The Things We Do for a Decent Cup of Tea

"We all know that tea grows on tropical hills, but why did we decide to visit a tea estate by bike?'

Aerial view of Sigiriya Rock Aerial view of Sigiriya Rock

It all started in Sigiriya, with its incredible rock towering above the plains of central Sri Lanka. The first few days had been quite easy as we pedalled along quiet country lanes, exploring Dambulla’s Cave temples, the ruins of Polonnaruwa, another ancient capital city, and climbing (on foot this time) to the top of the rock of Sigiriya for some outstanding views. But then we started to climb, gently at first to a mere 500 metres and the last pre-colonial capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy. A free day here in a wonderfully-located hotel high above the town: beneath us was the revered Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred spot in the country and home (in a small box) of one of Buddha’s teeth.

Giant Buddha at Dambulla Giant Buddha at Dambulla

It was after Kandy that things got more serious. An undulating back road took us through some wonderful country, but then we joined the main road to Nuwara Eliya, centre of the tea country, 1100 grunting metres higher than Kandy, with a hill that seemed to get steeper and steeper. But we were not giving up – excellent lunch at one tea estate half way up the hill, then life-saving tea and cake at another estate mid-afternoon. This was not teabag country – elegant tea pots, strainers and china cups and saucers were a stark contrast to grubby, sweaty cyclists. We finally did reach the summit just before dusk, and cruised downhill the last few kilometres to our hotel for one of the most welcome showers in history.

Tea plantation Tea plantation

There was a proper tour of a tea estate the following morning, the whole remarkably complex process being explained in detail before more tea drinking and the chance, of course, to buy a few samples of the prize product. Our next stop was the charming little town of Ella, amid more tea but also with a fantastic view through the famous Ella Gap to the rolling hills and plains of the south coast. It’s said that on a clear day you can even see the Great Basses Lighthouse blinking away. We couldn’t, but it didn’t stop us working up anticipation for a great descent the following day. It rained (for the only time on the trip) but that didn’t spoil our enjoyment as we swept down the mostly excellent road to the plains. This was the longest day, over 100km, but we all thought it was probably the best, with a diversion to see the huge Buddhas at Buduruvagela, and lots of cold drink and banana stops.

The end of the day was sheer bliss, a beautiful hotel at Tissamaharama with what looked like the most perfect pool in Sri Lanka, followed by an excellent dinner. What more had life to offer? Just spotting a leopard in Yala National Park, the beaches of the stunning south coast of Sri Lanka, and the fascinating streets and walls of the old city of Galle. Almost too much for one two-week trip.

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