Kooloo Valley Tea Company

Sponsored Links

Tea was the first cash-crop grown by the British in Kulu.

After the treaty of Lahore between the British and the Sikhs on 9 March 1846, the Jalandhar Doab region was passed over to the British. With this the British also got hold of the beautiful Kulu valley. In 1849, it was made a sub-division of the Kangra district. Subsequently, British traffic began to rise in the valley, there were British officers posted here, and then there were people who came here in search of adventure and game (hunting). Some even made the valley their home. The British came and brought with them various European fruits and vegetables and also their favorite—tea.

In 1856, Major William Hay the first Assistant Commissioner of Kulu (1849–57) planted tea in a small garden in Naggar for the first time. His trial was successful and in 1860 tea was planted on six acres of land in Naggar.

G. Knox, Hay’s successor, can be called the founder of the tea industry in Kulu. After his transfer from here in October 1860, he, along with his brother and General Alexander Cunningham (founder of the Archaeological Survey of India), bought hundreds of acres of land in Kulu, including the Nagar garden. Their intention was to grow tea here on a large scale. For this they founded a company called ‘Kooloo Valley Tea Company’ in around 1861–62 and appointed an Irish man Henry Minniken as a resident-manager of the company.

In the year 1866-67, another company planted tea over five acres of land in Bajaura and two acres in Duada. However, this new company sold off its assets to ‘Kulu Valley Tea Company’ seeing no possibility of a successful tea business. Meanwhile, Duff Dunbar, the then Assistant Forest Officer of Kulu, planted another garden over five acres of land in Dobhi. But this attempt also failed.

From 1862 to 1870 Kulu Valley Tea Company continued to plant tea and gradually extended their plantation area. In the 1870s the company had tea gardens at Bajaura, Raison, Nagar, Shamshi and Ghordaur.

Tea bushes at Raison, early 1910s.

Kulu tea is said to possess excellent taste and aroma. Its fame went as far as London. The tea of Kulu was sold to private enterprises and some was also exported to England, but most of it went to the British military cantonments established throughout India. The ‘Kulu Valley Tea Company’ received the first prizes for “the best specimen of first class tea, grown and manufactured in the Panjab” and “the best specimen of black tea grown in India” at the 1864 Lahore Exhibition.

Sponsored Links

A Hungarian traveller, Laszlo Berzenczey, in his journal called Kulu tea the best he had ever tasted—even better than the teas he tasted in China. He stayed, in 1873, with the Minnikens at Raison when on his march from Siberia to Bombay (1872-1874).

The finest tea of Kulu in the 1879s fetched from 1.5 to 2 rupees per pound (about half a kilo).

But tea was not as successful in Kulu as it was in the neighbouring Kangra valley. The agro-climatic conditions—that is to say, rainfall, soil, temperature, etc.—were mostly unfavourable for tea. According to the Land Revenue and Settlement Report of 1874 (survey conducted by J. B. Lyall from 1865 to 1872) there was irregular rainfall in the lower parts of the valley and there was not enough heat in the upper valley. The soil has also been called mostly cold and marshy. As a result, despite the excellent leaf quality, the yield was always modest.

The lack of suitable land for tea cultivation combined with a lack of transportation means, compared to the Kangra valley, were the major hurdles in the way of any success that tea could have had here.

The tea business was proving to be less rewarding for the Kulu Tea Company. In attempts to keep the profits up, they lent out most of their land to the local zamindars, taking a fix rent or a share in the produce (grains). Throughout the seventies, KTC folks were buying the best lands in Kulu.

According to Lyall’s report, the company had a total of 900 acres of land in Kulu, out of which 750 acres was under general cultivation. Only less than a hundred acres of land was in use for tea and the remaining land was rented out to the local zamindars on an annual basis.

Then, in 1882–83, the ‘Kulu Valley Tea Company’ was dissolved and most of its assets were purchased by the company’s own manager, Minniken, and a newcomer, Colonel Robert Rennick.

The later 1880s and the early 1890s was the time when fruit industry flourished in Kulu. First fruit garden of Kulu was planted by a retired British military officer, Captain Lee, at a place called Banderol around 1870. Taking inspiration from Lee, most of the British settlers, including Rennick and Minniken, turned to gardening. Tea plantations were transformed into orchards and now fruits replaced tea as the cash crop.

Col. Rennick founded his estate (Garh Estate) at Bajaura and hired a man named William Donald as the overseer; Donald also had his own estate at Dobhi. Minniken established his estate (Aramgarh Estate) at Aramgarh, Raisan.

Sponsored Links

But, both Rennick and Minniken did not stop planting the tea. The figures in the 1884 Kangra Gazetteer for 1883–84 show that the estates of the trio Rennick, Minniken, and another British resident, Theodore, produced around 8.5 quintals of tea combined. However, of the three, only the Minnikens kept the tea industry alive going into the 20th century. The family was growing tea on a total of 36 acres of land at Raison and Naggar in the 1910s.

In the early 1920s, Rennick went back to Europe, selling his ‘Garh Estate’ to Lala Hira Lal, a wealthy man from Mandi. Then, it appears that around 1934 or 1935 the Minnikens also sold out their property. There is no record of their tea estate or gardens in the Thacker’s directory after the 1934 edition. In place there is mention of one ‘Fairlie’s Tea Estate’ (Thacker’s Directory, eds. 1936–1939). But again, the later editions do mention Fairlie’s fruit gardens but not the tea.

It can be inferred that whatever of the tea industry was left in Kulu was completely over by the start of 1940s.


Sources

Berzenczey, L., Marczell, P. J., and Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation (India). (2007). Adventures in Central Asia: A Hungarian in the Great Game.

Calvert, J. (1873). Vazeeri rupi, the silver country of the vazeers, in kulu: Its beauties, antiquities, and silver. (Buy here)

Chetwode, P. (1972). Chetwode, P. (1972). Kulu: The end of the habitable world.

Diack, A. H. (1899). Gazetteer of the Kangra District, parts II to IV, Kulu, Lahul and Spiti, 1897.

Sponsored Links

Egerton, P. H. (1864). Journal of a tour through Spiti to the frontier of Chinese Thibet. (Buy here)

Forbes, M. C. (1911). To Kulu and back: With list of routes, shooting regulations, and rules regarding coolies, supplies, rest-houses etc.

Gore, F. S. J. (1895). Lights and Shades of Hill Life in the Afghan and Hindu Highlands of the Punjab. (Buy here)

Harcourt, A. F. (1872). The Himalayan districts of Kooloo, Lahoul and Spiti. (Buy here)

Lyall, J. B. (1874). Report of the land revenue settlement of the Kangra District, Panjab, 1865-72.

Murray, Aynsley Mrs. J.E. (1879). Our Visit to Hindustan: Kashmir and Ladakh.Younghusband, Francis Edward, Sir (1924). Wonders of the Himalaya.

Sponsored Links

Leave a Reply

error: This content is protected.