Velvety darkness falls suddenly — around 4.30pm in these parts. That’s why tea planters talk about ‘garden time’ and think nothing of getting up at 4am to go to kaam jaari (work). My first morning in ‘tea’, as a young college girl-turned-bride from Delhi, got me in the rhythm very quickly!
We are now hastening through Assam's Tinsukia to get to Limbuguri Tea Estate, where we are to stay at the heritage Wathai bungalow, where Brigadier Rao of Purvi Discovery waits. In the dying light of day, I catch glimpses of the Dibru river near what would be Guijan Ghat, the bristling stepping-off point for boat tours of Dibru Saikhowa National Park. Steven Spielberg’s War Horse has me amongst its global fan following. I was intrigued to learn that the Dibru Saikhowa (a ten-minute drive from Limbuguri) is a haven for the descendants of the war horses who escaped the army camps around these parts during World War II. Its allures — sightings of the feral horses, rewarding birding tours and glimpses of the endangered Gangetic river dolphin.
The low-slung bungalow, embroidered at its fringes with a sizeable lawn, lies partly in the shade of a scattering of trees. The sun-seared green roof crouches protectively over the wraparound verandah cocooning walls painted ivory. Wathai, the renovated manager’s bungalow — with two large bedrooms and a family suite — in Assam’s Tinsukia district, is run by the Dibrugarh-based Jalans, who own vast swathes of tea plantations in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. Limbuguri is a convenient post for travellers taking a break after Kaziranga National Park. A stay in a heritage bungalow in the heart of tea country, a trip to Dibru Saikhowa and a tour of Wakro in Arunachal Pradesh, where Purvi has its Mishmi Retreat, are on offer.
Trawling the internet, I discover firsthand accounts of how Assam coped with the threat of the Chinese in the 1962 Sino–Indian War. Sam Mackenzie, who was stationed as factory manager at Limbuguri Tea Estate at the time, recalls IAF Otter aircraft flying over every morning, as well as the daily flights of Vampire fighters. The poor bachelors who’d got left behind (women and kids long evacuated) had to manage the best they could. So it was work as usual, a goodly time at the club bar, and iffy plans to hide in the river and, when appropriate, escape by the Stilwell Road toward Burma. The irony — the road ends in China! Planters will be planters, what?
Wathai’s jaali kamra (a netted sit-out) — where you can hang out to gossip, read, watch the seasons turn — is cheery, with a smattering of white cane chairs and panoramic views of the tea bushes leaning deep into the horizon. I spend a lively hour over tea and snacks with Delhi-based conservationist Seema Dutta, just back from Wakhro, and a friend from Dibrugarh in the drawing room infused with aquatic blues and sea green. The plump sofa is matched with spacious armchairs. A small TV beckons from bookshelves surprisingly free of books. In winter, the blaze from the fireplace warms the room, making a cozy hideaway to drink up a book or a cup of hot chocolate. Here, as all over the bungalow, there are some fine prints of avifauna. Indeed, all three bedrooms get their names from birds — Sibia, Yuhina and Minla.
The large bedroom (Yuhina) immediately off the drawing room features a double bed, cupboards and old-fashioned dressing table, all painted white. The spacious bathroom contains a gleaming tub and WC. The bedroom we are assigned (Sibia) is twin-bedded, with a slightly smaller bathroom. The third room, Minla, is family-sized, with an extra bed, dressing table and sizeable bathroom.
Dinner is brought to us in the slightly stark dining room, its slice of glory the original fireplace. It is simple home-cooked fare. Breakfast served in the sunny jaali kamra, however, is a typical planter’s brekkie — eggs and yummy veg cutlets, seared tomatoes with a spot of cheese, fruit and juice, marmalade, heaps of hot toast and tea (or coffee, if you must).
Limbuguri is more laid back than the Mancotta Chang Bungalow, another Purvi offering. In the day, you can choose from the activities on offer (factory visits, estate tour, trips to the Arunachal retreat, dolphin-spotting on the Dibru, birding at the National Park or a day-trip by boat); the evenings are yours. A tour of the estate along jeep-rattling roads brings you to the heart of the tea industry — a sea of green beauty that soothes and relaxes. Just like that steaming cuppa…
Where: Wathai Heritage Bungalow, Limbuguri Tea Estate, Rangagora Road, Guijan, Tinsukia District; Dibrugarh airport 1hr30min away; New Tinsukia railway junction 30min away.
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