High tea in the hills

Stay at a colo­nial plan­ta­tion bun­ga­low in up­coun­try Sri Lanka

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

WE have en­tered a uni­verse of tea. The nar­row roads from Kandy south to Hat­ton wind through ter­raced and tex­tured hills, past wind­breaks of av­o­cado and aca­cia trees, sud­den sil­very wa­ter­falls, bright flam­boy­ant trees and tin-roofed muster sheds.

Road­side tea­rooms bear names as jolly as Break­fast Cup and Up­coun­try Flavour. ‘‘Hap­pi­ness is brew­ing’’ says the sign over a rick­ety lit­tle stall where lorry drivers have stopped for sus­te­nance, warm­ing their hands on sim­ple enamel cups.

Green is not a mere colour here in the south­ern high­lands of Sri Lanka but an al­to­gether more tac­tile sub­stance that swells and fills our heads and lungs and vi­sion so we feel im­mersed in chloro­phyll and leafi­ness and air so sharp and fresh it seems men­tho­lated.

That night my dreams will be of float­ing in a vit­re­ous green sky past clumped Camel­lia sinen­sis bushes that drift like cu­mu­lus clouds.

Our guide, Su­san­tha, im­parts snip­pets of tea lore as our minibus trun­dles ever up­wards. They are not tea ‘‘pickers’’ we can see in the plan­ta­tions, their bright head­scarves bob­bing like wind-caught poppies. No, they are pluck­ers, Su­san­tha tells us. ‘‘They pull the leaves, they do not pick,’’ he says, be­fore com­mand­ing the driver to pull over. It’s time to have a ‘‘res­cue stop’’ for tea and toi­let.

Our des­ti­na­tion is Tientsin, a bun­ga­low in the Bo­gawan­ta­lawa Val­ley near Hat­ton, about 1400m above sea level. The self-con­tained house, shaded by African tulip trees and re­built by planter Ir­win Stu­art in 1939 on a site dat­ing back to 1888, was named for the vil­lage in China from where tea seedlings were first im­ported to the high­lands. The clas­sic colo­nial bun­ga­low is one of four on a linked cir­cuit known as Tea Trails and run by Sri Lanka’s gi­ant Dilmah cor­po­ra­tion.

The bun­ga­lows each fea­ture be­tween four and six en­suite gue­strooms and are scat­tered along a lofty route — from Tientsin, perched at the high­est al­ti­tude, it’s 15km down to Nor­wood, from where it’s an­other 12km to Castlereagh and only 5.3km on to Sum­merville, the small­est, which has just had a garden pool added, in line with the other three.

De­spite ini­tial prom­ises to hike or bike the cir­cuit, call­ing in for lunch or tea or just a stick­y­beak, we soon suc­cumb to the idle charms of colo­nial bun­ga­low liv­ing and res­o­lutely stay put.

Tientsin feels like your own hol­i­day house, al­beit with round-the-clock staff and prompt laun­dry ser­vice; there are no room keys, set meal times or pres­sure to mix with other guests. Our party of five books the en­tire bun­ga­low and the im­plicit in­vi­ta­tion is to stroll at leisure, en­joy a spot of ten­nis on the clay court, or ex­plore the gar­dens, which seem prim and English at first look (there’s even a cro­quet lawn), but soon dip into a se­ries of me­an­der­ing stone paths, a vine-wreathed per­gola and stands of hard old trees planted amid the yield­ing black soil of the hills.

It is mid-af­ter­noon on the first day and time for a jolly cuppa on the columned and tiled ve­randa served by a pro­ces­sion of but­lers wear­ing black and white sarongs. There is a two-page menu of best blends, in­fu­sions and four sin­gle-es­tate, or watte, teas, said to ‘‘in­spire po­ets and kings’’, although to what lofty en­deav­ours is not

clockwise fro Tea pluck­ers bun­ga­low su tea on the te and staff at T

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