A meditative hike via the central highlands of Sri Lanka
A distinctly Sri Lankan soundtrack echoes via the valley.
On one facet, the chanting of the monks from Kandy’s latest temple, Sandagiri Maha Seya, whose gleaming white dome shines like a beacon amidst the dense vegetation of the Hanthana hills. Alternatively, the distorted notes of Beethovens For Eliselowered to a jingle and adopted because the theme music by choon paans, the jaunty tuk-tuks that promote baked items in all corners of the nation.
I’m within the central highlands of Sri Lanka, amidst the rugged mountains that encompass Kandy. These towering mountain ranges helped shield Sri Lanka’s final kingdom from colonial invaders for greater than two centuries, till the British settled right here within the early nineteenth century. Tea was introduced in by these new rulers, and historic plantations nonetheless dot the hilltops round me.
Tea will probably be a continuing companion on my two day trek via this inexperienced space of Sri Lanka. I see shriveled girls, sacks on their backs, plucking younger leaves from powerful crops. I comply with barely seen tracks as soon as utilized by the British to move the best Ceylons to Colombo. I move derelict tea factories; the steel stays of previous pulley methods; and the skeletons of 18th-century terraced homes that have been as soon as inhabited by the communities that labored the plantations and which have now been all however reclaimed by nature.
I’m on the Pekoe Path, a newly opened 300 km community of mountain climbing trails that meanders via the Sri Lankan highlands. The title refers to a selected sort of high-quality black tea made out of younger leaves, a specialty in these elements.
Base camp for me is W15 Hanthana, a former colonial dwelling artfully transformed right into a ten-room boutique lodge. A 3-hour journey in a luxurious van, organized by Sri Lankan vacation specialists Expertise Journey Group, took me from the crowded streets of Colombo, previous processions of white-robed Buddhist devotees celebrating a full moon, alongside winding, mountain-hugging roads throughout round Kandy, to the distant environment of the Hanthana Tea Plantation.
A brief stroll right down to the gates of W15 takes me and my guides straight to the primary a part of the path, the place a cannonball tree filled with palm-sized, pink-tipped flowers serves as a promising start line. It’s believed that Buddha was born within the shade of such a tree, subsequently the species is taken into account sacred in Sri Lanka.
Funded by the EU with assist from the US Company for Worldwide Growth, the Pekoe Path was first mapped by sustainability skilled Miguel Cunat, who was impressed by the multi-day Camino de Santiago in his native Spain. The Sri Lankan Means has been divided into 22 levels, from Hanthana to Nuwara Eliya through Tawalantenna, Bogawantalawa Valley, Haputale, Ella, Ettampitiya, Pussellawa and Kandapola, passing via tea plantations, nationwide parks, forest trails and about 80 villages and small cities.
Solely the primary stage is correctly signposted, with QR codes permitting guests to study extra about the place they’re. However my companion for the day, Expertise Travels Thushni de Silva, is a much more complete supply. She factors to African tulips, utilized by plantation homeowners as markers in an in any other case limitless sea of inexperienced; eucalyptus bushes introduced in to make the panorama really feel extra acquainted to the colonial settlers; and rubber crops, whose roots are robust sufficient to dig via the large boulders on which they dwell.
Bee-eaters and rollers fly from tree to tree whereas a crested short-toed eagle lazily circles the sky. Main the cost, Anuruddha, our calm however regular information, sees an elusive barking deer and we veer astray to catch a glimpse of the famously shy mammal sneaking into the thicket.
The path takes us across the blade-like rim of the rocky Urugala Mountains, the place elements of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom have been filmed and to a Tamil village. A gaggle of younger boys play cricket and packs of sleepy canines, affectionately known as rice canines by locals, collect in entrance of homes painted brilliant pinks, yellows and blues.
A delicate introduction to Sri Lanka’s tea nation, this primary leg of the path follows broad roads and trails with minimal inclines. I begin the second stage the following morning and it is a utterly totally different factor.
The historical past of tea in Sri Lanka truly begins with espresso, my information for the day, Ramli, tells me as we meet early and brilliant on the streets of Galaha city. When the Dutch arrived, espresso was their crop of alternative and was instantly adopted by the British. Nevertheless, when a worldwide plague devastated crops within the 1860s, tea was thought of a viable different.
Pioneering this transition was a younger Scot named James Taylor. Arriving in Sri Lanka in 1852 on the age of 17, he was quartered on the 7.6 hectare Loolecondera property in Galaha, which grew to become the nation’s first official tea property and is the ultimate vacation spot of my second day’s trek.
A rocky plateau surrounded by a hoop of deep, lush greenery, excessive up within the mountains, this ethereal terminus drifts out and in of view over the course of my 10-mile hike. It feels unreachable, nearly unreal. And shrouded in a wonderful mountain mist, bathed in inexperienced, dotted with otherworldly rock formations and shrouded in silence, it proves to have nearly mystical qualities after we lastly get there.
Our journey takes us previous neatly tiered paddy fields and thru tiny settlements surrounded by cotton, banana, jackfruit and pepper bushes. Colourful Hindu and Buddhist temples add splashes of colour whereas the sound of the Azan emanates from tiny cities. We cease to sip tea from a thermos on the banks of a waterfall earlier than dipping our faces in its mineral-rich waters. Within the city of Deltota we cease at a market to purchase contemporary coconuts which Anuruddha reduce open with a machete to drink straight from the supply.
From right here, a steep climb takes us via a dense eucalyptus forest that towers as much as 30 meters tall, filtering dappled gentle onto the spongy forest flooring coated in pine needles. Anuruddha’s machete turns into a staple as he hacks a path for us via more and more overgrown mountain passes. I discover myself scrambling up rocks on my fingers and knees, rugged tea crops serving as a much-needed foothold. Close by tea pickers cease and stare, maybe amazed at my bottomless publicity to their pure habitat.
Ultimately we discover ourselves again on an accurate path that ranges out and gives a chicken’s-eye view of the encircling peaks and valleys. We cross the official boundary between the Hanthana Property and Taylors Loolecondera and on a single hill amidst the plantations there’s a signal of what these hilltops regarded like earlier than tea conquered the Sri Lankan highlands.
Irregular development in a spectrum of greens is interspersed with wild orchids and heady blooms of pink, pink and yellow. There is a welcome wildness that is been tempered elsewhere, and based on Ramli, this mountain alone is dwelling to a minimum of 30 species of crops with confirmed medicinal properties.
You’ll be able to solely think about Taylor staring over that wilderness and ruling his area all these years in the past. A stone throne he erected on the sting of his property overlooks Loolecondera and the encircling hills, from the undulating tea plantations to a barren, rocky promontory excessive above the place leopards are reported to nonetheless roam.
The Pekoe Path gives a possibility to expertise Sri Lanka’s rugged pure magnificence, colonial historical past and wealthy tradition on the bottom. And it nonetheless appears like a thriller, an intimate, meditative exploration of the nation’s interior coronary heart.
Hours can go by with out encountering one other soul, after which a colourful character pops up across the nook, like an previous man miles from civilization, showing as if by magic, holding a bag of Pedigree Chum. He is on his solution to a close-by temple to feed the resident rice canines, he tells us, earlier than grabbing his sarong and persevering with on his method, leaving us to as soon as once more sort out the Pekoe Path in isolation.
Up to date April 20, 2023 7:35 am