Plantation life

In Jorhat, you can immerse yourself in the forgotten history of Assam and the life of a plantation “Burra Sahib” all in a weekend.

Sushmita Choudhury        Print Edition: Feb 8, 2009

Thengal Manor
Who doesn’t love a winter weekend—breakfasts in bed, lazing around, endless cups of chai? How about doing this all at a tea plantation, in a colonial bungalow once occupied by the plantation owner, or the “Burra Sahib”?

It’s all possible in the tea capital of the world—Jorhat, around 300 km from Guwahati—where you can discover tea’s journey from leaf to the cup and glimpse a bygone era. No matter which tea estate bungalow you stay in, it’s easy to imagine the lives of the past inhabitants—the crusty Briton enjoying high tea right where you lounge on the porch, or the “Burra Mem”, the lady of the house, powdering her nose in one of the huge bedrooms. Early risers can accompany the estate manager on his rounds and get a first-hand insight into plantation, or bagan, life. The best place is the fivebedroom Thengal Manor, the 75-year-old family home of one of Assam’s leading tea planters. Alternatively, you can stay at the Sangsua tea estate Bungalow. Both are operated by the WelcomHeritage Group.

Kareng Ghar
If you’ve had enough of all things tea, nip over to Sibsagar, where history, myth and legend come together to weave an ignored narrative that made Assam what it is. Literally “the ocean of Lord Shiva”, Sibsagar was the capital of the Ahoms, who ruled Assam for 600 years before the British takeover. Ruins of the once all-powerful empire liberally dot the town. Like Kareng Ghar, a massive seven-storied palace, built in the 17th century to replace the existing structure. It was both the seat of power and a military base. And, uniquely, three of the seven floors are subterranean. That it was built using a special mortar made of rice and eggs is testament to the architectural prowess of the Ahom dynasty. Close by is Rang Ghar, a two-storey pavilion that served as the entertainment centre. Then there’s the 104 ft Shiva temple, Sivadol, built by an Ahom queen and considered to be the tallest in India. Make your last stop the Ahom Museum.

If you’re still not sure whether to pick this weekend break over, say, a shopping spree in Shillong, consider the privacy. There is no chance of bumping into work colleagues here. Internet connectivity won’t follow you here and mobile network is erratic at best. For some, that’s priceless.

The information
Getting there:
A five-hour drive from Guwahati. The roads are decent, but the Jan Shatabdi linking the two places is more comfortable. Train number 2067 leaves Guwahati at 6 a.m. and arrives at Jorhat by 1.15 p.m. and train number 2068 departs Jorhat at 1.45 p.m. Then, get a taxi to Sibsagar.

Cost: Two nights at Thengal Manor cost Rs 9,499 for a double-room, including breakfast and a choice of lunch or dinner, till March 31. A similar package at Burra Sahib’s Bungalow costs Rs 8,299.

Book:holidays@welcomheritagehotels. com, (+91) 011-46035500

Sivadol
Or Alternatively… Here are a couple of other great options out of Kolkata.

. Santiniketan
The quiet beauty of this place inspired Nobel laureate Rabrindranath Tagore to pen several of his literary classics right here. In 1921, he set up the Visva Bharati university here, which led to Santiniketan being recognised as one of India’s most prestigious centres for higher education. Apart from the various departments of the university—in keeping with the gurukul system, most of the classes are held in the open air— do make time to check out the Vichitra Museum and Art Gallery for the poet’s memorabilia. The campus also hosts musical evenings where Tagore’s dance dramas are enacted. Getting there: A mere 211 km by road from Kolkata. Or take a train from Howrah to Bolpur, a cycle rickshaw ride from the ashram.

Cost: The three-star Mark and Meadows resort offers a two-night package for Rs 8,899 per couple, including railway station transfers, AC cottage, all meals and cultural evenings.

Book: (+91) 033-22897154/ 22896740 or visit http://www.markandmeadows.com/reservation.html

. Digha
This place has it all—sand, surf, sun and fun. Called the “Brighton of the East” by Warren Hastings, Digha makes for a great short break since it’s a fivehour drive from Kolkata. The beach here is supposed to be the widest in the world and relatively uncrowded to boot. When you’re done with the beach, you may want to nip over to Chandaneshwar, 8 km away, home to Asia’s largest marine aquarium. Getting there: About 200 km away from Kolkata, convenient by both train and road.

Cost: The Palm Resort ranges from Rs 1,500-3,000 depending on room category.

Book: 033-65343254 or 09830052736 or contact@thepalmresortdigha.com; http://www.thepalmresortdigha.com

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