A week of toil under the hot sun of Saudi Arabia is behind MB and he has arrived in Dubai for the weekend. Al hamd’allah. Hope all well your end.
5am view as the train climbs through the mountains
Le train – 10 hours is just too much!
MB is going to jump forward twenty-four hours into his SL trip story and take you all to a small town called Haputale in a mountainous area of central Sri Lanka. MB arrived there after a ten-hour foodless overnight train journey, @ circa 7am in the morning. But MB will return to that missing twenty-four hours in the weeks ahead, as it was action-packed and full of incident. And MB has hundreds of aide memoir pics to help his aging memory.
The view from Ali’s front patio
MB alighted from the old train, which was probably around since British colonial days, onto the deserted train station platform at Haputale. Like the old days in Ireland, before our ticketing systems went all modern & high tech, one must hand over one’s ticket to the platform supervisor who is waiting at the exit gate. MB walked in his direction fiddling in his pocket for his ticket, and wondered if he would find somewhere to stay in this out-of-the-way town in the middle of the mountains of central SL, hundred of miles from the larger conurbations. Like everything else on this trip, nothing was preplanned, and MB did not even know if guest accommodation was available in these parts. Little sleep was had in the previous 48 hours, almost none, and the thought of a hungry early-morning wandering around some small deserted mountain-top town did not appeal at that moment. Thoughts of tumbleweed entered the brain.
It was payday for the workers when MB arrived
Hindu temple on the tea estate
“Thank you Sir” said the supervisor as MB handed him the ticket. One of his assistants, or so MB thought, as they were dressed alike, suddenly blurted out without any question or query from MB – “I have house with hot water. Are you looking for house? My name is Mr Ali”.
MB can assure you all lads, that if MB was a homosexual, he would have kissed Mr Ali full on the lips at that particular moment, such was his euphoria at the thought of a hot shower, and inshallah some food. And ecstasy of ecstasy, maybe even some hot tea or coffee.
View as MB ascended towards Lipton’s Seat
“Mr Ali, my newest and best Sri Lankan friend” said MB, “if your house has hot water, it is indeed the house for MB. Thank you very much, MB accepts your offer”.
“This is my good friend Sanath“, replied Ali, “he owns a tuktuk which is parked outside the gate, we will take you immediately. But first, maybe a trip to the local bakery for some food”. OMG thought MB, they have a bakery in Haputale that is open at 7am in the morning. Allah u akbar. Must inform all the lads back in Limerick about that one!
MB & Sanath at Lipton’s Seat (seat to the right of pic)
And so MB threw the rucksack into the tuktuk, made some room for Mr Ali on the seat, and off to the bakery. MB purchased some egg & salad rolls for the breakfast that he would at eat at the ‘house with the hot water’, and licked his lips at the thought.
Thousands of acres of tea plants in all directions
Ten minutes later MB arrived at “Ali House” – as Ali’s house was described on the business card that Ali had handed to MB at the train station. The house itself was perched on the top of a hill just outside the town (or more accurately a large village) with an incredible view of the nearby hills and valleys. A truly heavenly location. MB was introduced to all the family who were Muslim, who like Christians form approx 7 to 8% of the population. But the Muslims of SL are relaxed and at ease with their religion in a way the peoples of the Middle East are not, in the opinion of MB, so they were easy company. Ali’s wife had worked in the Middle East many years back and spoke some decent Arabic. So MB sat there eating his egg & salad sandwiches, looking out over the hills and valleys in the beautiful morning sunshine, drinking great hot black Sri Lankan tea made by Ali’s daughter, shooting the breeze with Ali and the family in mixture of English, Arabic and sign language. God is indeed great.
As the sun set the clouds rolled into the valleys
MB would learn in his two day stay that Ali was a real character. A ‘rogue’ as we might say back home. His use of the adjective ‘hot’ for the water was somewhat of an exaggeration, but on day two it turned to almost boiling, and Ali’s daughter had to do some emergency plumbing and electrical adjustments to bring it back to the normal luke-warm. Not that MB cared. It was great just to have roof over the head, and Ali’s daughter & her husband cooked MB an incredible dinner that first night with seven different dishes, all of which were mouth-wateringly delicious. But a dish of dried bananas fried in some oil, and mixed with some unknown spices and veg was unbelievable and deserves special mention. MB licked the plate clean, and purred like the cat who got the cream. The following night was the Muslim Eid holiday when the family treated MB & two young lads from Denmark (who were snared at the train station that very morning), to a free dinner on account of the occasion.
The following day, MB heard Ali babbling incoherently at his young grandson. MB thought for a moment that it might be one of the Muslim prayer times and maybe Ali was in prayer chant but then realised, from his ME knowledge, that this was not one of those times. And the babbling did not sound like any language MB had ever heard on any of his travels, so he assumed that Ali was chewing something stronger that the local tea leaves, and that the babbling was exactly that – babbling.
Senath’s tuktuk on left, tea shop up the steps, and viewing tower just behind at the top. View not great from the tower as obstructed somewhat by the trees
MB would discover few hours later from tuktuk driver Sanath that Ali spends a goodly portion of his earnings on Arrak, a very strong alcoholic drink well known in the Middle East, and MB just then discovered, also made and condumed in SL. Think ‘Poitin’ back home in Ireland lads, a clear water-like liquid, but almost pure alcohol. So ‘Ali the babbling Muslim‘ was actually drunk for most of MB’s stay. Sanath divulged Ali’s ‘Arrak’ secret to MB – as he did not want MB to tell Ali the real price he was charging MB for all the tuktuk rides, as they had some deal going down on percentages, and Sanath did not want to make needlessly large contributions to Ali’s supplier of the potent Arrack. Sanath, a Bhuddist, took great pleasure in telling MB that Ali the Muslim must have discovered a ‘halal‘ (permitted by the religion) supply of Arrak!!!
Which brings MB to the reason he landed in Hapatule in the first place. It is the closest town/train station to ‘Lipton’s Seat‘ which MB featured a few weeks back in his blog. Lipton’s Seat sits on top of the highest point in what was originally the tea plantation owned by Sir Thomas Lipton of the famous tea family name. MB had read about Lipton’s Seat when he was on TripAdviser a day or two before he departed Dubai and came across it in some comments by travelers. He had not previously ever heard of it. And then, through Colombo train station circumstances (the subject matter of another post), decided it would be the main destination of the trip.
The clouds descend into the valleys in the evening sunset
MB booked Sanath & his trusty tuktuk for later that afternoon after a few hours sleep, to catch the sunset shots, and arose again before 5am the following morning for the 50 minute ride back up to the estate to catch the sunrise.
MB was glad he did both as the pics were very different. There is also a little tea shop at the Lipton’s Seat location where the Nr 1 quality Sri Lankan tea is served to visitors, and it’s a real treat, for less than 1 dollar. The chi walla (tea lad) who serves you encourages you not to mix sugar with the tea. But rather to bite off a small section of one of the orange coloured raw sugarcane cubes provided, and swallow it separately, before consuming some of the tea. It was terrific, although MB changed to his favourite ‘without sugar‘ for later cups.
MB set up his tripod on the side of the road in the dark on the way back down to Haputale after sunset, to get night time shot of the small town
The plantation worker jobs are eagerly sought by all. Workers get 5 US dollars per day and must pick 18 Kg of leaves for that amount which they normally do between 8.00am & 4.30pm in the afternoon. They also get free housing with water (hopefully some of it hot!), and free schools for their kids. They must pay for electricity consumption. All the primary school kids MB saw wore neat colourful school uniforms and looked very smart and clean. There is also a hospital and dental care on the estate. Sanath explained to MB that normally 3 or 4 people from one family are working on the estate so maybe 20 dollars per day for the household, or 500 USD per month. And workers are free to use the land around the houses to grow vegetables for sale, or maybe keep a cow and to sell some milk. As MB witnessed himself. So all in all, a very good living in a poor third world country.
FYI, The tea plantations and the production of tea for export provide a very large percentage of the countries employment & GDP. SL is the second largest exporter of tea in the world.
6am and back at Lipton’s Seat for the sunrise
A small lost pup followed MB for an hour or so until we found it’s mom at the bottom of the hill
But back to Lipton’s Seat. When MB arrived at 6am the following morning he immediately noticed the sound of song birds all around, after Sanath had turned off the noisy tuktuk engine. So when the photos were done, and the tea was drunk (or drank!), MB told Sanath to take the tuktuk to the plantation entrance and MB would enjoy the 2 or 3km walk back down to listen to the birds and take some more shots at his leisure. There are some great views of the plantations and surrounds on the walk, and do not miss it if you ever make the trip. Or you can make it a 7km walk if you wish which will bring you to the Tea Factory in the little village at the edge of the estate.
Sunrise shot from the viewing tower
MB & Sanath pulled into the Tea Factory car park to continue the morning’s adventure. Which MB will tell you all about next week. But for this week ‘khalas‘! (finished!).
Ok lads. The pics tell all.
Take it easy & enjoy the weekend.
More sunrise & early morning shots below
The seeds of the tea plant
A plantation lady worker sells some milk. Collected by a communal truck which was doing the rounds to all the milk sellers
A Christian church and kindergarden on the estate
Vegetable plots surrounding the houses of the plantation workers