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21 Apr 2018

Sikkim tea garden beckons tourists

Burra Bungalow at Temi Tea Gardens in south Sikkim under renovation after being damaged in an earthquake in 2011
TT, Calcutta: A bungalow inside a tea garden that was damaged in the 2011 earthquake would be the epicentre of a first-of-its-kind tourism initiative in Sikkim that would combine tea, adventure and gaming.

The management of the state government-owned Temi Tea Estate has entered into a public-private partnership with the city-based Priya Entertainments to promote a part of the garden as a tourist resort. The project, according to officials, is the first government deal with a non-Sikkimese partner in this sector in the state.

The Temi Tea Garden in south Sikkim is spread across 176 hectares along a gentle gradient on altitudes rising from 4,800 to 6,400ft. Set up in 1969 by the king of Sikkim to provide employment to Tibetan refugees, it is the only tea garden in the state and produces high-end organic tea. "The first two tea bushes were planted by the king himself. They still stand in front of the heritage bungalow, We call them King and Queen," said Mrinalini Shrivastava, the managing director of the tea estate who belongs to the Indian Police Service.

Shrivastava was in town on Friday to announce the partnership with Priya Entertainment. "We chose them because of their experience in developing Khairabera, an eco-adventure resort in Purulia," she said.

The bungalow, boasting a view of Mt Kanchenjungha, stands on mortars of mud and cut rocks, and therefore was easily affected by the earthquake. "We will restore the building by retaining the same structure and design but by flushing out the mud and replacing it with reinforced concrete. It is a time-consuming process but we hope to finish work in 12-14 months," said Arijit Dutta, managing director of Priya Entertainment. Work has started from March.

While there are four rooms in the bungalow, five cottages and three tents will be erected on the premises. "We will allow a maximum footfall of 24 at a time," Dutta said.

A corner of the plantation will be part of the resort. "Tourists can pluck the two leaves and a bud themselves. Their collection will be packed in sachets and branded 'Temi Tea plucked by me' as gift items to take back," he added.

As for the adventure tourism component, paragliding is already operational. By June, ziplines will be in place. "Mountain bikes are already there. We are looking at safety aspects of quad bikes."

Gaming being legal in Sikkim, the resort has applied for casino licence. "It was part of our agreement with the state government," Dutta said.

A cherry blossom festival will be started from this November when the hills turn pink with blooms. A hot water spring 40 minutes away is another tourist attraction.

"We are taking a community-based approach to tourism. Priya may also become the common channel for the local homestays," added project advisor Rahul Banerjee.

"The project should commence by April 2019 if the weather and other factors support us. It will be our golden jubilee year too," said Shrivastava.

The government wants the tourist focus to shift from Nathu La in the east for the sake of the eco system. Sikkim received six lakh tourists last year - "almost as much as its population", she pointed out.

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