In the highlands of Sri Lanka, the climate is moist and cool—perfect for growing tea.
We had traveled to the highlands to attend a ceremony at a nursing school where AmeriCares, the NGO I worked for, had supported some much needed renovations. The nursing students as well as their teachers were so thankful for the new equipment, furnishings and training materials that we had provided. As their honored guests we each were given multiple garlands of fragrant flowers. The Minister of Health himself came up from Colombo to thank us and join in the festivities.
Although the ceremony at the nursing school was brief, it took the better part of one day to travel to the school and another to return to Colombo. The slow drive through the winding mountain roads gave us the chance to admire the many tea gardens along the way.
We stayed overnight at the Grand Ella Motel in Nawara Eliya. Despite its unpromising name, this government managed hotel was a quaint reminder of the colonial days. With comfortable chairs on the veranda, ceiling fans overhead, and a staff eager to please their guests, it was easy to feel like a British planter in the days before independence. Sitting in the hotel garden we could enjoy our tea while looking out over the Ella Gap. Here at an elevation of over 3,000 feet, we looked through the mountain pass down to the faraway coastal plains barely visible through the mist and haze.
There were a number of tea factories in the area including Kinellan. While we did not tour this factory, we did buy tea inexpensively at the factory store.
Wherever you drive in Sri Lanka's highlands, tea is planted in neat sections up and down the hillsides. Although the tea bushes are densely planted, the pluckers quickly work their way past each bush to take two leaves and a bud. In season, sections of tea are plucked every 10 days. It takes four years for a new tea bush to develop leaves worth picking. With care, however, a tea bush will continue producing for over 100 years.