Although Nuwara Eliya wasn’t in our top 10 places we had visited so far on the trip, the surrounding countryside and history was interesting. The local area was home to many tea plantations most of them seeming to have Scottish heritage and about 10 kilometres outside of Nuwara Eliya we visited the Labookelie Tea Estate, founded in 1841 by a William Mackwood, which is set in beautiful rolling countryside at about 6000 ft above sea level and being a Monday the tea pickers were out working hard, dotted around in the plantations, filling their bags that were attached to their heads. All of the tea pickers are women, they are apparently supposed to have more nimble fingers than the men and from the height of some of the plantations, have to be very fit too. They only pick the tender shoots and have to be careful, so I guess the men are too heavy handed for the job. They tend to do the heavier work such as tilling the earth and working in the factories.
We started off tasting some tea, Hema likes the stronger Broken Orange Pekoe, which is also known as English Breakfast Tea. As we were becoming accustomed to in Sri Lanka, the tea was a very strong, dark colour, and was a bit powerful for my palette, it didn’t help that we had hot milk to add to it…As we were supping our brew a coach load of Japanese tourists all dressed in white arrived, it was interesting to sit and watch them all looking refined, smart and pristine in their white attire. Next a group of Tamils from the north arrived looking relaxed and laid back dressed in their saris, sarongs and shirts a complete opposite to the Japanese. A group of 4 men came and sat at the end of our table to taste the tea and one of them poured some of his tea into his saucer to cool it before supping it up, I had noticed this and his friends had seen me taking note and had joked about it and we all ended up had a laugh…this was something I remember seeing older people do when I was a kid, it was considered dare I say, a bit of a lower class thing to do, but it had been years since I had seen it done!
We had a guide to show us around, she was an older Tamil women, who had lived and worked in the tea plantations for many, many years. She was clearly an old hand at this job and had done these tours thousands of times before. She was pleasant enough but it was all a bit robotic like she was reading off cue cards but it was interesting, the tea factory was a working factory, most of it built using British engineering and steel, the stages of how tea is produced was also of interest, but was over and done very quickly, she had to get us two round quickly so she could move on to the larger group who were waiting for her services and from which she would probably get more tips, so they were a better investment.
When we entered the shop selling the tea, which apparently is only available in Harrods, there was a frenzy of the Japanese group madly buying tea in bulk, packets and packets of the stuff, we know they have a soft spot for tea like us Brits, but hey, this was crazy buying like this was the only tea left on the planet! Maybe if it is only sold in the UK in Harrods, it is a special tea and they knew something that we didn’t! We just about managed to make our very small purchase and escape the madness quickly and were soon on our way again, snaking back down the mountains towards Kandy for Fire and Fairy-Lights..!