profession became his lifelong habit and hobby. Mr H E Chowfin collected family records, certificates, telegrams, newspaper cuttings, photographs and articles.

In the book you can see photographs as old as 1898 and handwritten notes, letters and poems from 1902 onwards. The history of Garhwal is woven closely into the history of the Chowfin family and this book offers an insight into a time gone by.”

What I missed in the book was about Asi Wong  family background and how he was motivated to come to India, besides to know social and economic life in his native place and how he made his journey to India.

However, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Doreen the great grand daughter of Asi Wong and the daughter of the writer Mr Harry Ensign Chowfin in New Delhi and she was kind enough to give a copy of the book. She can be contacted at orient.productions@gmail.com for the copy of the book.

Reviving the Legacy: Exploring Uttarakhand’s Emerging Tea Industry

Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, the Indian state of Uttarakhand conjures images of lofty mountain peaks, gushing rivers, tranquil hill stations, and Hindu pilgrimage sites. However, few are aware that this region has a rich history of tea cultivation dating back nearly 200 years.

After lying dormant for decades, Uttarakhand’s tea sector is now experiencing a revival with the efforts of local tea pioneers. The unique terroir and agro-climatic conditions provide immense potential to produce quality teas to rival established regions like Darjeeling and Assam. There is also rising interest regarding tea tourism across the picturesque organic estates.

A Historical Overview

The tryst of Uttarakhand with tea began in 1842 when processed tea from Chinese Kangra seeds was exported to England via Kolkata. In his book A Journey To The Tea Countries Of China, renowned Scottish botanist Robert Fortune wrote about the promising teas encountered during his 1849 tour of the Guddowli plantation near Pauri, Garhwal.

Under East India Company patronage, the Kumaon-Garhwal belt had 20 flourishing tea estates by 1907. The superior quality of offerings even found ardent fans like legendary architect Laurie Baker. However, complex geography made accessing ports difficult compared to closer regions like Assam or Darjeeling. By the 1920s, most gardens were abandoned as investments dried up.

In the 1930s, six Anglo-Indian families from Sri Lanka migrated to Kumaon for tea cultivation but World War II disrupted further initiatives. The establishment of Uttarakhand state in 2000 renewed government emphasis on reviving traditional cash crops like tea across fallow lands.

Leading Regions for tea garden Uttarakhand Tea

While tea is grown across Uttarakhand, certain regions are more prolific in tea gardens, tea plantation output and renown.


The pride of Uttarakhand tea located at 1800m altitude, this 208 hectare estate is divided into 21 divisions speckled across pine forests and rice terraces. Kausani tea was initially planted in 1959 and the first leaves were marketed by 1964.

tea garden in uttarakhand

The cool climate and misty conditions create an exquisite flavor profile in the famed Girias Uttaranchal tea. High altitude orthodox teas are considered a connoisseur’s delight while contributing significantly to the estate’s export volumes.

Modern cultivation techniques combined with skilled hand plucking ensure consistently high quality. Private plantations, government bodies, and local small tea growers collectively produce over 100 tonnes annually. Popular offerings are available as green tea, black tea and oolong tea.


Tucked away in the eastern corner bordering Tibet, Berinag estates are wreathed in many mysteries. As per legend, one ingenious manager perfected the art of creating compressed brick tea which became hugely popular across the Tibetan plateau. Prior to Indian independence, Berinag tea commanded dedicated buyers and sizeable demand.

The unique terroirtranslates into very smooth, full-bodied liquors with hints of maltiness in the bold black teas. While production has reduced from historical peaks, tea factory, Berinag remains cherished by connoisseurs for its distinctive character.


Perched at lofty heights ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 meters near Tibet border, the sleepy hamlet of Chaukori inhabits patches of wild tea vegetation. Commercial tea cultivation across nearly 175 hectares started quite recently in 2010. Cool temperatures and misty conditions produce an exquisite China type tea profile Within a decade, Chaukori has emerged as a rising star producing fine quality greens and orthodox black teas.

Tea Varieties and Production Statistics

  • Over 3,500 small tea farmers cultivate around 1,500 hectares functioning as a large collective body. Significant emphasis is placed on organic practices.
  • Small local tea factories dot the major growing regionsfocusing on specialty orthodox style teas as well as some greens and China type white teas.
  • Under UTDB guidance, 4 larger factories have been established, out of which 3 are certified organic, to bolster processing capacities.
  • Total annual production is approximately 11,000 kilograms mainly comprising high quality CTC and orthodox black teas.
  • Other variants like white, oolong, and green tea constitute 10-15% output.
  • Uttarakhand teas are marked under the premium Uttaranchal brand to augment recognition in global markets. Exports go to Australia, Germany, the USA, and UK among other destinations.

Why Uttarakhand Tea Offers Immense Potential

TheBitish introduced tea in India, but focused majorly on Assam and Darjeeling due to logistical access. However, as seen worldwide, elevated highlands with abundant rainfall, mist and cloud cover provide ideal climactic conditions for the camellia sinensis plant. The China-type semi-alpine terrain grants Uttarakhand small tea farmers similar conditions as the best gardens in China or Taiwan.

Despite lying dormant for long periods, niche tea lovers are now rediscovering the delightful cuppas sourced from heirloom bushes in Garhwal-Kumaon mountains. Critic tasters have rated several high altitude orthodox Uttarakhand teas as superior to industry benchmarks. As boutique offerings find patronage across Asia, Europe and America, revived estates can transform local socio-economics. There is also scope for geographical indication (GI) branding to accentuate global positioning.

Promoting Tea Tourism

The phenomenal success of tea tourism revenue models across Asia has sparked interest to leverage the concept even in non-traditional zones like Uttarakhand. Tea estates wedded amid gorgeous Himalayan panoramas offer captivating views for photography enthusiasts. The salubrious pleasant climes between April to June or post monsoon months of September-October provide the best weather for relaxed estate trails.

Most plantations have small visitor zones where guests can wander through the lush bushes with white or pink blossoms, observe plucking by local women, peek into manufacturing processes, and partake in tea tastings paired with snacks. Small factory outlet shops provide opportunities to purchase fresh season teas along with estate memorabilia.

As infrastructure expands more estates will open for experiencing tea tourism. Sturdy boots are essential while exploring estates with guided tours available at nominal charges. For holistic perspectives, trips can be combined with hill station destinations like the following:

Kausani Tea Estate: Pair with the charming hill station located 45 kms away which offers panoramic 300 km Himalayan views.

Berinag Tea Estate: Combine with scenic Munsiyari town situated 22 kilometers away across the Goriganga river.

Chaukori Tea Estate: Club with Ranikhet hill station only 10 kilometers away known for its majestic views.

Revitalization Efforts by State Tea Board

The Uttarakhand Tea Development Board (UTDB) has played a seminal role since the 1990s in resuscitating this promising industry through multipronged initiatives:

  • Leasing fallow land from locals for rejuvenating tea cultivation
  • Raising nurseries with over 70 lakh saplings till 2018
  • Establishing small tea processing factories across key districts
  • Promoting organic cultivation methods by small tea growers
  • Offering subsidies for fertilizers/equipment and conducting training programs
  • Generating self-employment especially for marginalized rural women
  • Boosting productivity and quality for better price realizations
  • Creating branding/marketing channels for domestic sales and exports

Owing to these efforts, the state now has over 13 lakh kg annual production across 1,700 hectares farmland. As capabilities expand, a target has been set to establish 10,000 hectare area under tea planting which would generate over 20 crore kg output per year.

Challenges Faced by the Industry

Despite strong progress made, Uttarakhand tea continues facing roadblocks which need redressal:

  • High production costs and unreliable weather conditions
  • Limited processing capabilities coupled with lack of awareness regarding appropriate plucking norms
  • Absence of organized marketing channels makes price discovery unpredictable
  • Minimal government funding and organizational support compared to bigger tea zones
  • Low manpower availability owing to migration makes harvesting labor intensive
  • Lack of transportation access hinders inter and intra region supply chains logistics

The Way Forward

The fledgling tea sector holds immense potential for the Uttarakhand economy whether via domestic consumption or exports. However, targeted policy initiatives are vital to nurture the industry across key realms:

  • Infrastructure Development: Better road connectivity and transportation access would greatly ease supply chain issues. Cold storage warehousing would help tea producers to even out price fluctuations.
  • Boosting Funds: Increased government budgets and incentives for tea growers in the form of subsidized loans, free saplings, tax rebates etc. This would help offset weather risks and reduce financial stress.
  • Modernization: Investments towards upgrading processing factories with latest machinery for withering, CTC/orthodox manufacturing etc. This would bolster productivity, efficiency and quality.
  • Market Linkages: Facilitating direct linkages between tea producers, packers, exporters and final distributors would eliminate middlemen margins. This can enhance price realizations.
  • Promotion: Extensively promoting Uttarakhand tea branding via international trade fairs, catalogues, buyer meets and tea festivals to attract discerning luxury clientele.

The unique terroir of Uttarakhand’s high altitude teas deserves global acclaim on par with Darjeeling or Nilgiris offerings. The state government recognizes the latent potential in facilitating revival of the tea industry. With aptpolicy support Channels, a comprehensive turnaround of the tea sector can uplift thousands of marginalized farmers. It may also spur ripple effects across allied tourism or food processing industries in the serene Devbhoomi landscape.

Devendra Kumar Budakoti the author is a development consultant

Share This Article
By Budox
Social researcher, Traveller, and Writer played diverse roles in the development sector, with a strong dedication for preservation of cultural heritage. Sharing my experince and insights on this website.
Leave a comment