Wayanad is often associated with its coffee plantations yet the hilly district can boast of a tea culture that is a century old.
Wayanad's tryst with tea started a hundred years ago, when a group of Englishmen went to the hills to dig for gold. They were frustrated but they left behind a golden hue to the breakfast tables. Wayanad's tea plantations were a byproduct of a gold rush gone awry.
The retired soldiers who burned their fingers after successfully mining for gold in Kerala's Wayanad and Tamil Nadu's Panthalloor turned to farming to recoup their losses. They found that tea was the most suited crop for the region.
Indian companies took over the profitable plantations after the British left. Wayanad district can now boast of 5,306 hectares of tea plantations at Vaithiri, Pozhuthana, Meppadi, Mooppainad, Tavinjal, Thondarnad and Mananthavadi panchayats.
The plantations drew labourers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There were a sizable population from the neighbouring Malappuram region too. Many soldiers displaced by the Malabar rebellion of 1921 found safe haven in Wayanad.
The tea estates resembled torture camps under the British owners. Labourers were treated disgustingly until they organised themselves into powerful trade unions. Agitations by Wayanad tea labourers had prompted many national trade union activists to visit the plantations.
The labourers' colonies were a melting pot of cultures. The colonies were microcosms of a diverse India, where people from different religions and cultures cohabited. The labour colonies celebrated every family's occasions as a common festival. People who have left the colonies still remember the community spirit with nostalgia. The migrants popularised football and other games in the district.
The tea estates still bear marks of the British pioneers, including unique agricultural tools and wooden buildings. Harrisons Malayalam Company has put together a Tea Museum at Achoor to showcase the heritage of the district.
The museum exhibits include utensils such as the oven and the punching machines used to keep a tab on the workers.
Wayanad has stepped up its game over the years. The district has a share in the entire processing chain of tea, from cultivation to manufacturing and packaging. Tons of tea are being exported from this Kerala district.