Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tea Plantations

It's Christmas Eve! We headed off bright and early for Nuwara Eliya - a famous tea growing region of Sri Lanka. Notice the word "bright"? We have had absolutely gorgeous weather today - blue skies, sunshine, wispy clouds. Such a great day for a drive. Stopped at a wood working shop - oh my gosh they have fabulous workmanship! We got to see the men working on the carvings - the details are just outstanding. My favorite was a family of elephants, playing in the water and feeding on the trees along the edge. The carving was ornate and delicate. You could see the water splashing as the elephants sprayed each other. Just phenomenal. 
The colors that can be found on many of the wood carvings - as well as various cave and temple walls, were made from a tree called the Rainbow Tree. The man demonstrated how it shave off bits from the wood and mix it in water, giving you a nice red color. If you add various things, citrus juice, salt, you get different colors! He demonstrated how to get purple, blue, green and yellow. Most of the paintings we saw throughout Sri Lanka were colored this way. 

Looking down on the Temple of the Tooth

From there we headed up the hill to a great spot that over looks the Temple of the Tooth. The lake that is central to the town of Kandy was made by one of the kings in the 1800's. It is said that the island of the kings (in the center of the lake) was used by the kings for bathing and had a secret tunnel connected to the castle...who knows. While it is quite pretty and scenic, not everyone was happy with the king who built it. The view from the hill was not without its downside - the scenic pull out was well known and so many enterprising souls set up shops - or carry their wares in their arms -  all trying to get you to buy the t-shirt, key chain or necklace they're selling. It's amazing, at times obnoxious, and non-stop.
Tea Plantation

Finally left Kandy behind and headed up into tea country. We have spent a good part of the last few days sitting in towns with all of humanity pouring around us so it has been delightful to be out on the road, heading up the hills, with few people tagging along. 

Tea picker at the plantation
The scenery is outstanding - the pictures hardly do it justice. The British, being quite British, decided that since coffee wasn't making it (apparently there was a huge crop failure – in the 1860’s), they would plant tea and tea they planted. The hills are absolutely covered with tea plantations. I can't believe the steep hills that have tea growing on them...meaning the ladies are climbing up there, mostly barefooted, to pick the tea. The bags they carry hold about 10 kilo or so of tea so they carry a lot of weight up and down the hills. The bags are balanced on their heads with straps, much the same as the way people carried things in Nepal. The women are the ones who do the picking, apparently it’s too repetitive for the men. Many places provide some kind of housing but not much in the way of pay. While the two main groups who live on the island are the Sinhalese and the Tamil’s, it’s the Tamils who are primarily involved in picking tea and doing the main labor required maintaining the fields.
Spreading out the tea to dry

Tea production is much more involved that I ever realized. The factory we went through actually makes black tea (probably you've had some because Lipton is one of the buyers). The tea is dried in long trays, ground up, and then a multi-step process separates the tea leaves from the branches. The tea goes through a fermentation process before it is finally dried and goes through a final rolling process. Ceylon tea is quite famous and I have to admit, I've enjoyed the tea we've had here in Sri Lanka. Have learned…you want real tea, not the bagged stuff. Apparently they bag the “inferior” grade tea and sell the better stuff bulk. 

We have been playing tag with Roeland across Sri Lanka, it seems. While initially we weren't planning on going to Nuwara Eliya, a change in our reservation in Ella meant we needed someplace to be for a night. Jeff checked out the guide book as well as talked to Kapila and we found ourselves not just in the same village as Roeland, but actually just down the street from his place! We ended up spending Christmas Eve together, enjoying a drink at his hotel, heading downtown to Milano for dinner - curries, of course - and then stopping by our place for a nightcap. Nice to be able to spend the evening with friends!

No comments:

Post a Comment