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Popular Tea Regions of India - Kangra

The Kangra Valley is nestled in the Dhauladhar range of the western Himalayas at the centre of the ancient land of Trigata, where Rajput kings of the Katoch dynasty ruled from the great Kanga fort. A profoundly historic event in the district was the arrival of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 1959. An influx of thousands of Tibetan refugees followed. Their doctrine and teachings attracted many to the valley, and Dharamsala became the spiritual centre of the Buddhist community. In the same year as the Kangra accession, British botanists conducted a survey of the valley to see what could be commercially grown there.  Tea was a rage at the time, with on-going trial plantings in Darjeeling, Dehra Dun, Almora, and the south.  China tea trees were brought in from nurseries in the United Provinces and planted in four locations in the valley. The tea plants thrived particularly well in Dharamsala and Palampur.

The first commercial tea plantation was founded in 1852 east of Palampur at Holta, and by the opening years of the 20th Century it had reached its zenith. It was recognized for excellence in London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, where Kangra enjoyed pride of place on the best tables of Europe. Half a decade from its inception, Kangra tea and the people of the valley were struck by calamity.  Early in the morning of April 4th, 1905 the Great Kangra Earthquake hit, at 7.8 on the Richter scale, the third most powerful ever on the subcontinent, and only the fourth great Himalayan earthquake in 200 years. In a matter of seconds, more than 20,000 people lost their lives, farm animals were killed, buildings flattened, irrigation systems destroyed.

British-owned tea factories with their big imported machines were obliterated. A majority of all the British tea planters abandoned the valley, selling their devastated gardens to local residents for pittance. The new Indian chaiwalas did not have the resources to rebuild factories and restore gardens, so many reverted to the ancient hand manufacture of green tea, which required a simple skill set and only basic technology. By 1964, Kangra was a “green tea zone. The region no longer produced black tea for export. It had been eclipsed by Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri.

After a further decline of produce in the 21st century, research and techniques are being promoted, aimed at reviving the brand by increasing the produce. In 2012, the then Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, Anand Sharma, laid the foundation stone for the Palampur regional office of the Tea Board of India, marking a significant step towards the re-integration of the Kangra region into the mainstream of the Indian tea industry.  Although Kangra cultivates both black tea and green tea, black tea constitutes around 90 percent of the production. As of May 2015, there are 5,900 tea gardens in the area covering about 2,312 hectares of land between Dharamsala, Shahpur, Palampur, Baijnath and Jogindernagar; with an annual output of 8.99 lakh kg.

Kangra tea is known for its unique colour and flavour. The unique characteristics of the tea are attributed to the geographical properties of the region. Flavour is indeed the USP of Kangra tea. The Chinese hybrid variety grown here produces a very pale liquor, which is the reason why Kangra does not produce any CTC (crushed, turned, curled) tea—the staple tea of India.