The train ride from Ella to Haputale is only 3 hours. We decided to take the first train around 6:30am in order to have a full day to enjoy Haputale and the surrounding tea fields. There were not many people waiting for the train this early, and most passengers were foreign tourists. When the train entered the station, we hopped in and found 3 empty seats in a 3rd
class-car. It felt comfortable and spacious so we did not bother looking for the 2nd
class area. But 2 stops down the road, hundreds of people (locals) got in and it felt pretty cramped! This was right during the New Year Holiday and many people were catching the train for Colombo (12 hours) and so they were more than eager to grab a seat. My parents had so much trouble getting up from their seats as several ladies were crowding them to take their spots. Now, this reminded me of the subway in Mumbai… where it’s okay to use your elbows and knees to secure a seat: madness!
We did not expect much from Haputale. We thought we would go on a nice walk amid the tea fields and see
Sir Thomas Lipton’s seat up in the hills, but we did not expect it to be such a fantastic hike: Haputale was definitely one of the highlights of the month we spent in Sri Lanka!
The town of Haputale is tiny but there are a few local bakeries and small restaurants where we can eat cheap and tasty Sri Lankan food. The village is located on top of a hill (altitude 1580m) with amazing vistas all around. We dropped our bags at Tharindu’s from Airbnb (and we highly recommend this lovely lady’s home) and walked to the bus station at the heart of the village (there’s only 2 streets and a crossroad!) and got into a local bus to Dambatenne Tea factory. The tea factory is located at the foot of big hills and it is quite a hike to get to Lipton’s seat, but since we had time, and my parents were feeling energetic, we decided to walk up (7 or 8km) instead of getting a tuk-tuk. So yes, we ended up walking 15km up and down the hills but we have absolutely no regrets as this was the loveliest walk! We were pretty much all
alone, with the exception of a few young students in their white uniforms passing by from time to time, in this fabulous landscape of tea terraces! Far away, we could contemplate the mist slowly covering up the hills as morning was fading. We could not have dreamed of a better panorama to spend a relaxing day regardless of the heat.
We were pleased to get to meet local Tamil tea pickers. These ladies are robust! They stand long hours in the heat, bend over a million times to pluck the tea twigs, and once their hands are full, they release their catch in the sack attached to the back of their heads. All the weight falls onto the worker’s head as they continually throw the tea leaves they have plucked into the bag. Some workers can pick up to 100kg of tea a day. I have read several articles on the tough conditions and low incomes the Sri Lankan tea pickers must endure, but back in town, we were also told that they could make good money if they could bring more than 20kg of tea to the factories every day. One of the ladies was particularly
beautiful tea terraces
on the way to Dambatenne Tea Factory
nice and patient when we asked her a couple of questions. She showed us the tools she was using as well as the leaves she should pick (those that have grown above a certain height). To make up for her time she took to talk to us, we picked up handfuls of tea stems and shoots, and threw everything in her bag. Hopefully she exceeded her quota on that day…
In the afternoon we caught another bus from Haputale to Kalupahana, but got off at a small intersection some 20km away to reach the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka: the 263m-tall-BambarakandaFalls. The falls are 5km from the main road, so we took a tuk-tuk this time as we were pretty worn-out after the 15km in the morning. The small road snaked its way up the hills and around the forest. The view was once again pretty amazing (the entire Haputale area is magnificent!) all along the road. And that was quite a waterfall indeed! A group of young men were swimming in the cool water. 2 other ladies were washing their hair on the side. We sat down on a big rock and quietly took it all
in, rejoicing at the sound of the water splashing, and cooling off after a long day in the sun.
Back at our guesthouse, our host had prepared a vegetarian feast with delicious eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, beans and carrots and… of course a cup of tea!
Nous avons adoré Haputale! A vrai dire, c’est toute la campagne autour du village d’Haputale que nous avons appréciée, avec des champs de thé à perte d’horizon, une campagne verte et tranquille, de jolies cascades, des températures plus douces que dans les plaines, et des gens sympathiques et accueillants. Nous avons fait une grande marche de 14km au départ de la fabrique de thé de Dambatenna jusqu’au siège de Sir thomas Lipton, perché tout en haut des collines, d’où le magnat du thé aimait contempler ses plantations. En chemin nous avons rencontré des ouvrières qui ramassaient les feuilles de thé dans les collines. L’une d’entre elles a pris le temps de nous expliquer qu’elle ramassait les feuilles aux tiges plus longues, et qu’elle pouvait récolter jusqu'à 50kg de feuilles par jour. Nous avons également rencontré de jeunes écoliers dans leurs jolis uniformes blancs qui, comme nous, montaient la côte
pour rejoindre leurs maisons au milieu des champs de thé. Et puis la visite de l’usine de thé fut fort intéressante, et riche en couleurs, odeurs et goût ! On a pu voir comment les feuilles de thé étaient séchées dans de grandes huches ventilées, puis roulées et écrasées à plusieurs reprises, avant d’être étalées pour attendre la fermentation à l’air libre. Les feuilles de thé sont ensuite exposées à une température extrême de 400° où elles se déshydratent, et évidemment arrêtent de fermenter. Triées, emballées… dégustées !
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