Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hiking tea party in Sri Lanka

Haptule's mosque is meters and meters away from our rooms
"Would you look at those speakers!" Jenny, a recently retired Aussie school teacher and Sri Lanka tourmate, exclaimed as we oggled the imposing green mosque adjacent to our hotel. 

"There's roosters out the front," Paul said joining us as we marveled how the size and sheer number of speakers was disproportional to a) the size of the mosque and b) the size of the town.  Cursing our good luck we wouldn't need an alarm clock the following morning the multi-national Intrepid tour group keenly walked around Haptule after a stunning - and predictable delayed - six hour train journey from Kandy. 

Female pickers in the fields
Impossible slopes supported one of Sri Lanka's biggest exports - tea.  Nestled in lush valleys, the train skimmed along the ridge to a dizzying height of more than 1800 meters before descending into the mist.  Workers (mostly female) precariously perched at all elevations were clinging to the hillsides to collect their quota of 18 kilos. 

Gaaahh!  The gradient!
 After an interrupted night acclimatizing to the elevation and cooler night temperatures, our group set out for an overnight hike into the tea plantations.  Using the roads (and that's a generous term) and pathways the workers or lorries do to move the raw leaves and later final product to market gave our group an appreciation of the physical effort involved in a morning cuppa. 

Ten kilometers over a ridge, through villages and vegetable patches, we arrived at our hillside house. 

Mercifully unplugged from wifi and phone signal, our group was expected to provide musical or dance entertainment for our hosts in the hills.  They sang traditional Tamil songs accompanied by a sorry looking but powerful drum and we countered with national anthems, Waltzing Matilda and Savage Garden hits from junior high. 

Much giggling and a too many rounds of carrom later, we dropped into comfortable beds and waited for the neighbour's roosters to rouse us.

Guide Siva explaining a typical day in the plantations
Keen to get moving before the heat of the day, we set off along the tracks dodging sluggish tractors, transports and motorbikes.  How they gained traction and had confidence on the paths was mind boggling. 

Our knees were crying out on the downhill, we struggled to adequately replace the sweat that drenched us and we stopped often to inadequately photograph the stunning surrounds and still we slipped and slid down the paths. 

Glimpsing Sri Lanka's highest water and later the bravest of the boys swimming in its plunge pool we were refreshed and grateful to be back to our starting point in Haptule - even if it was in the shawdow of the town mosque.