'Little England' - tea country

Trip Start Aug 12, 2011
Trip End Aug 22, 2011

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, August 15, 2011

Today we were to make the journey to Kalutara via 'Little England' to see the beautiful tea growing area around Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. On the way we stopped off at a Batik Factory. The art of Batik is a process of multiple waxing and dying of cloth to make patterns or pictures. The wax is applied to the areas that you don’t want to dye and can be removed by immersing in hot water. This is done numerous times to make up the complex patterns. I ended up buying a couple of batiks of the elephant carrying the tooth relic casket. You could buy all kinds of things made from batik including shirts, but they were a little too colourful to appeal to Andy or the boys.

On the road we spotted a truck carrying one of the elephants from the Kandy festival, it seemed incredibly strange that they could be transported so easily this way.

The route to Nuwara Eliya was beautiful and so green it really could be England except when you looked to see the different trees and of course the hillsides of tea plantations. It looked incredibly hard work as the mainly women carried large white sacks on their back and plucked just the tip of the bush. These women are mainly Indian Tamils who are descendants of the workers sent from South India in the 19th and 20th centuries to work on the tea plantations. Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest tea producer and it isn’t until you watch the women picking on the hillside that you realise just how manual the process is.  Tea was introduced to Sri Lanka by James Taylor a British planter who arrived in 1852.

We passed by loads of small shacks selling a huge array of fruit and vegetables all grown locally. There was also an inordinate amount of dogs running about.

Nuwara Eliya means ‘city of light’ and it is located 1,800m above sea level. It still has traces of the colonial period from the days when it was the home of British tea planters. On the route there are beautiful waterfalls and mountains draped in mist. It seems incredible that the scenery of a country as small as Sri Lanka can differ so much.

We were to visit Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Plantation  in Nuwara Eliya, that had been going for over 165 years. The tea plantation is over a 1000 acres and has over 1000 employees – mainly women. We were shown what part of the tea is picked - generally two leaves and a bud, as it is this part of the plant that has the flavour and aroma. Incredibly here is no mechanisation in the picking and it is all done by hand. The women have to pick between 15 – 20 kg a day which then has to be weighed and transported back to the factory. Tea plants need constant care and attention and must be regularly pruned as they can grow up to 10m.

We were taken inside to see the machinery where the leaves are rolled and dried. The leaves change colour as oxidisation occurs from green to a copper colour. The tea is then fired and it is at this point that the leaves become black. Grading is done by size by sifting through meshes, and then they are inspected, weighed and packed to be taken to the tea auctions. We decided to try out the tea and sat in a lovely garden overlooking the hills of tea plants. You could spot the small figures of the pickers distinguished by the white sacks they carried on their back. Not only was the work hard it appeared that to get to where you had to pick was difficult too, particularly if it was up a steep hill. 

I surprised at what a beautiful colour the tea was – almost orange and it tasted great particularly as we didn’t have milk in it. It was also a welcome change to sit outside without fear of burning up in the hot sun!

We left Mackwoods and carried on through to Kalatura. It was a long trip but worth the effort because of the amazing scenery. We passed by Adam’s Mount known for the sacred footprint near the summit thought to be Buddha’s footprint. However the Buddhists are not the only ones to believe that it is sacred – Hindus believe that it is the footprint of Shiva, Muslims that it is Mohammed and Christians that it is Adam’s footprint. It is very sacred and many come to climb it.

As per usual the traffic was dreadful and some of our guide’s overtaking bordered on the dangerous but of course none of us said anything just sat open mouthed at some of the manoeuvres. As we came back down towards sea- level the countryside changed and we were back to seeing fields of rubber trees and coconut palms.

At last we finally pulled in at the Royal Palms and first impressions looked good. We had a lovely room with a sea view and the air conditioning was cool. We had a look around and I loved the fact the smell of cloves permeated around the hotel. In the lobby there were huge gold palm trees flanked by white elephants and lovely Moroccan style benches with lots of white cushions in the pavilion style with curtained roofs. Even the large glass doors to the hotel  had a lovely metal decoration in the shape of a palm tree.

Meals were buffet style but the selection was very good, often the evenings were themed but there was always Sri Lankan food if you preferred. Lots of choice of salad and fruit and all the food was beautifully laid out.  We spent the evening in the bar playing pool and listening to a band that were playing.
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