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Day 94: Digboi to Dibrugah

Michael Palin - Himalaya'The Indians don't really empathize with the Chinese then?' I ask.

'I don't think our mind-set is still yet fully open to Chinese co-operation,' she replies.

I take that as a no.

She agrees with Mr Das the coal-mine manager's point about the cosmopolitan make-up of Assam, but has a different explanation for it. In 1823 a Scotsman called Robert Bruce first noted the commercial potential of the wild tea plant and within 20 years it had become a major and highly labour-intensive crop. The Assamese, being partial to opium at the time, were not good at hard labour, so it became necessary to look further afield for the workforce, hence the widening of the gene pool in Northeast India.

We stay tonight at a tea plantation house called a changa, which is in effect a bungalow on stilts. Beneath the extensive boughs and trailing tentacles of an old rain tree, we sit round a fire and watch a delicately energetic dance performed by girls who look more Thai or Burmese than Indian. Assamese specialities are brought round. Long, rolled rice-cakes called bithas, made with molasses and sesame seeds, a grilled root with tomato and aubergine dip, feather light pooris, chicken and fish from the Brahmaputra.

As night falls the handsome house behind us looks like an ocean liner, with its deep well-polished decks and white balustrade. It belongs to a local tea-planter called Manoj Jalan and his wife Vinita. His plantations employ 8000 people, and tomorrow he's going to show me round. On an elephant.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 94: Digboi to Dibrugah
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Dibrugah
  • Book page no: 223

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