The chai road: India’s national drink a tourist magnet

India Chai wallah

Chai wallah preparing tea in a small traditional stall in Madurai, India. Source: Shutterstock/Dietmar Temps

TEA is the world’s second most consumed beverage after water, and India’s version, or chai, has been claimed to be some of the “best in the world”.

Often bought from streetside tea vendors or chai wallahs, chai is drunk at any time of the day, served in small steel cups. Because each cup is steeped with fragrant black tea, rich cow’s milk, ginger, and spices like cardamom and cloves, the dainty portions are adequate.

A cup of chai to Indians is both comforting and familiar, a necessary respite from the prongs of daily life.

But it’s not just the locals who have taken to the sweet, milky tea. Tourists from the world over have been equally charmed, and chai – or a mellowed version of it – has become a ubiquitous choice among premium tea brands around the world.

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Proof is also in the spotlight on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s childhood tea stall. The Vadnagar Railway Station in Gujarat where Modi sold tea with his father in his younger days will soon be revamped as a tourist attraction.

Some US$15 million will be invested in sprucing up the site, where visitors will be able to sip on hot tea while taking in the cultural and historical heritage of the site.

According to AFP, Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said:

“We want to restore the tea stall and develop it as a tourist spot. This is to put Vadnagar on the world tourism map.”

India’s tea tourism is also alive in the cool hill stations where tea plants are cultivated and processed. The likes of Darjeeling, Assam, Munnar and Nilgiri Mountains are popular tourist spots where colonial-style estates are aplenty. Tea factory tours and tasting sessions are also arranged for visitors.

About 25 percent of India’s tea output comes from the hills of Darjeeling, and according to The Hindu, tea and tourism are the twin pillars of the region’s economy.

Text by Surekha Ragavan