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Tea garden trek to green holiday

Arijit Dutta takes Metro through the four sites selected for setting up eco-tourism hubs

Log cabins and mud huts to stay in, solar lamps to light them up, fresh organic produce to put on plates and paragliding to provide the adrenaline rush.

Film distributor Arijit Dutta wants to change how you holiday in north Bengal, the green way.

The owner of Calcutta-based Priya Entertainments has zoomed in on more than 75 hectares of unexplored land in the hills and dales of north Bengal to set up eco-tourism hubs. The land is spread over four tea gardens, “each different from the other”, that he and his team short-listed after a seven-day recce of six facilities.

“I was mainly looking at valleys with a river, places that are within a tea garden but not conducive to growing tea,” said Dutta. The four that made the cut are the Mim Tea Estate near Ghoom, Ambootia Tea Estate near Kurseong, Malootar below Kalimpong and the Carron Tea Estate near the Bhutan border (see graphic).

“The locations are flattish, near a riverbed with a gorge attached and forested,” said Dutta.

The budget per zone is Rs 1 crore. In keeping with the eco-friendly mandate, there will be no concrete structures, only tents, log cabins and huts built with locally available, eco-friendly materials. The tourist accommodation will be somewhat like the mud huts in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and tents in Rajasthan, than the “resorts and bungalows that have sprouted in the semi-towns in north Bengal”.

“Most travellers tend to stick to the Kurseong-Ghoom-Darjeeling track. Some go to Kalimpong. But the neighbouring areas are ignored. We decided to look at these areas from the point of view of eco-tourism. Tourists would be put up in tents and huts and encouraged to cook their own food. There will be individual toilets, a kitchen, a semi-cold storage stocked with raw meat and vegetables, barbecue grills and tawas,” said Dutta.

Barring Malootar, the proposed sites are fit to be powered by solar energy. The water will come from the rivers, where bathing will not be allowed. Use of plastic items will be prohibited.

Dutta hopes to seal the deal with tea estate owners in the next few weeks before travelling to China to source furniture, tents and barbecue tools that are “inexpensive and innovative”. The first eco-tourism hub might open as early as November.

The target visitor is from the middle and high-income group but subsidised accommodation would be provided to students and nature club members. “The top-end tents will be carpeted and have ACs and heaters. Students will be provided with sleeping bags. We will try to avoid TVs to preserve the rustic ambience,” said Dutta.

Attempts will be made to generate employment for residents of the area. “Local people will be responsible for farming, maintenance and cooking. We will guide them through organic farming and livestock breeding and buy their produce. Local artistes too will earn by performing for the tourists,” he said.

“Local co-ordination” and “landscaping” to put up tents are the immediate challenges that spring to Dutta’s mind. “We will have to speak with the authorities, understand the rules and regulations and figure out how to set up paragliding and riding facilities. The state government will hopefully offer support but we ideally want to do this on our own with help from experts,” he said.