Friday, 19 July 2013

tea drinking and view hunting

Welcome to Sri Lanka us. After being in India for the last 3 months we have not been able to get over how clean it is here, how much empty space there is and how much more pride the people seem to take in their surroundings. Also how nice and helpful the people are (this, as always, does not include tuk-tuk drivers). We were on a train the other day and as we were going through a station we noticed the car park was completely empty...something we hadn't seen ever in India. Also instead of beggars and half-dead dogs, the train stations here have fish tanks and hanging pot plants...

The travellers here are also a different breed to what we got used to in India. There we were with our own kind- the smelly, sweaty, thrifty kind of backpackers who don't mind a bit of an upset tummy from that street-stall dinner because it saved them $3. Once we arrived in Sri Lanka our smelly dirty clothes suddenly seemed to stand out a lot it is all families with young kids or young couples on a no expenses spared 3 week tour around the country. To put it plainly, everyone dresses up in the morning, puts on their make-up before they leave their fancy air-conditioned hotel for a day of sightseeing in the hired car.

It's a lovely country though. Certainly not as interesting as India but a lovely relaxing wind-down from the sub-continent. Tea is big business here. It brings in close to US$1 billion per year and provides employment to a huge number of Sri Lankans. We have duly visited a tea museum and a tea factory and walked 7km's through tea plantations to 'Lipton's Seat', where Thomas Lipton (the man who began the company who now produce the iced tea everybody loves so much) used to sit and entertain his fancy guests and survey his growing tea empire. We learnt the process through which fresh tea leaves are turned into the little black things that go into our teapots- it's a lot of rolling and sifting and blowing with hot air but it actually only takes about 10 hours for fresh leaves to become tea-pot ready. We learnt about James Taylor who, along with Thomas Lipton, made the Sri Lankan tea industry what it is today...he came from Scotland and grew and produced his own tea, never married and only left his plantation once, to go to Darjeeling to study tea. So he was a  little tea obssessed. Thomas Lipton, another Scotsman, ensured the rest of the world grew to appreciate tea as much as the folks in England did...he marketed very cleverly and grew his own tea which he sold in his own supermarkets at a lower price, to entice the working classes. So these men are much lauded here. We have also done our bit by drinking as many pots of tea as we can- very difficult job, someone's got to do it.

The other main thing to do here seems to be climbing things, view-searching you could say. So far we have climbed a big old rock, atop of which there are the remains of a monastery. That was quite a lovely view. We could also admire the very old frescoes of colourful women painted into a niche in the boulder, and scratch our heads as to how the artists didn't fall to their deaths whilst painting.

We also (very misguidedly) climbed a mountain called 'Adam's Peak'. It is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists who begin the climb at 2am so they can make it to the top in time for the sunrise, which is supposed to be spectacular...I think the reason we saw no pilgrims as we were lumbering up the 5000 steps in the middle of the pitch black, raining, fog-laden night was that they knew there was no chance of seeing the sunrise at this time of year. And hey, turns out they were right. We did get a killer view of heaps of fog though, and probably came quite close to catching pneumonia...but we did it, despite everything, so now we can gloat over all those lazy souls who decided the warmth of their beds was preferable to the storm clouds and cold. Anyway, bad view.

As I said, we also climbed to Lipton's Seat which I'm sure would have been a simply splendid view had the blanket of fog decided to lift at any stage...didn't though. It was a nice walk however so it scores points on Adam's Peak.

We have hit the view jackpot now though. We are in a little town called Ella in the hill country. It's very much set up for tourists but it has some amazing views of mountains, hills covered with tea plantations and forest and waterfalls dotted about the place. And best of all, no fog obscuring any part of it! So we have finally found the view we've been searching for and can reward ourselves with cake and coffee at the relaxing cafes after spending the morning wandering amongst it.

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