During the initial days of the Raj, Britishers were not allowed to buy land in Kumaon. In 1827, a Dr. Royale petitioned the British Government to allot a vast area of non-farming land in Kumaon to Europeans for tea gardening. In 1837 the British Parliament passed a bill allowing Europeans to keep private property in India and Lord Baton, the then commissioner of Kumaon ordered that hilltops with suitable climatic and soil conditions be given free of cost to Britishers for tea gardening as some people had found tea plants growing naturally in these areas. Thus started the tea gardens of Kumaon.
Among all the gardens of Kumaon, the Berinag and Chaukori tea gardens were the most famous for the quality and taste of their tea. A manager of the Berinag Tea Company found the secret to manufacturing Chinese Brick Tea. This tea was admitted, even by unprejudiced Bhotia traders, to be far superior to the Chinese article imported into Western Tibet via Lhasa. Berinag tea was very popular in Western Tibet. Unlike other kinds of tea, Berinag tea is low in color but due to its rich taste and aroma it was a highly sought-after tea in London tea houses.
In the 20th century the Berinag and the Chaukori tea estates were bought over by Thakur Dan Singh Bist, one of the largest and most influential timber contractors of India. Thakur Dan Singh Bist bought the Berinag tea estate from the famous hunter turned conservationist, Jim Corbet. Sadly, after the untimely death of Thakur Dan Singh Bist in 1964, both these tea gardens collapsed and were taken over by encroachers and settlers.
The Berinag tea estate became a town with a population of 25,000. The manager’s bungalow was taken over by the forest department and is now a dilapidated Forest Rest House (FRH).
I had the pleasure of staying overnight in this bungalow while on an assignment to shoot some of the Forest Rest House of Uttarakhand for a book about the FRH’s of Uttarakhand.
This bungalow, the present day Forest Rest House of Berinag, provides some of the best panoramic views of the Kumaon Himalayas. It also has the best view of the Nanda Devi Peak. The images below were taken from here.