Tina Eyton-Jones



August 3 2012  
This is Tina Eyton-Jones story of her return trip to Assam where she was born




Notes on Return to Koliabur Tea Estate after 50 Years    January 2012

A very close friend asked me "Did it live up to my expectations"?

Well, I never expect anything as I don't know how it will work out till it happens.

The Assam Reunion, reading David Manners book  " In The Shadow of Crows" raising money for the Sarva Leprosy Charity and discovering that our childhood home had been turned into a guest house, started the fire burning inside my heart.  The website showed Koliabur bungalow our home, the green marble fireplace in the lounge, the old Pipal tree where we used to hunt for Geckos and the old bath on a black & white checked floor where we all were bathed by our Ayah E-Cheng.

Joel a Swedish guy, the new owner of the Koliabur bungalow who traced my father David Eyton-Jones with the help of David Air called in to see my father. They looked at old photos & cine films, heard stories and enjoyed company with my younger brother Gerald too.  After the get together Joel very kindly offered any of the family to come out to Koliabor Manor to stay as guests.

Finally, after several years I decided to take up the invitation returning after 50years since our departure when I was about 10years of age with my partner Simon.

My sister Penny and my brother Gerald were unable to join me at this time but we may all go together sometime in the future.                             

Joel and his girlfriend Anna met us at Guwahati Airport and we made the journey to Koliabur arriving at night, small oil lamps lighting the bungalow a truly wonderful and magical sight.  It had been a long day.  There was an open fire on the lawn where guests were gathered watching local girls dancing the tea garden dance, Jamur.  This of course would never have happened in my father's time due to the thatch and other more colonial reasons.

We joined the guests and I joined in the dancing which was a gentle rhythmic style until we had a late dinner in the old dining room.  The dancers progressed onto more complicated rhythms, maybe the Traditional Assamese dance known as Behu, to the beat of the drums by local boys.

Only in the morning did the real reality of being at Koliabur our childhood home really strike me.  We stayed in my parent's bedroom that I don't really remember but I could see the intercommunicating door to our children's bedroom, it was locked.  I would have to sort that out and I did!

We enjoyed breakfast outside on the lawn overlooking the valley with the tea garden and then I wandered round the garden looking for what I remembered, the location of the Mali Bari was a mystery.  I knew in my mind where it was but could not find it, when I met the present owner of the Tea Estate, Sabir Ahmed, he agreed it was where I remembered it to be but no longer there, no peas growing on their canes to hide in and no peas in their pods to eat. No pineapple garden where Mummy planted and grew pineapples, no snakes to look out for along the path back to the garden compound.  The old tennis courts posts for the net were still standing but that's all.

I found the tree by the swings I used to climb and the old stone archway with the big brass gong no longer there but a gong of sorts.  The Gong is a story of it's own well remembered and often retold by my Dad.  The gong was sounded when my father received news of my brother's birth in Calcutta, they had been waiting for a boy and at long last he had arrived, the fourth child.  All the workers came running and my father announced that they could take the rest of the day off in celebration of the birth of their son, Gerald.

Trees have been planted up the drive and a track made up the hillside to two new Scandinavian style wooden cottages for guests in a wonderful location overlooking the Brahmaputra River.  My father had built us a wooden log cabin up on this hillside which we have on the cine films. Now Joel has also built a Massage & treatment spa centre, a Restaurant on stilts with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape yet to be opened and an infinity swimming pool that looks across the Brahmaputra River. 

We enjoyed a few swims in the lovely infinity pool and the changing rooms look across the valley with the tea garden below, stunning!
You can see Joel's new website at....www.koliabor.manor.com

Joel and Anna took us for a walk around the tea garden, the land where my father drove golf balls down the valley and where we rolled down the hill. We looked for small marble sized earth balls which apparently were pellets for the cannons in the garden, this is now a new area re- planted with tea bushes.  I only vaguely remember walking down in the valley and finding the big seed pods from the Totala tree, hearing of a big cat that had shown itself there but don't remember going round the tea garden, it probably was not done in those days.

We saw the ladies working in their colourful Sari's, clearing brush from the recent pruning & digging drainage ditches, men watching over them. 

Joel and Anna then continued the walk bringing us back to the lines where the families live.  Anna was like the Pied Piper, her infectious smile captured the children and we had a multitude of laughing smiling faces following us to the house of one of the bearers from the bungalow.  We were invited to tea and met the families, such a lovely experience until we were hailed back for a late lunch.

  All the small bamboo, mud and thatch cottages were neat and tidy with little flower & vegetable gardens enclosed by bamboo fences, a delight.  On our return we met one old boy who seemed to remember my father, ' Eton Jone Sahib' but I forgot to ask his name and in translation we got a little lost.

Joel has reproduced old black & white photos of the family during our time at Koliabur and has displayed them in the lounge for guests to see and enjoy and for the bungalows heritage.

All of the furniture in the bungalow is original and even the Planters chair on the Veranda; I do remember the big round wooden table and the marble floors.

Joel said to me all excitedly "Come and see ", "I want to show you something, do you remember this".  He told me how the beautiful dark green marble floor on the veranda was being refinished and the bearers had been strictly instructed by my mother Diana not to walk on the floor until it was set. To her dismay she found one of the bearers walking across the floor and to this day there is a faint imprint of bare feet on a small area of the marble floor.   



There is no fence or complete hedge around the main garden compound due to the new track, cattle and goats browse the garden so it is a long way from the beautiful garden that my mother made with the help of several Mali's.

 I clearly remember beautiful plate sized Dahlia's and Sweet Peas around the sun dial and the well-manicured lawns.  Recently, a wild elephant had been seen crossing the track where the garden had ended below the hillside.  Now there are Forest Rangers monitoring elephants and big cats in the vicinity and they are based down by the Brahmaputra.  There were stories of recent reports and events of a Leopard eating the Assistant Managers dogs and then the next day a sighting of a Tiger passing by.

We were very keen to help bring the garden back from its neglected state so went off to the local Nursery Garden at Koliabor where we selected plants for the main garden and plants for landscaping up on the hillside.  On our return we discussed tools and discovered there were none so we started the ball rolling by organising tools to be made or acquired locally. Then there was the problem of browsing herbivores so a bamboo fence was the next thing to be achieved for the small circular border in front of the bungalow.

 As you can imagine, it took three days to get bamboo to be cut from the local hillside and then two days to get the fence made for the area around the bird bath where we had planned to plant Dahlias.  Mean time Simon and I started on weeding and reorganising a planting design around the bird bath.  With the help of new tools and two or three bearers the patch was dug over and weeded.  Whilst waiting for the bamboo fence to be constructed we made a start on the path down to the lower garden where a pool had once created a quiet shady corner between two Judas trees.  There were wild flowers in the garden that were a wonderful nectar source for butterflies that we saw on our travels around India later on.  We cleared the path in the hot sun and did as much as we could but sadly the bamboo fence was not up before we had to leave the day after my Birthday.  We were unable to plant the Dahlias and other plants we had hoped to do as a gesture in thanks of our stay. Mahalesh! as they say in Arabic.

On New Year's Day we took a walk down to Silghat and along the banks of the Brahmaputra walking past neat little houses with bamboo fenced gardens.  We delighted in Fireball Poinsettia, Cotton Flowers, Jacobs coat of many colours, Roses, Marigolds, Jasmine and many other flowering shrubs and vegetables growing.  We had never walked down by the river bank as children although of course we did go sailing on my father's boat Miranda a GP14 made in teak. 

We used to meet other tea planters and their children on a sandbank in the river, picnicked and swam on the edge of the sand banks. The only family I really remember were the Hunters, Joy and Ian Hunter and their boys Christopher, Alastair & Jeremy, they had a long narrow boat with an outboard engine.  Joy and Ian were always very jolly and the boys typical boys, always up to tricks. There are stories of picnics on the river bank and their visits to the bungalow at Koliabur, always an entertaining tale.  Even E-Cheng can be seen in the cine films in a swimming costume playing with us and looking after us, she was a wonderful ayah.

Many of the people on the river bank, mainly men wanted to take photos of us and talk to us in English.  We carried onto a Temple on the hillside where there were many visitors paying homage, a view across the valley to Koliabur and Macack monkeys in the trees.  Further along the river bank we encountered another small temple inside a rock overhang where I was asked to talk for an interview on local television.

This proved a little bit distracting as I was constantly interrupted by a man who may have been drunk whilst I was trying to explain I had returned to my childhood home at Koliabur Tea Estate.  Apparently, the interview did go out on local TV.

There were river Dolphins rising here and there in the river impossible to capture on film of course. Simon was offered to ride a bike, his fair hair and white skin a hit with many.

Koliabur Tea Estate Garden Tour

 Our tour round the Tea Estate garden with the present owner Mr Sabir Ahmed, the son of the original Indian owner who took over the garden from my father was very interesting; we were driven in a 4 wheel drive vehicle by his son around the vast Estate.  Each week Sabir Ahmed visit's the Tea Estate to check on work in progress and to meet up with Managers in the Factory and Garden.

Sabir Ahmed showed us the Jetropa Oil plant that is grown along the edge of the tea as a bio fuel, the fruits are dried and the oil extracted for the bio fuel.  The Jetropa plant is also a deterrent to browsing herbivores and can be grown anywhere.   Sabir and his son explained all about the tea they produce ctc now, not the Orthodox as in the early years, the annual growing cycles, the hard pruning and the light pruning depending on the ages of the tea bushes.

We learnt about the Chinese and Indian tea bushes and saw a Chinese tea bush in the garden alongside all the Indian tea bushes, Sabir said my father would know this one.

Sabir told us about pesticides and we saw evidence of the red spider mite, we came across the ladies painting on fungicides. We learnt about methods of pruning and new innovations with recent technology, the use of the brush as firewood for the workers and for the factory and ideas about shade trees.   Koliabur Tea Estate is now 1,000 acres, in 1963 it was 750acres, labour now that stands at 630 workers in the cold season and 1,500 in the plucking time.  There is a labour shortage of at least 10% and especially casual labour. 

We were extremely impressed with the work we saw being done by workers although the future is uncertain regarding labour due to folk wanting to go into more computer driven work and not agricultural field work.  We were told about White Tea which is a highly prized tea 20 times the price of regular CTC tea (cut, tear& curl) as it is only the top new bud rather than the 2 leaves and top bud.  White Tea has a high content of anti-oxidants and has incredible qualities to fight cancer and many other health problems.  White tea is an acquired taste and must be drunk without milk to appreciate it's delicate flavour.

Finally, we toured the Factory where I remembered we ran up and down the different levels where the tea was drying and where we went to be weighed on the big factory weighing scales. 

 We had never been into the large hall where we saw piles of tea and machines sorting and grading.

The tea estate produced one million kilos of tea and 2011 was a good year financially.


We set on our trip to Kaziranga at 4am in the dark with early mists so we could start out on an elephant safari at 5am, sunrise.  Joel, Simon and myself sat atop our elephant as our mahout a gentle young man guided the elephant & her young calf following on behind. We criss-crossed the grassland of the Nature Reserve watching Swamp Deer, Barking Deer, Hog Deer, Wild boar and the One Horned Rhino with young grazing undisturbed in their natural habitat.

We had a fabulous and memorable experience including a standoff encounter with a One Horned Rhino and our female elephant but no tiger. We retreated for breakfast at Wild Grass Resort, a pleasant affair in the calm tranquil shady gardens and then were ready for the next adventure with time to spare. Looking for information on birds, wild life, flora and fauna led us to the Nature Wardens at Kaziranga.  A walk locally to encounter and observe birds and butterflies in the sunshine led us unexpectedly to the Self Help Centre- Village Weaves where Rupjyoti Gogoi showed us looms.  She teaches weaving to local women who then can work at home and sell their creations in the shop there.  Rupjyoti told us all we wanted to know about the Assamese silk and silkworm production of Endi, Eri and Muga silks, we were fascinated. After browsing the selection of local cotton and silk woven goods we purchased a few treasures before enjoying Rupjyoti's home cooked curry for lunch.

Time to move on to the next Safari, this was due to be in the afternoon and then returning as the sun went down over Kaziranga.  In true Indian style despite Joel's continual efforts we were last in the line of jeeps to leave the base camp.  We set off in the open topped jeep on another adventure anticipating wildlife at any time.  We saw a Pallants Fishing Eagle on it's nest and various other birds including  a flock of Rose Ringed Parrakeets ( green parrots), wading birds, Drongles,
Myna birds, Pied Hornbills,  an Adjutant stork and Pelicans.  We saw Water Buffalo, One Horned Rhino, the various species of deer and Wild Boar and finally just before sunset wild Elephants crossing the track from the surrounding grassland, a very memorable sight, well worth waiting for but still no Tigers.  The day was long but once again a fabulous experience in a wonderful landscape.


The plan was to take a boat out on the Brahmaputra River, land on a sand bank and have a picnic.  Well, things don't always go to plan but that doesn't stop a celebration.

The morning dawned and it was a beautiful sunny day, we were due to leave the following morning and we had work to do in the garden.  After a pre breakfast swim in the Infinity Pool and breakfast, Simon and I set to work in the garden clearing the path past the Pipal Tree Ficus Religiosa.

We continued on down to a small pool in a corner of the garden.  The day was getting hotter and I could feel the start of blisters, I had not brought any gardening gloves with me.  Prasanta's small boy was mystified by us working and watched sitting on the old temple stones that grace the garden until he was joined by a friend.

Later, we were pleasantly surprised by the appearance of someone bringing long bamboos cut from the hillside to make a small fence to surround the planned Dahlia bed in front of the bungalow.  Time for a swim well deserved before lunch on the lawn.  Joel & Anna announced we were going down to the Brahmaputra River bank to celebrate at sunset and luckily they had saved the last bottle of wine to take with us.  There were river dolphins breaking the calm waters and a magical feel to the river looking across the bamboo fishing structure.  One of the regular bearers, a nice young lad brought a table and chairs and proceeded to make an open fire in the sand with driftwood where we would cook Chapatis and Pacoras in a small pan.  Anna, excitedly rolled dough after a demonstration by the young lad and made her Chapatis and I definitely had to try too. 

Making and cooking the Chapatis was such fun on the open fire and celebrating with a glass of wine followed by the tasty Pacoras.  For me it was a great Birthday celebration at the end of a wonderful return to Koliabur my childhood home.  The next day we would have to move on as Joel and Anna were leaving to travel back to Sweden.

VISIT TO SEE Naba Kanta Bora

Joel and Anna needed time to sort out last minute things at Koliabur so Prasanta arranged for us to visit the son of Kanta Bora the Head Clerk on the Tea Estate in my father's time at his home in Silghat. We went out with Prasanta to Naba Kanta Bora's home where he lived with his mother who is now in her eighties, his wife and family.  Naba was so delighted to see us and his mother too with the help of translation and photographs on the camera we enjoyed a very engaging if not gentle reunion.

On leaving Naba gave me a traditional Assamese cotton hand woven top that fitted me perfectly and we took photos of the reunion for posterity, a touching event on the last day at Koliabur.


After leaving Koliabur Joel wanted to take us to Misa Polo Club where my parents used to go to Dinner and Dances, parties and where they played tennis. The compound was locked but we managed to gain entrance into the Club interior where a beautiful wooden bar dominated the Clubs cool dark quiet solitude. Joel asked to see the visitor's book but the only one that was available was a recent edition.

The tennis courts still there, the polo field in sight but all feeling slightly run down.  I remember one Christmas how Father Christmas arrived on the back of an elephant and also seeing a dancing bear with it's master, we still have this on the cine films. We left to continue our journey on to Guwahati and the gates were once again locked behind us.


Shillong, a matter of roughly 100 kilometres from Guwahati took us 6hrs in a taxi and would have taken us more than likely over 7hrs if our taxi driver was not a rally driver with suicidal tendencies.  Of course this is the normal driving style in India or maybe not quite normal.  Meeting lorries, jeeps and other motor vehicles head on, sounding the horn and weaving in and out of the traffic. Simon said it was the worst journey he had done in his life and we had still a lot more travelling to do and subsequently in shared taxis too.  We arrived in busy bustling Shillong on the Saturday evening at Enid & Bill's quiet Homestay retreat, an oasis of calm and a haven of tranquillity after the hair raising journey up the hillside roads, a cosy homely place to rest. Dinner in the warm fireside dining room with home cooked Kasi food and friendly staff with Enid and Bill popping in for a chat on their return from travelling made this a welcoming end to the day.

Loretto Convent was top of the Agenda in Shillong and the Park where we fed Chuna to the fish and rowed dinghy's around Ward Lake. The Pinewood Hotel followed close behind.  Enid and Bill organised a taxi to take us around Shillong for the day and we set out to find Loretto Convent first.  We were lucky that we were able to walk through a small entrance gate into Loretto Convent grounds where we browsed a while. We took photos, then decided to try and see if any Nuns were around and take it from there.  A small Kasi woman opened the door and I peeked in and saw the long corridor with highly polished wooden doors to rooms where the nuns worked but sadly all the nuns were away on their winter holidays.  The woman saw us out of the grounds, no boat swings as there were in the past where we used to play but nice gardens, the gate was locked behind us.  We had been lucky and it was lovely to go back to Loretto Convent School.

We carried on a tour around Shillong, up to Shillong Peak looking across the town and panoramic landscape. We continued down via the old Golf Course to Ward Park, by the time we arrived there it was too late to walk round the park.

Just above the Ward Park was the Pinewood Hotel where I remembered my parents stayed on some visits to see us whilst we were at School. We enjoyed lunch at the Pinewood Hotel still colonial and beautiful before looking at the rooms. We posed for a photograph for posterity before going back to the sanctuary of Bo-Ville Homestay.  Enid and Bill insisted we must visit the Don Bosco Museum in Shillong before we left.  Monday was set to spend the morning at the Museum before we travelled on to Cherrapungee the wettest place on the planet but luckily not in the dry season, a two and a half hours drive away. 


Darjeeling was to be the last stop in my return to India where we had spent time in our childhood. We had been told that we wouldn't like Darjeeling as it was very crowded, busy, dirty and cold.  We thought we were prepared for the cold but it proved otherwise. We were only due to stay in Darjeeling for two or three days before our return by train to Delhi.  As we drove up to the Gymkhana Club where we had been recommended to stay for the colonial experience I saw St Andrews Church and a sign saying Loretto Convent College. I certainly recognised St Andrews Church where there is cine film footage of us with coloured umbrellas in the sunshine walking near the Church.

I also remembered Loretto Convent School where we went to school for a short while although my father seems to think that we went to a different school. Just before we left Darjeeling I met a local lady who confirmed my stories of Loretto Convent were certainly relevant to the style of the school.

We enjoyed Darjeeling and all our experiences there, it was the first place where we encountered Europeans and other nationalities.  The cold was no colder than we were used to although the heating in most buildings was inadequate to deal with the low temperatures.  We had a delightful afternoon high tea in the New Elgin Hotel where a warm open fire, a wonderful selection of leaf tea and variety of cakes and Pakoras kept us glowing and sustained for the evening.

On meeting with an interesting shop keeper we were given the idea to arise early in the morning to catch the sunrise over Mount Kanchenjunga from the Square at the top and centre of Darjeeling. 

This proved to be a very rewarding sight passing walkers exercising all along the route enjoying the early sunshine. Kanchenjunga was majestic rising above the early mists & fluffy clouds, we were then warmed by chai bought from the street sellers before our return for breakfast.

We left Darjeeling feeling we wanted to stay longer but we needed to get down to NJP for our onward travel on the 20hr train journey back to Delhi. We took the Toy Train, a pleasurable trip, as far as Kersong as the line further on had been affected by a landslide.

My return to India after 50 Years "What an experience"!

I would like to return again at some time or on a regular visit to continue with the restoration of the tea garden compound at Koliabur bungalow.

Que sera sera! What ever will be will be!

Tina Lloyd-Jenkins

Nee Eyton-Jones

Written March 2012