After Dambulla we went back to Kandy in order to catch a 2,5 hour train to the hills, which has been one of the most anticipated destinations for me during our trip in Sri Lanka. We wanted to experience less traffic, more nature and more every day Sri Lankan life. I had been waiting for the visits to the tea plantations and factories for a while and I must say the information we were given there exceeded my expectations (read on the bottom of this post).
Tea, waterfalls and amazing views are all important in the peaceful, almost quiet village of Nuwara Eliya alias Little England where we enjoyed our two nights stay. Nuwara Eliya is misty and mysterious; whilst getting tuk-tukked around to see the sights (it’s simply the best way!) it felt like we were in a film set, or vaguely in England! The reason it’s called Little England, apart from the weather, is that it was once was a favoured cool-climate escape for the hard-working (and drinking) English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Today, you can see the effect of the British around the village: architecture, flower gardens, horse races.
We booked a room in a local home which made the experience even better because we got to connect with local people and understand their culture just that tiny bit more by staying in their house. It was a lovely cottage-like place, and we both agreed that it’s been our favourite accommodation during this whole trip!
Accommodation: Gregory Lake Holiday Home (13e/night)
Favourite Restaurant: Indian Summer (vegetarian friendly)
We wanted to spend nearly a week on the hills, so after Nuwara Eliya we chose to stay in Ella for four nights. Ella is a buzzing town, offering hip bars and restaurants and more souvenir shopping than many other places in Sri Lanka. Ella as a tourist destination involves mainly hikes and treks since all the viewpoints are on top of the mountains, giving stunning views through the Ella Gap. I must say, I feel quite good after some of the hikes we’ve done! Nevertheless, Ella is a place to recharge your batteries. It has plenty to do for families and backpackers, but it also gives a chance for everyone to relax in some of the country’s best guesthouses. Ella also provides certificated tuk-tuk services, which means the drives speak better English and offers better and safer journeys.
Accommodation: Country Homes/Houses (13e/night)
Favourite Restaurant: Cafe Guru (vegetarian and no spicy!-friendly, haha)
Now I’m going to tell you some facts about the tea, it’s processing methods and the labour involved. I’m personally very interested in this subject because tea production is one of the main sources of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka and it is one of the only countries that still pick their leaves by hand, not machinery, just to maintain the quality and the taste. It should make us all think about the conditions of high-class tea producing companies.
- The leaves are plucked by women and they require an ability to pluck rapidly and set a daily target of around 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) of tea leaves to be weighed and then transported to the nearby tea factory.
- The tea leaves are taken to the upper floors of the multi-storey factories where a process known as withering, which removes excess moisture in the leaf, begins. Once withered, the tea leaves are rolled and twisted. The regulation of the temperature plays an important role in the final quality of the tea.
- Girls typically follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters on the plantations, and the women are expected to perform most of the domestic duties. They live in a number of linearly attached houses with one or two rooms. This housing system and the environmental hygiene conditions are generally poor.
- Rooms for laborers are often without windows and there is little or no ventilation. As many as 6 to 11 members may often live in one room together. In recent times attempts have been made to improve the conditions of the accommodation, although there is still a lot to be desired.
- Some concern towards women’s rights have been made to the plantation workers in Sri Lanka, resulting in some 85 neighborhood women’s groups being formed across the country, educating them in gender, leadership and preventing violence against women.
- The tea plantation is structured in a social hierarchy and the women, who often consist of 75%–85% of the work force in the industry, are at the lowest social strata and are regarded as powerless.