Assam's ambitious tea tourism project moves forward with selection of 22 tea estates for phase one

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: In a significant development for the tourism industry in Assam, the Tourism Department of Assam has unveiled its Tea Tourism Project by selecting 22 tea estates from across the state to participate in the first phase. This exciting initiative aims to transform these tea gardens into immersive tourist destinations, showcasing the rich heritage of Assam's tea culture and engaging local communities.

The project, which is set to be completed within one year, received a total of 37 applications, with the selected tea estates set to benefit from proposed facilities and investments. The sanction letters were formally handed over to the chosen tea estates by Assam's Chief Minister, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, on August 16, coinciding with India's Independence Day.

The Tea Tourism Project is divided into two phases, spanning from 2022 to 2024, with the Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited serving as the implementing agency. To support this ambitious venture, the state government has committed a substantial Rs 200-crore subsidy to investors who will restore and convert heritage bungalows and gardens within tea estates into tourist-friendly attractions.

A total of 50 tea gardens across Assam will eventually be selected to facilitate tea tourism, with each estate receiving Rs 2 crores for renovation and development work. The project's components include the refurbishment of heritage bungalows and tea guest houses, modernization of the front side of tea gardens to include contemporary tea tourism amenities, construction of dining halls and cafeterias, and the creation of recreational facilities such as swimming pools, spas, angling spots, boating areas, and water fountains.

The Assam government also plans to engage local youth in various tea tourism activities, ensuring that the benefits of this initiative are spread throughout the community. Tourists visiting these tea estates will have the opportunity to participate in tea tasting sessions, immersing themselves in the unique flavors and traditions of Assam's tea culture.

The financial assistance for this project follows a 50:50 sharing pattern, with the government contributing up to Rs 2 crores per selected tea garden. The selection criteria prioritize private tea garden companies or garden owners, and even leaseholders with a minimum lease period of 15 years from the date of application. Iconic and heritage tea gardens spanning 50 hectares or more (or 25 hectares in hill districts), free from disputes, encroachments, and industrial pollution, are given preference. Gardens near reserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and existing tourist destinations are also favored.

Furthermore, tea gardens with existing tourist infrastructure such as iconic bungalows and golf courses were shortlisted. Each tea garden meeting the eligibility criteria had to present their proposed infrastructure development plan and estimated costs before a Selection Committee. A physical inspection of the shortlisted gardens was conducted by the Assam Tourism Development Corporation to verify feasibility.

Importantly, the project places an emphasis on generating employment opportunities, particularly for tea garden workers and local communities, while also promoting and preserving local traditions, including food, attire, and handicrafts.

The Tea Tourism Project is set to not only boost tourism in Assam but also provide a unique and immersive experience for visitors, celebrating the state's rich tea heritage and its vibrant local culture. With the first phase underway, Assam is on the path to becoming a top tea tourism destination in India.

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Priyanka Chakrabarty