Going north to Anuradhapura would have taken us even further back in time, but for now our curiosity for historic sites was satisfied so we headed south, to the mountains.
South-Central Sri Lanka is different from the plains and gently rolling hills of other parts. Here the landscape becomes vertical and takes you to higher altitudes. Though there are no snowy peaks in Sri Lanka, its highest point – Pidurutalagala – still reaches a respectable 2500m. This is high enough for visitors to enjoy cooler, fresher air and take a break from the otherwise regular heat and humidity. This was our thinking as well, as we set our course for Ohiya, a tiny mountain with some lovely cottages, nestled on a tea plantation high between two mountain ridges. It took a long day of travelling by bus and train to get there from Polonnaruwa. The very last stretch we covered once again by tuktuk on a rugged mountain road under the cover of chilly darkness. Fresh tea and warm blankets were an amazing end to the day.
The climate here is exceptionally suitable to the growing of tea. The British figured that out 150 years ago (after some experimentation with cocoa and coffee) and today the small island of Sri Lanka is the world’s 4th largest producer of tea. Unfortunately, though most of the stuff is exported, the income has yet to trickle down – tea picking is exhausting labor done by hand almost exclusively by women and it is very poorly compensated. It is quite a sight though, when a group of colorfully clothed women go about the fields of green all smiling, chatting and sometimes singing.
Travelling in hill-country, you’d be surprised by the amount of tea plantations to the extent that not seeing any will feel odd. The short well-trimmed bushes of light green make for scenic views, especially when travelling by train. Walking around surrounded by tea plantations, it almost feels like you’re back in 19th century colonial British Ceylon. Places here definitely look the part.
Our cottage was not colonial, but cozy. The perfect place to get some rest, sleep in, enjoy a late breakfast, learn to play Carrom, do laundry and otherwise relax. In the afternoon we decided to go for a short walk around the neighborhood, maybe get a glimpse of the World’s End and visit the Bambarakanda waterfall, tallest in Sri Lanka. The World’s End is a spectacular cliff which drops 1200 meters straight down. We’d planned to go visit the place, but weather did not cooperate, the entire cliff was clouded over. But we managed to find some spectacular views nevertheless. And lemonpuffs and local lemonade we named Sprite 2.0. And lots of local kids happy to meet foreigners. Our “short” walk ended 10 hours later, long after dark weary and exhausted. And very happy to find some hot tea and delicious dinner.