11.08.2015 - 12.08.2015
It turns out that Haputale is nothing like Ella. Ella is a one horse town compared to the bustling metropolis of Haputale town. Nestled in amongst a couple of mountains it's a hive of activity - streets full of people who aren't white, European and with backpacks on. Instead it's full of an assortment of Hindu Tamil tea pickers and a few Muslims on top of that. The the spots couldn't be more different.
We left our guesthouse in Ella to take the 11 o'clock train here. The 24 km journey through the hills took about an hour and there was some spectacular scenery along the way. The eldest son of the chap who runs our guesthouse was there to meet us at the train station. He took us even further into the hills to our accommodation. We were invited into the house for some tea and biscuits and the whole experience was a bit trippy. Not unlike going back in time to a distant country relatives farmhouse in 1970s Ireland. The place we're staying in is a basic affair but any initial misgivings were soon dispelled. There's a family of seven living here along with another 8 extended family members. There's a constant stream of traffic through the house. They exude a warmth which is something special - lovely folk.
On our first day in Haputale we took a jaunt via tuk-tuk to an old tea planters house - Adisham Lodge - it's a little piece of old world Kent in the hills. Beautiful English style gardens and lawns nestled in the hills. The place is now a monastery for the Benedictine Order so you can only see some of the house. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so and to buy some of the monks home made marmalade.
When we got back to the guesthouse I got an email from the last place in Ella to say he'd undercharged me on the bill. I called him back to see how I could arrange payment. You can't use PayPal in Sri Lanka so he drove over in his tuk tuk to collect what I owed him. That's what they'll do for their dollars here in Sri Lanka. He was all apologetic about the mixup but was delighted to get his cash. He wouldn't take up my offer to pay for his petrol money either.
On our second day in Haputale we checked out the old Lipton Tea Factory and climbed up to Liptons Seat - it's a spectacular viewpoint if the clouds don't cover it. When the clouds roll in over here it's not dissimilar to a misty West of Ireland. We walked back through the tea plantations and small hamlets of Tamil tea pickers to the tea factory 7km below. We were given a tour of the factory which doesn't appear to have changed much since it was opened. It produces black tea for sale to auction houses and we were given a step by step walk through of the entire process. It was really interesting to see the whole thing at work.
Our two nights in Haputale were amongst the most pleasurable I've spent in this country. The folk we stayed with in White Monkey - Dias Rest gave me a rare insight into family life in Sri Lanka. The food we were served was the freshest and nicest food I've had here. The ingredients of the nightly evening meals would be familiar to every Irish person - carrots, beetroot, cabbage, spuds - but done in the inimitable Sri Lankan curry style. Every mouthful was beautiful. And it all came at a fraction of the price we've paid elsewhere. You could get a real sense of the basic struggles felt by this family but they faced into it with a smile on their faces and warmth in their hearts. A truly unforgettable experience. Wonderful folk in an extraordinary setting.
Next stop is Mirissa on the south coast but we haven't figured out how to get there yet. Whichever way we go its going to be a long journey. For a small country it's painfully slow to get around.