The tea gardens of Sri Lanka
The tea gardens of Sri Lanka 

Calm in a teacup

Teja Lele

Sri Lanka is slowly becoming the traveller’s cup of tea again. After Covid-19 hit tourism, it is banking on its signature teas to bring travellers back. The Pekoe Trail, a 300-km walk through the central highlands is the enticement. The introduction to the 22-stage trail, which can also be customised to suit time demands, is the brainchild of adventurer Miguel Cunat says “The trail combinees history and nature. The villages are alive with living heritage. From the plains, a minutes later you cross into a forest, where the feel is completely different. There are layers of stories here.” The trekking route begins from the Hanthana Mountains near Kandy and makes its way to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, often called ‘Little England’ on account of its colonial bungalows and misty climate. On the way lie aromatic eucalyptus forests, undulating hills carpeted in lush green tea plants, flat plains, and Adam’s Peak, a 2,243 m-high mountain topped by a Buddhist shrine.

Malik J Fernando, Chair of Resplendent Ceylon, the only Relais and Chateaux-accredited resort collection on the island, says, “Conditions were ideal to grow what became the world-famous Ceylon tea, with multiple elevations imparting different characteristics,” he says. A network of scenic railroads was developed together with banks, insurance companies and the Colombo port to support the industry in the central highlands,which are resplendent with emerald fields, twisting roads, and gushing waterfalls.The first segment which was opened in 2021 winds its way through an eclectic cluster of hill towns, tea plantations, remote villages, sanctuaries, viewpoints, forests, and cultural and historical locations. The trail is supported by the EU and the United States Agency for International Development. Fernando calls it an innovative “slow travel” experience. It connects 80 hamlets and villages, until now rarely seen by foreigners, and showcases life on Sri Lanka’s tea estates and reveals how tea production has shaped the country’s landscape and history. It passes through Scotsman James Taylor’s Loolkandura Estate, the first plantation in Sri Lanka, old tea factories and colonial bungalows. Railway tracks wind their way along the hillsides. On the way, there is authentic food and drink available in local restaurants for travllers seeking indigenous experiences, stays in village homestays to get a feel of local culture firsthand, and also support other community-owned businesses.

Slowly but surely, the Pekoe Trail is helping Sri Lanka’s tourism industry get back on track. “The upcoming high season looks to be the best since 2018. Sri Lanka is back on all the ‘best places to travel’ lists,” Fernando says. It is tea time in Ceylon at last.