#6 Sri Lanka, Feb. 16, 2008

Dear Everybody,

What a nice break Ella was. It’s a very small town up high in tea country where the air is cooler and the cacophony of heavy urban presence is blessedly missing. What a nice place to go for walks among the tea ‘pluckers’ (they don’t call them ‘pickers’) and pine forests. Each morning was sunny and beautiful although late in the day it clouded up and rained, but of course the tea bushes must be watered!

One day I hiked six km to the Rawana Ella Falls, a beautiful waterfall, especially magnificent because it has been raining every evening. From there I hopped a bus to Wellawaya to see some 10th century Buddhist rock carvings. Wellawaya is only a few km from Buttala, where a bus was blown up about six weeks ago by the LTTE.

 

 

 

 

But I made it to Wellawaya by bus and to the rock carvings by tuk tuk and back to Ella without mishap. The carvings were quite dramatic with a 50 foot high Buddha and six smaller figures, three on each side. They were still quite distinct, even though they are at least 1100 years old.

After four days in Ella I took the train to Haputale, an hour away. There I had the nicest guesthouse that I’ve had on this trip. The proprietor met the train and approached me with his card—perfect, as that was the particular guesthouse I had in mind from the Lonely Planet. He took me to the guesthouse via tuk tuk.

Haputale is in the mountains and the views are stunning. I walked a long way out into the country and saw many tea plantations with more tea pluckers. I also walked to the Adisham Monastery, a 13th century Christian suborder of the Benedictines called the Sylvestrene Congregation but unfortunately they weren’t open for visitors. I see so many monkeys on my walks but it isn’t really fun because the dominant male always seems to be nasty to the others. which makes me a little afraid of him.

I finally met another American—they’re scarce as hen’s teeth. I glanced in the guesthouse register and for months, he and I were the only Americans that stayed there.

The Dambatenne Tea Factory which was started in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton and now is owned by an Indian company was 11 km from Haputale. The ride out there was in a company 12-passenger van, the likes of which I’ve never ridden in before. There were five or six large sacks/parcels and 24 people crammed in, four of which were actually completely outside the sliding door, each hanging on to a bar inside the van. The factory tour was interesting; this factory had more steps in their process—mostly extra sorting and cutting steps that resulted in very fine granular black tea. One of the machines was of 1890 vintage, still in use.

For breakfast one morning I had bananas and papaya along with curd (yoghurt) and palm honey—not really honey at all but a similar sweet boiled down from juice from the bud of a particular kind of palm. Yum. Yesterday morning I ate breakfast with two young Frenchmen from Paris, one of whom had spent two months in Minnesota in ’94 learning English. He had spent one month on a farm and another in a small town but he couldn’t remember the name of either.

I became acquainted with a Dutch young man and it turned out that we were both taking the same train on Friday, he, to Kandy and I, to Nuwara Eliya. We both had bought Second Class tickets and when we were going to board, I started climbing up the nearest car. He said, “Carol, that’s Third Class,” (Europeans know these things) and so we moved down the line and boarded a Second Class car. It became clear to me that when I had taken the train from Ella to Hapulate three days earlier, I had mistakenly sat in Third Class, not even realizing that there was a Third Class. Second Class wasn’t a lot different but a little nicer. The 1 1/2 hour train ride cost 37 cents in Second Class and half that in Third Class. One can’t get First Class out here in the boonies as the seats get taken at the beginning of the route—either Kandy or Colombo. So now I’ve seen these gorgeous views of the tea plantations on the sides of mountains from all three classes, and you know what? The view was just as lovely all three times.

Now I’m in Nuwara Eliya which is even higher than Ella and Haputale. The guesthouse I’m in, called the Grosvenor, is over 100 years old and was actually the home of the British Governor at one time. There are 10 rooms each with a working fireplace, colonial furniture and ceilings that are 18 to 20 feet high—lots of atmosphere to remind one that the British used this cool town as a hill station to escape the heat. There are many old British homes; some now are guesthouses. A Czeck couple that I met earlier on the bus coming from the train station are here, too, and last night invited me for a beer and to share their fire in their fireplace. How nice! This morning I’m wearing a long sleeved turtleneck and a light jacket—what a switch in temperature.

An ah-hah moment: I finished reading the book I had bought at the Galle Literary Festival called “Monsoons and Potholes.” In it the author recounts when a Tamil servant of theirs was ‘deported’ to India (never mind he and his father and grandfather had been born in Sri Lanka). Anyway, he saved his earnings and eventually came back to Sri Lanka. His Indian employer had let him sleep in the shop on ‘gunny bags.’ Now I remember as a child on a Minnesota farm we used ‘gunny sacks’ every day for such things as hauling grain to the chickens or bagging the potatoes we picked. They were made out of a hemp-like material (maybe hemp?) and we called them ‘gunny sacks.’ I’ll bet they came from India!

I called Ira a few days ago, the Sri Lankan woman that I met in Ambalangoda who had invited me to stay with her in Colombo, and she reissued her invitation so I shall take the train there on Monday. I plan to attend the poya (full moon) Navam Perahara led by 50 caparisoned elephants from the Gangaramaya Temple. That should be interesting!

Stay tuned—-

Carol

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