Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A Tea Bungalow

I always thought that "Burra Sahib", along with "Punka Wallah", was a pseudo-Indian phrase invented by the English to use in bad 1970s sitcoms. Then I stayed in the Burra Sahib's bungalow on the Sangsua Tea Estate in Assam.

To reach the bungalow, we drove up a grassy driveway to a set of wrought iron gates. On either side of us, tea bushes stretched to the horizon, just too high for me to see over from the car.

The gates were locked, so my driver hooted the horn and a man came running to open them. Then we drove past the flower beds and parked next to the verandah.

The Burra Sahib's bungalow, now part of Welcom (sic) Heritage Hotels, is a former manager's bungalow. It is a single-storey building, with 4 large bedrooms, a dining room, a huge sitting room with bridge table and open fireplace and a shady verandah set with tables, chairs and seating areas. Apart from the 3 servants and manager, I had the place entirely to myself.

After 2 cups of coffee, accompanied by cake, I settled myself in an armchair to admire the view until lunch was served.

It was out of season, but a few tea pickers decorated the view, baskets on back and bicycles leaning against the bushes. The siren sounded at midday and they all pedalled off for lunch.

My lunch was served in the dining room. There was 1 place setting at a table for 8, with a silver candlestick on the tablecloth and a glass chandelier dangling from the ceiling. One of the servants fetched me a drinking glass from a cabinet along the wall.

I was served with rice from an oval platter, then came vegetables, then 2 meat dishes. One servant stood at the back of the room while I ate. Dessert was rice pudding with sultanas, almonds and cardamom. Coffee I took in the living room.

My afternoon of lying on the sofa reading was interrupted at 4pm by the siren sounding again. Then a train of the North East Frontier Railway passed along a track at the bottom of the garden. (The NEFR goes from pretty much nowhere to pretty much nowhere else via pretty much nowhere at all).

Dinner was a repetition of lunch, after the manager had ascertained what time I would like to eat and whether I would like Indian or "Continental" food. (Indian).

After dinner, I watched a film on Tata Sky. Different country, same remote control. The power went off 5 or 6 times, plunging me into darkness for a few minutes until the generator kicked in.

My verdict? Great place, but bring a torch and don't leave it in your bedroom!

Words and Pictures © Louise Heal 2008

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