Tea in Chitral…how it came here?

Tea in Chitral…how it came here?

Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig

Tea is one of the essential items of our breakfast and we take it wherever it is presented besides buying it at restaurants. When I was about 10, many people including women were over-fond of this product which came to Chitral market from over Lowari Pass by Paracha traders.

Before I was 10, I used to see tea in front of my grandfather who was then a very old man and had used tea in the Mahraka of rulers and princes and so had brought it to his home and enjoyed it at about 9am. I and a cousin of mine used to be ready for the tea time of the old man. It was brought to him in porcelain tea pot with two cups on a tray. We coveted it. Sugar was then not very common but the old man always had some stock of it but when not available Gurh was used. He also served his tea to his guests who came from different places including his relatives. We got some tea each from our kind grandfather every day at the time of his breakfast. We did not covet his food but showed impatience for a sip of the tea   and this made us used to it but when we were sent to primary school early in the morning before the old man rose, the routine broke.

Once, in the later days I asked an old notable about the arrival of tea in the villages of Chitral and the notable replied that he had no correct information about its arrival in Chitral but it is not very old. He said: “I was not known in the days when I was a child.” I did not argue with him over this point there and then  but I still disagree with his point because Baba Siar of Shogram has used the word Chai in his famous lyric called Yarman Hameen.  He says: ‘Ta shun chayo muxosher tahosta chini namakin yarei’  At the time of Mirza Muhammad Siar:  ‘Chai’  was  known in this part of Asia.

He has used the delicate poetic word to depict the beauty of sipping tea from a porcelain cup by his sweetheart. So the history goes back to Baba Siar which was in the early 19th century. Tea that we call chai is also called chai in many other parts of the world. Ibne Insha writes in one of his popular travelogues that in Moscow the word chai is used as we use it here in the subcontinent. It has also become a word of Russian language.

Chai has got certain chemicals like tobacco but albeit less complex than the latter. It gives refreshment after physical exertion. In the past it used to be pure tea leaves and highly aromatic which could be smelled from considerable distance. It was then imported and brought to Chitral. The rate was fixed. Once prices of tea rose in the shops of Chitral – then dominated by Hindus – in the days of Mehtar Shujaul Mulk and he took notice of the price hike and sent telegram to the tea trading company in India and the reply came to him that due to a strike by the tea labour force in the tea gardens the wages of the workers had been raised and for that reason the price had gone up. This action taken by HH Shujaul Mulk has written record in the archives library. I request for feedback on this topic.   

2 Replies to “Tea in Chitral…how it came here?”

  1. interesting write up by Prof Baig sb. Tea is a colonial innovation and was introduced in India by British. In Peshawar, according to history books. Free tea stalls were set up by Lipton to popularize the tea drinking among the local population.
    British took Peshawar in 1849 so it could have reached there somewhere around 1849 and 1897.

  2. Our elders also used to say that the aroma of tea was felt far and wide wherever it was cooked.
    According to them those days tea was coming from Bangladesh and Ceylon in wooden boxes.

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