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Sri Lanka (Ceylon) : Tea Country


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Lalith Guy Paranavitana




Please Note: Due to the 40+ pictures of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) on this page it may take a few moments to load.

For more than a century, beginning with the destruction of the coffee industry and even with the expansion of the textile industry as of this day, tea is Sri Lanka's great export. It still dominates the central highlands of the country socially, economically, and geographically.

It was for tea that a railway was built from Peradeniya south into the high mountains. Here, the rail yard at Hatton, 38 miles south of Peradeniya and 4,000 feet above sea level, was the first main town served by the railway as it ventured south into the remote plantation areas of Uva province. The railway reached this point in 1884.

In 1885 the railroad reached Nanu Oya, 5,300 feet above sea level and 20 miles from Hatton. In 1904, a narrow-gauge railway was built from this point to Nuwara Eliya a thousand feet above Nanu Oya and only six miles away.

Haputale station, 25 miles from Nanu Oya. Midway between the two, the railway reaches what apparently is the highest elevation of any broad-gauge railroad in the world--6226 feet at Summit. For more about the railway, see David Hyatt's Railways of Sri Lanka (2000).

Churches sprouted to serve the planters (a common term used for tea estate Mangers or Superintendents) and their families. This the Lindula church.

Lindula churchyard was the final resting place for many a planter and their families during the Colonial era.

"Here lies Annie, the beloved wife of Cecil Palliser. Born at Drontheim, Norway, 23rd April 1865, Died 15th September, 1895."

A member of the third and generally the last planting generation: Charlotte Evelyn (1894-1944), daughter of Christine and Edwin Wiggin of Melrose Estate. Edwin was the son of Arthur Wiggin (1840-1903) who pioneered here and recollected as follows: "When I came up here (Dimbula) and bought in with my brother, it was a rough life we led in all its forms, food, work, hours etc. Some of us lived in thatched wigwams resembling 'conical buildings', and some in apologies for bungalows, and O! the discomfort of it all. For all this we lived a life of enjoyment and good fellowship, unknown in these days.... whisky we knew not, brandy was a medicine, and tea and coffee a treat."

The very simple Haputale church.

Like most expatriate communities, the planters who arrived from England and Scotland stuck together.

A memorial in the Church

The climate continues to be a major asset of these highlands. The railway arrived in Bandarawela in 1894. 7 miles from Haputale and 83 from Peradeniya.

The Bandarawela Hotel, opened when the railway reached town. (Another 30 years passed before the railroad was pushed another 20 miles to its final terminus in Badulla.) The view here is of the hotel's dining room and main entrance.


The hotel--in this case, the wing in which guests stay--has no air conditioning and at 4,000 feet doesn't need it..

The Bandarawela church.

Just a few miles before Haputale and about ten before Bandarawela, the railroad passes the tea estate of Glenanore, elevation approximately 5000 feet.

The Assistant Superintendent’s bungalow.

The Superintendent’s bungalow.

Farther uphill, the approach road to Adisham.

Adisham was built in the 1920s for Sir Thomas Villiers, who had come to Ceylon in 1887. In the mid-1890s, he managed the Dumont Coffee Company, Brazil's largest coffee plantation. He returned to Ceylon and by 1922 was chairman of the Ceylon Estates Proprietor's Association. He was knighted in 1933 and late in life wrote Mercantile Lore in Ceylon, a study of the companies that had built the plantation economy in Ceylon.

The garage.

A fireplace is useful at this elevation.

Bookcases – With no TV and scant radio broadcasts, reading was also a form of entertainment.

A portrait of Villiers. (The house is now a monastery but partially opened to the public and tourists on weekends)

The view from Adisham. The railway lies below and out of sight.

Adisham is very close to the southern edge of the Uva highlands, and against this escarpment morning breezes bring heavy fog.

The mist rolling into the hills is a common occurrence.

Fog drifts north over the crest.

Waterfalls are also common in this area.

Adisham lies just west of the town of Haputale, and on the other side of Haputale is Dambetenne Estate, one of the estates purchased by Thomas Lipton, when he bought into the industry about 1900.

A view of the Dambatenne Estate worker community. It lies at the edge of the escarpment dropping off to the coastal plain in the South East. Rows of healthy tea bushes adorn the entrance to the estate.

The factory is in the style developed by the Ceylon Commercial Company: sheetmetal roof and siding, steel frame, pine floors. The upper floors are where the tea leaves are withered. The ground floor is where the withered leaf is rolled and dried.

Beyond the window is the rolling room with a roller in the background.

Yield statistics and other statistical information is always available.

The yield is recorded in terms of Kilograms of black tea from one hectare of land according to the metric system.

A simple fact.

A field of Dambetenne tea estate showing a ‘carpet’ of lush green vegetation.

Another view of the landscape and rocky terrain. A 21st century communication tower is seen atop the mountain.

Well manicured tea fields on either side of the entrance road to Dambatanne estate.

Elaborate drainage works to minimize erosion. What is not visible are contour lateral drains every 5 or 6 rows of tea also for the same purpose.

Worker's housing. The resident workforce ensures there are sufficient hands for this labor intensive cultivation.

A unusual tombstone in the midst of the tea fields. "In memory of Cadervale Hoke. Died 7-1-17”. Erected by G.T. Davidson Esq., Superintendent of Dambatenne Estate.

While Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country with a majority of about 75% of the population, the tea estate workers in the hill country are Tamils and their religion is Hindu. This Hindu temple stands across from the tea factory. There has always been freedom of worship in Sri Lanka.


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