IT FEELS LIKE A NEW LEASE OF LIFE,”Maa said with a smile, as she sipped on a piping hot cup of freshly brewed tea, while looking out at endless tea gardens. Beside her, my octogenarian grandma nodded in agreement and dunked a cookie in her tea. My father, on the other hand, had gulped his beverage down in no time and was now roaming about, clicking photos. Being able to step out for a few days after months of lockdown and self-confinement was reason enough for my family to feel elated. As for me, I was content just pulling off this family trip in the midst of a raging pandemic.
Travelling with family isn’t easy, especially if it involves elderly members with chronic ailments. Add pandemic-induced travel restrictions and safety hazards to the mix and you’re in for quite a ride. However, with some foresight and planning, you can end up having a great time. Just as we did in the town of Balipara, which is nestled in the prime tea-growing belt of the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, and bordered by the Eastern Himalayas to the north.
The four-hour drive from Guwahati was everything we had hoped for—smooth and picturesque. The typical Assam countryside of lush paddy fields, coconut and areca palm clusters, and cottage-style houses with sloping roofs, was punctuated by views of the mighty Brahmaputra River. Somewhere along the route, this landscape melted into emerald swathes of tea plantations, with intermittent rows of shade trees standing out like towering sentinels. About an hour away from our destination, we stopped for refreshments at the Misa Polo Club (amalgamatedplantations.co.in), a gorgeous throwback to the past neatly tucked in the sweeping Kellyden Tea Estate. Built in 1888 as a social polo club for British planters, it features a nine-hole golf course among other offerings. Lounging in its grand dining hall, walking through its Instagram-worthy verandahs and lawns, and sipping tea that was most likely plucked from the plantation around it, set the tone for the days ahead.
The tea gardens kept us company for the rest of the way, as we bypassed the city of Tezpur and arrived in Balipara. Much like any other small-town centre in India, it has a traffic crossing with a few decrepit shops, a bus stand, and couple of eateries. The only standout here is the roundabout, built as a replica of the Assamese xorai (or sarai, a traditional state symbol)—and the fact that the town is surrounded by sprawling tea estates as far as the eye can see. We soon found ourselves at the gates of the Eastern Himalayan Botanic Ark, within which lie the beautiful heritage bungalows of Wild Mahseer.
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READY FOR BATTLE
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