I know when I’ve traveled too much (is there ever such a thing?!). I don’t have time to write about my last trip that I am already onto the next one. And that’s no good!!! Here is the next leg of our Sri Lanka journey: the scenic tea plantation area in the center of the country.
ON OUR WAY TO THE TEA PLANTATIONS:
Tourists typically spend a day or two in the city of Kandy for its distinct atmosphere, the famous tooth relic temple and the attractive botanical garden. However, we had decided to avoid it all together as we did not want to bear with any heavily congested cities (we also avoided Colombo). As a result, we drove from Dambula to Haputhale in one go (a 6h drive), through the stunning mountains to the West of Kandy. A third into the journey, we spent a couple hours in the atmospheric town of Polonnaruwa, with a lunch break. Polonnaruwa is located by a lake, not far from Minneriya national park where herds of up to 250 elephants can be seen. It’s easy to rent bicycles for children or with children’s seats in Polonnaruwa so we took a ride among the temples, checking out the very large archeological sites, stopping under the shades of the mango trees as often as we could because…it was hot, very hot.
The children enjoyed the archeological museum (or was it the air conditioning?!), and they will remember the wood carving shops on the outskirts of town, where they were given a tour of the workshops (with the hopeful expectation that we would not leave empty handed. And we did not). Another worthwhile stop was the holy site of Buduruwagala Rock, seldom visited by tourists. It is an enormous set of Buddha statues carved into the mountains, they all appear very unexpectedly as you follow a little path in the forest, next to ponds (where crocodiles roam..or so i was told). Strange enough, this site gave Lior quite a few nightmares over the ensuing weeks. I am not sure why, maybe because of the size of the statues. He is not one to have many nightmares typically.
IN THE TEA PLANTATION AREA:
We based ourselves in Haputhale, at the rather old-school Aerie cottage of Kilburn Mountain View. This small hotel had come highly recommended by my friend Lis, who has lived in Colombo for 3 years until recently. Lis had also advised us not to sleep in Ella, the more touristy towns in the area, if we wanted to feel remote and closer to village life. Kilburn’s website is crap, they don’t answer emails very promptly, you’d think you have stepped into a grandma’s cottage in the English countryside yet the view + the space + the food that you get for the price that you pay are unbeatable. Quite ideal for a large family. They only have 3 cottages, Wildflower is the other good option but avoid Rose Cottage since it does not have the view. I would go back to Aerie anytime for that breakfast served on our terrace, porcelains and all, facing this:
We spent our days hiking and touring around the area by train or by car (with our driver). The walk up to Sir Lipton’s Seat is incredibly beautiful, throughout the plantations of the Dambatenne factory. Our driver took up almost to the top (a strenuous walk with the children) and we came back down by foot. It is moving and humbling to see scores of women (and only a very few men) bent to pick up tea leaves, dotting the landscape in silence. Not a day goes by, now that I am back home, where I make myself a cup of tea without thinking of them. We found the visit of the Dambatenne tea factory very informative. As far as I can remember, it was the first time that the children got to tour a large working factory of any sort, understanding from beginning to finish the making of something. The factory is basic, still functioning more or less as Sir Lipton conceived it although it belongs today to the Sri Lankan government. Oddly, it’s when I went to used the women employees’ toilets that I realised how terribly sad their working (and living) conditions are. To work every day such hard labor, breathing dust of tea leaves with the incessant noise of the machines, and not even have a decently clean toilet to use in the daytime, that’s when I became tearful, all naive me.
For about 50 cents each, we took a train journey from Haputhale to Ella, stopping in lots of little towns along the way. We observed the people walking in and out of our train carriage, wearing colourful cotton robes. We marvelled at the views and the hills going up and down as far as eyes could see. We loved it.
In Ella, a more touristy little town further north, we indulged in our first non-curry meal (delicious homemade pasta al pesto, buonaaaa!! cant remember the name of the restaurant but it was recommended in our Rough Guide Sri Lanka) and we took another pretty hike to Little Adams Peak. It was rather easy although a little steep and you understand why once you are at the top. The whole region is about admiring the stunning views over the hills. I was blown away, clouds moving left and right and changing the panoramas in a matter of a few minutes. On the way down, it’s worth stopping at the eco-luxurious 98 Acres Resort for a drink. It has just open recently, and was built in an attractive eco-friendly manner, with reclaimed train tracks, thatched-roofs and all. It belongs to a Sri Lankan family who owns the 98 surrounding acres. They don’t have interconnecting rooms or special ways to accommodate families today, but told me that their family villas with private pools will soon open. Til then, we were happy to go back to our old-school cottage hanging on a cliff:)
– The Cloud Tea Monkeys is a heartwarming book for children, a nice story to tie in with the journey
– The roads are windy in the Hill Country (it’s an understatement!)…so plan accordingly if your children are prone to motion sickness.
– It gets chilly at night and early morning, especially when there is a lot of mist. It’s a pleasant break from the rest of the country but it’s worth bringing that little fleece.