TREKKING THROUGH A TEA PLANTATION IN SRI LANKA
Lipton Tea is a staple item in the cupboard of most families around the world. Never did I expect to be trekking with a 60-yr-old local Sri Lankan up and down the steep mountains home amongst the famous Lipton Tea and other highly lauded tea estates.
Here is a little history about how tea became one of the biggest products of trade for Sri Lanka.
During the British Colonization, the tea was introduced in 1824 and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Almost 20 years later commercial tea planting began in Kandy. Nowadays there are multiple regions with large tea estates, taking advantage of the humidity, cool temperatures and consistently high levels of rainfall. Today Sri Lanka is lauded as the producer of the world’s finest black tea.
At mid-morning I met my local guide, Upali, who was 60 years young and wore a constant smile. From the moment I met Upali, I knew this 14-kilometer trek was going to be as much about the views and tea plantations as it was about the smiling grandfather who was guiding our journey.
The Royal Tea Trail begins innocuously by the roadside before beginning to the wind between steep tea terraces. Although unlike the rice terraces in Bali these are not tiered. There are no steps and the tea-pluckers must scale the sharp incline. The tea plants are scattered with no particular pattern although they are often layered creating a beautiful linear design on the side of the mountains.
Often locals in cities and villages around the world shy away from the camera or despise its presence. However, in Sri Lanka, I have often experienced a desire to be photographed from many strangers. Upali and I passed by a group of women who were busy picking leaves and throwing them over their shoulder into their sacks.
The women motioned to my camera and asked me to photograph them, making Upali promise to show them the photos later. Many of the women took quite a serious upright pose but began laughing as their friends teased them. It was when they broke away from this serious character I could truly capture the beauty of charisma of these beautiful women working in the tea estates.
Upali explained how the women pluck the leaves and the men cut the wooden branches with an incredibly sharp knife. They only get one chance at producing a clean cut to make sure the plant grows back for a second harvest each month.
Often I travel without a guide, enjoying the views but missing out on the local knowledge that is invaluable to understanding key elements of a location or a region. Upali enjoyed explaining to me not only about the tea plantations but about his family, the eagles, the region and Sri Lanka in general.
The trail winds through several tea plantations before giving a view across the valley to the Lipton Tea Estate and the Lipton Chair. It was at this moment I realized what an amazing experience this truly was.
I was standing on top of a mountain, hardly a noise to ruin the moment, as I marveled at what I was looking at. Too often we just grab a product and don’t stop for even a second to imagine where it came from, how it was made or who were the people behind it.
The Royal Tea Trail with Trekking Sri Lanka can be booked through Shanti Travel, who also organized my accommodation during my time in the region.