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Notes on the Geography of Sri Lanka: Tea Country

From the destruction by a fungal disease of the coffee industry and until the expansion of the textile industry, tea was Sri Lanka's great export.  It still dominates the central highlands socially, economically, and physically.

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Sri Lanka: Tea Country picture 1

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, 4,000 feet above sea level, and the first main town served by the railway as it ventured south.  The railway reached this point in 1884.

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An abandoned railroad shop, built for the ages.

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Main street, Hatton.

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A touch of style.

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A few miles farther along the line, old road signs give directions at Talawakele; very few signs of this vintage survive.

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Churches sprouted to serve the planters and their families: here, Lindula church.

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Lindula churchyard.

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

 

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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, &c.  Some of us lived in thatched wigwams--'conical buildings'--some in apologies for bungalows--and O! the discomfort of it all; imagine the cigarette youth of to-day eating and drinking a 6 o'clock meal composed of bitter beer, beefsteak (O! so tough), spring onions--and we could grow these--and 'rice rotis'--when the bread ran out... 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."

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

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Haputale station, 25 miles past Nanu Oya.  Midway between the two, the line reaches what apparently is the highest elevation of any broad-gauge railroad in the world--6,226 feet at Summit.  For much, much more about the railway, see David Hyatt's Railways of Sri Lanka (2000).

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The very simple Haputale church.

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Like most expat communities, the planters stuck together.

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Another example.

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The climate continues to be a major asset of these highlands, and it's advertised here in atavistic English by boosters of Bandarawela, 7 miles beyond Haputale and 83 from Peradeniya.  The railway arrived in 1894.

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Reverse side.

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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 at Badulla.) The view here is of the hotel's dining room and main entrance.

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

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The Bandarawela church.

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Bandarawela is not caught in a time warp: a new shopping center has just opened.

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Just a few miles before Haputale and about ten before Bandarawela, the railroad passes the tea station of Glenanore, elevation approximately 5,000 feet.

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The plantation manager's bungalow.

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Farther uphill, the approach road to the ultimate planter's bungalow.

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It's Adisham, 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 men who had built the plantation economy.

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The garage.

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A fireplace, useful at this elevation.

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Bookcases.

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Over the mantle, a portrait of Villiers.  (The house is now a monastery but partially opens for tourists on weekends.)

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

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

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It's a daily occurrence.

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Fog drifts north over the crest.

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A view of the escarpment from the south.

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

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A view of the Dambatenne community. It lies at the edge of the escarpment dropping off to the coastal plain.  The morning fogbank has not yet arrived.

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The factory is in a style developed by the Ceylon Commercial Company: sheet-metal roof and siding, steel frame, pine floors.

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Tick tock, tick tock.

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The seasonality of yield is nicely shown.

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So is the rising yield, which has doubled over the decade.

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Exhortation.

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Dambetenne tea.

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Another perspective, showing the rough ground covered by the plants.

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Careful management.

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Elaborate drainage works to minimize erosion.

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Worker's housing.

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A unusual tombstone in the midst of the planting: "In memory of Cadervale Hoke. Died 7-1-17.  Erected by G.T. Davidson, Esq., Manager, Dambatenne Group."

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The workers are all Hindu Tamils, which is why this Hindu temple stands across from the tea factory.

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A nearby bungalow.


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