a ride through sri lanka’s hill country

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tea plantations

There is a nostalgic charm to the hill country of Sri Lanka. A hinting back to an era lost in the mist of time. Policemen wear khaki, are unarmed and natter amiably with the locals. School children wear a wholly impractical white uniform, presumably so that the boys are always correctly dressed for an impromptu game of their beloved cricket. The single track railway that winds and climbs its way from the plains up and up into the highlands, wending between conical hills bright green with tea bushes carries trains just a few carriages long. It stops in wonderful little stations, neatly painted and lovingly tended with flowers and nesting boxes for the sparrows. I sat recently watching the goings on at a tee junction, the focal point of a small village. Everyone seemed to know each other. For a small village there was a remarkably high proportion of policemen and women in a community where one felt completely safe amongst its population of amiable folk. The police laughed and joked and nattered with the old fellows sitting watching the world go by, with the young lads who drive auto rickshaws for a living, and with primly dressed ladies passing by with their children.

The hills are alive with tea. Central Sri Lanka is given over almost entirely to tea estates. Recently whilst ascending along a sinewy road flanked by tea bushes I stopped to take some pictures of a small white chapel. The tea picker’s manager came over for a chat. The chapel dates back, so he told me, to around 1850 and is the last resting place of the estate founder, needless to say an English man. I climbed higher, this time on dirt tracks. Tea pickers, all women, flecked the hill side and greeted me with waves and shouts and laughs and flirtatious smiles as I passed by.

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single track trough the tea estates

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quiet country lanes

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tea plantations

Leaving the Hill Country I begin my decent towards the coast from the small town of Hepatula. The road, the A4, is perfectly surfaced and quite free of traffic. I am at 1500 metres and am dropping down to sea level. I swoop through a wonderful succession of sweeping corners. As I drop the temperature rises and the flora changes. The sent of incense wafts from Hindi temples. Redolent food cooks in restaurants lining the road and as I slow in a small village a cloud of smoke from over heated chillies sets me sneezing. The sky above the grassy hills is dappled with cloud and as rays of sunlight break through spotlighting copse of pine trees I feel I have been transported to the English Lake District. The road levels out and now for a while it undulates.

I stop for lunch at the edge of the town of Balangoda at a neat roadside restaurant. I order the national favourite which is aptly named rice and curry. The old fellow serving shuffles over multiple times as he slowly fills my round table with food. A huge plate of rice, dal, papad, vegetable curry, chicken curry, potato curry, coconut relish, dish after fragrant dish of spicy food adorn my table and I eat my fill washing it all down with the sweet milky tea so beloved on the Sub-Continent .

After lunch I turn north west on a small road that will take me on a detour for the next fifty kilometres climbing and falling on single lane roads for my final ride through the tea hills. As I climb thick black clouds roll over from the high hills to the north. “Our weather here is like in your country, yes?” The words of a shop keeper making conversation as I waited for my change roll through my mind. Large drops of rain splosh on the road around me sending up little plumes of vapour as they evaporate on the hot tarmac. As the rain increases its intensity I take cover beneath the lean-too frontage a small wooden hut. I sit for a while watching the rain, then, onning my wind-stopper jacket I decide to head out into the downpour. Showers come and go several more times as I wend my way down through valleys and up and over ridges. I am enjoying the sensation, warm and wet I ride through small villages, the homes of tea estate workers where everyone smiles or waves or says good afternoon as I pass by.

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at the station. a goods shed and a cow

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a water tank from the days of steam

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ladder

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mechanical points

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ticket office

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goods wagon brake wheel

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Remnants of the empire are everywhere and still in daily use.

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electric meters are nearly always outside. no one ever mentioned to them that they don’t mix well with water

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a pristine singer super

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export quality no less

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colonial era cottages abound

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chutney jam and sauce

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sauntering to school across the golf course

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2 thoughts on “a ride through sri lanka’s hill country

  1. ’tis a fine place to ride on the back roads. Alas that scourge of the modern age, the motorcar, has taken its toll on many of the main roads. There is alas a proliferation of worn out Jap (I think) imports that spew out all sorts of crap that those from wealthy lands never experience. 90% of vehicles are followed by a cloud of blue black or grey smoke. A summery of Sri Lankan cycling will follow.
    As for the bike, the Singer? I shall nip back into the hills and make an offer; how far are you prepared to go squire?

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