[August 5 2015]
In the middle of Sri Lanka, the land rises up into a range of low mountains. The Hill Country sits at the heart of an island that has suffered both through decades of civil war and the devastation wreaked on its coastline by the 2004 tsunami.
Up here, Ceylon tea (still sold under the Sri Lanka’s colonial era name) is picked by teams of women, their communities descended from the first indentured laborers brought over to Sri Lanka from the Tamil-speaking southern tip of India.
Plantations wind around hillsides that dip down into lakes at the bottom of the valleys, and jutt up against houses, roadside shrines, shops, restaurants, and the old churches built by the British. The tea replaced the coffee and cinnamon first introduced by Dutch settlers, and the island is now the world’s fourth largest producer. The leaves are processed (green, white or black) in vast tin-clad buildings that dominate these Hill Stations, as the towns and villages are known.
There’s also Ambewela Farm, sat high up on a plateau about 1,800m above sea level with its dairy herd of Ayrshire cattle. Climbing the steep roads on a motorbike, the tropical heat of the rest of Sri Lanka drops away to leave a cool, fresh, misted climate. Ambewela feels like Devon or New Zealand in a dreamscape; drizzle, udders, big white birds stalking around after cows.
This is the Hill Country, this where this country makes its tea and milk. It’s a strange and faintly magical place.
Text and photo Jethro Turner