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Darjeeling to pop the Champagne?

Darjeeling tea — after getting GI status — will now be called just Darjeeling, just like Champagne (wine produced in Champagne district) or Tequila (spirit made in Tequila, Mexico). Amitava Banerjee and Sushmita Bose report.

india Updated: May 06, 2007 03:59 IST

Dylan and Sarah Cameron — from Leeds (UK) — are planning their 15th wedding anniversary, sometime in mid-June, in Darjeeling. “Dylan is a great lover of tea,” Sarah told HT over email. “When he read on the web that Darjeeling tea has been given Geographical Indication (GI) status, he jumped.”

The Camerons are one of the foreign ‘tea-tourists’, whose tribe will now increase given that Darjeeling’s brand equity has gone up several notches after the tea growing in the region has been accorded the international GI mark. It happened in Champagne, Bordeaux and Tequila — so, why not Darjeeling?

Last week, Forbes reported that high-end travel planner Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) was organising 14-day packages to Darjeeling and Bhutan priced at $7,000-plus per head. Bookings are full up till the beginning of October. “With Darjeeling tea being accorded GI, tea tourism is the best bet,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA).

“Earlier, tea gardens were producing and selling teas but lately the gardens are diversifying towards tea tourism.” Gardens like Glenburn Tea Estate are even organising helicopter charters “on request”.

And the Ministry of Tourism has sanctioned Rs 388.98 lakh for the integrated development of the Tea Tourism Circuit in North Bengal — a big chunk of which would be allotted for Darjeeling Hills.

Recently, a two-member team from Help Tourism - an agency that organizes tour packages in the northeast -- visited France's Champagne District to understand 'Champagne Tourism'. "On the lines of Champagne Tourism, we have decided to promote tea tourism in three categories: tea tourism revolving around the old tea garden bungalows, dating back to the Raj days, tea tourism revolving around the workers' quarters and tea tourism for day-visitors," said Help's Raj Basu. All categories will involve plantation and factory visits and tea tasting. The agency promoted the idea in London and talks are on with big tea retailers who have promised a tie-up. "Watch out for www.teatourindia.com soon," added Basu.

"There's always been high-end business traffic to Darjeeling, thanks to the bulk tea purchasers, but with the GI status, Darjeeling can definitely hope to cash in on tea tourism," says Ankur Bhatia, executive director, the Bird Group, that tracks inbound tourist footfalls in India.

GI for Darjeeling tea means that it's now officially recognised that the tea grown and produced in 87 gardens in the region has special and inherent qualities, that cannot be replicated and imitated. Darjeeling tea will now be called just Darjeeling, just like Champagne (wine produced in Champagne district), Bordeaux (wine produced in Bordeaux region), Tequila (spirit made in Tequila, Mexico) or Cognac (brandy produced in Cognac).