Khopoli: Nature’s Beauty Spot

Konkan region which begins from Panvel along the Western Ghats of India is full of geographical features. It is studded with hills of peculiar shapes, rivulets, coconut palm trees and grasses and shrubs. Still unspoilt, the region bears different hues in different seasons. The land is not flat and not much area is arable.

The region being adjoining to the Arabian sea receives copious quantities of rains in the Monsoon season. Everything turns vivid green and hills which were in summer parched are draped in the greenery. you can see farmers tending cows.

We usually went out in this region in the car. If you travel on old Panvel-Pune road, after Ambani School, there is a road from Panvel Chowk towards Matheran. After you go about 5-6 kilometers on this road towards Matheran, this road is bifurcated and the road emanating from there, goes across the countryside and emerges just near Khopoli on Panvel-Pune Road. The Konkan area is naturally endowed with great features and trees and shrubs. Beautiful indeed.

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Singphos: The original tea people of Assam

Robert Bruce is the Englishman who is credited with discovery of tea in Assam in the year 1823. But the Singphos, who were the a major tribe of Upper Burma and their territory once  extended from Arunachal  into Assam, beyond Jorhat, and covered  large tracts in northern Burma, smirk at this statement. They contend that they had been drinking and using the tea plants in the food seven centuries earlier than 1823. . Griffith also noticed that tea leaves were eaten as a vegetable food prepared in mustard oil and garlic. A similar salad recipe in Burma, called ‘Letpet’, promised marital bliss. Here the leaves were boiled for several months for fermentation. The resuscitated leaves were chopped and mixed with oil, garlic, fried shrimps, fruits and dried coconut and served to newly wed

British East India Company tried to plant the seeds brought from China in Assam since 1774. But this did not succeed.  They have to resort to the local tea bush which Singphos already grew. Robert Bruce met Singpho king Bisa Gam to discover tea. As usual, the very Bisa Gaum who helped them grow the exceedingly profitable shrub of tea was charged with taking part in 1857 rebellion against them and was jailed for life and sent to Andaman.

When the East India Company, by the treaty of Yandabo, 1826, annexed Upper Burma to Assam, the Company made a similar treaty with the tribal chiefs of the different clans; at Sadiya When tea cultivation started on Singpho land the East India Company paid a land rent to the Chief.  Irritated over a delay in receiving payment Bessa Gaum hacked off some newly planted tea, little realising that his destructive act actually helped the industry. The cut plants resurrected and put on vigorous growth, this initiated pruning. To this day the estate where Bessa Gaum cut the plants bears the name “Bessakopie-hacked by Bessa”.

Singphos processed the tea leaves in a special manner. They half roasted it and then dried it for 3 days in the Sun. During roasting, leaves are hand twisted the leaves. After this, tea leaves were stuffed into the bamboo and hung over hearths where other eatables like fish were also hanged. This imparted the tea a smoky flavor. It was called “dhooan chang technique”. It was somewhere between green and oolong teas. It needs some getting used to.