Ilam A confluence of organic tea production and agrotourism

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Narendra Kumar Gurung

The history of tea dates back to ancient China as far as five thousand years. According to legend, Emperor Shen Nung discovered tea in 2732 B.C when leaves from a wild tree blew into his pot of boiling water. The production and consumption of tea that started in China now encompass every part of the globe that connects people from one to another. The history of tea production in Nepal is also dated back to the Rana regime. The first tea garden was started by the government itself in Ilam and followed by the private sector.

Late Ranabir Gurung had started tea farming in the 1920s in Ilam, during Rana regime, when Nepal was not open to the outside world. Ranbir Gurung used to frequently visit Darjeeling, Siliguri, and Kolkata to purchase the materials for the construction of two suspension bridges, the Maikhola and Puwa Mai of Ilam district of Nepal during the 1920s. He was a philanthropist who constructed these two suspension bridges with his own resources and initiatives. He learned about tea production and was encouraged to start tea plantation in his village called Barbote in Ilam.

The history mentions that in Darjeeling the tea plantations started in 1847. About 10 to 15 years later the district magistrate of Ilam Mr. Gajaraj Singh Thapa (son in law of Rana) developed the Ilam Tea Garden, with Chinese plant varieties.  It was only after 57 years of Ranbir Gurung’s endeavors in tea cultivation, that his son Mr. Man Bahadur Gurung (now 85 yrs.) started the tea plantation in the 1980s, which was expanded to an area of  6 hectares by 2000 AD. Mr. Man Bahadur Gurung had established the tea factory in a joint venture with the Vaidhya Groups of Nepal.  This was one of the first of its kind that benefited numbers of tea farmers in the vicinity by allowing them to sell their green leaves locally. But given the sudden emergence of adverse atmosphere to operating a tea factory, Man Bahadur Gurung was compelled to withdraw his share from the factory in 2008.

Agrotourism and Homestay facilities

Realizing the importance of tea production and the historical legacy of his family, after a break of 18 years, the grandson of Ranbir Gurung, Narendra Kumar Gurung has ventured to establish small scale tea factory that process green leaves of his own garden and tea farmers from the surrounding areas. The industry named Highlanders Farmer Private Company owned by Narendra Gurung has become a role model tea garden and tea processing around Barbote in Ilam. This tea garden has been instrumental in encouraging small farmers to establish new tea gardens. With the increasing number of new tea gardens in the area, the hills have become green and lust. Over the past 2-3 years, the area has been in the attraction for visitors. In the middle of Gurung families’  garden, there is Man’s homestay (Man ko Homestay) which gives the eternal feeling to people at home being away from home. This is the first homestay in the area that has encouraged to expand homestay around Barbote in particular and Ilam district in general.

Though in a small number but with a steady growth of domestic and foreign tourists, the homestay arrangements are becoming popular in the area. The local people have now concentrated their efforts for organic tea production attaching it with agro-tourism. The concept of agrotourism though not new in Nepal, has slowly taken roots in eastern Nepal. One of the popular destinations in east Nepal is Ilam district famous with the official theme, “Prosperous Ilam, Happy Ilam”. Barbote village lies at an altitude of 1450 meters, that is a 1-hour walk to the east from Ilam Bazaar, where lies the Man’s Homestay right in the middle of beautiful tea gardens. Those who visit Barbote and Ilam will have an opportunity to observe organic tea farms, tea processing and the traditional way of making handmade tea. A short trek to neighboring locations like Mai Pokhari for a cultural visit, Mai Majhuwa to view some wetlands and lakes and Sandakpur to view the early sunrise and evening sunset will be thrilling experiences to the visitors. While trekking around these places, one can see red pandas, pangolin, reptiles, and danfe like rare wild birds and creatures.

This sort of initiatives will help immensely in value addition. A concerted effort all over the country needs to be encouraged by promoting organic farming, greenery and attract tourists.

(Mr. Nagrendra Kumar Gurung retired from JICA in 2016, has a long experience working with international agencies in Nepal and abroad)







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