An Unconventional Approach Towards The Conservation Of Tea
Taking more than a page from the traditional wisdom in India, Vrikshayurveda, the Deha Tea Estate has stepped up its game as one of the leading names in Assam’s exclusive tea gardens
A tea garden that has opened its door to research and innovation while incorporating ancient wisdom to conserve the magic in the soil, Deha Tea Estate has been regularly in the news for its award-winning harvests in Assam Tea. Deeply rooted in history, there are several elements that one finds in the discovery of the unique taste produced by the tea garden.
The science used by the estate is an ancient one, Vrikshayurveda or ayurveda for plants, is a science created by Surapala nearly 1,000 years ago. The 325 verses copiously detailing the science in Sanskrit were lost over the year until just before the turn of the last century when the texts were rediscovered, translated and thereon put to use in tea gardens like Deha.
“The efforts to turn Deha Tea Garden into an organic tea garden started in 2006. We were completely organic across 45 hectares, and certified for it, in 2009,” shares Varun Agarwalla, one of the youngest joinees in the family-run tea estate. “Since the successful turn towards organic, we have seen that the immune system of the plants has become stronger.”
The return of the earthworms, in sizeable numbers across the garden, indicates the success of the ancient formula.
Deha Tea Garden was once a part of a much larger tea-growing area owned by the Kingsley Golaghat Tea Company. In 1951, Bhagwandass Agarwalla became the very first Indian to own Deha Tea Garden.
“My grandfather was known as the Chaipattiwalla (tea leaf seller) by the British. He started out by selling tea leaves from door to door on his cycle. He was handicapped in body but had a very sharp mind,” shares CP Agarwalla. “Despite not having any background in tea, he had established his own tea brand — Nandan — from the profits he earned from his efforts.”
The original tea garden included Deha along with two other neighbouring gardens. Since then, the tea garden has seen phenomenal changes that has won the company several accolades among all other gardens in Assam Tea.
“Quite recently we have purchased 2 new rolling machines to enhance our green tea production,” he said.
At the fertiliser unit, set up along the rules of the Vrikshayurveda, I am guided through the eight cement holding tanks each brewing their own herbal concoction of herbs and cow urine among many other natural additives. These solutions, and combinations of them, are allowed to ferment and then treated with manure. The final solution is used through sprinklers across the garden. Adding nourishment to the plant, fertilising the soil and also acting as a herbal pest deterrent.
“We have a healthy number of shade trees all across the garden as summers tend to get too hot for the tea bushes,” shares Varun. “We have set up several birdhouses on the trees to facilitate their stay as they also act as the natural pest controllers in the garden.”
The inherent respect to nature is apparent in every facet of the tea garden. It is the accepted way of life at Deha.
It is easy to see what makes Deha stand out among all other tea gardens producing premium Assam Tea. “We have an active participation with the Tea Research Association (TRA) in Jorhat. We have set aside an area for them to conduct their research. It is important for us to be a part of the innovation in the garden,” shares Varun.
“Apart from the section that we have set aside in the garden, we have also paid close attention to the mother plants — tea plants that are not pruned and allowed to grow to their fullest with the objective of harvesting flowers and seeds — in our nursery. Over the past few years, we have developed the Deha seed which is a high-yielding variety grown from an older tea bush which was almost lost.”
At present, the TRA is working closely with the Deha Tea Estate to develop a higher-yielding bush with better resistance to drought.
“Climate change has been a serious challenge for all tea gardens in Assam. The unpredictable rains have made it difficult for us. We have always had sprinklers to distribute water to all the bushes through the summer but in the past few years, we have had to use these sprinklers all year round to ensure that the tea bushes get the full requirement of water,” shares Varun.
With the increase in temperatures, the onslaught of the pests in the tea garden have also been on the rise. “Earlier the red spider and the looper were only a threat during some seasons but with the global warming, these pests now attack any time of the year,” shares Varun. The TRA and Deha have also joined hands to combat this issue and maintain a pest-free tea garden successfully.
“I remember growing up in this garden and spotting thousands of birds flocking to the shade trees. It has become a seasonal delight to spot any egrets or even sparrows now. Climate Change has changed everything in the tea garden,” says CP Agarwalla.
There’s a lot to look out for in the tour of Deha Tea Estate, from the birdhouses that have made nesting more lucrative for indigenous as well as visiting birds, to an antique machine that uses more petrol than a truck! Proudly on display in the factory, the machine was bought along with the factory from the earlier British owners.
But its not just birds and bees, best to keep a sharp eye out for wilder beasts that are attracted to the serene tea garden to hunt! The rolling acres of plentiful, healthy life are nothing short of an adventure into the very soul of Assam tea.
Deha Tea Estate is planning to open its gate to visitors who seek to learn more about the herbal way of life as well as premium Assam Tea. An eco-friendly project has already started taking shape in the gardens and we will keep you informed of the earliest dates for you to book an exciting opportunity to stay and learn from the unconventional Deha Tea Garden.