India's northeastern state of Assam has begun a search to find descendants of two Scottish brothers to commemorate their discovery of wild tea bushes more than 180 years ago.
Assam, the heart of India's tea industry, is planning to honor family members of Robert Bruce and his brother Charles at a three-day "Tea Tourism Festival" starting on Dec. 4.
The Bruce brothers first discovered tea bushes in Assam with the help of some local tribal chieftains in 1823. The discovery helped start India's tea industry and end China's position as the world's supplier of the beverage.
"The foreign ministry is in touch with the Indian High Commission in London to help us identify some family members of Robert and Charles Bruce so that we can invite them to attend the festival," S.C. Panda, Assam's tourism commissioner, said on Sunday.
"We want to felicitate family members of the Bruce brothers who were the pioneers of tea in Assam," Panda said.
The carnival to be held in the tea center of Jorhat, 310km east of Assam's main city of Guwahati, is aimed at attracting foreign tourists.
Long before the commercial production of tea started in India in the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam. Members of the Singpho tribe ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic, and drank a brew made after dipping the leaves in boiled water.
According to historical records, in 1823 Robert Bruce, a British trader, first discovered the wild tea plants near Jorhat with the help of a local Singpho tribal chieftain. Robert died soon after and his plan to establish a nursery was followed up his brother Charles who was then an employee of the East India Company.
Assam tea was however not initially officially recognized as a variety of tea. According to Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, it was not until December 1834 when Charles sent samples to Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) that the plant was finally confirmed to be tea, or as botanists call it, Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
In the early 1830s, Charles set up the first tea plantation in eastern Assam's Sadiya town and shipped 12 chests of manufactured tea to London in 1838.
Assam accounts for about 55 percent of India's total annual tea production of about 820 million kilograms. India is the world's largest tea producer.
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