While in Sri Lanka we had to decide whether to go to Haputale or Ella as we didn’t have time to visit both. I read and reread the write ups in our Lonely Planet guide book. Ella sounded more touristy and it was further to travel so we eventually settled on Haputale, a small, nondescript town clinging to a steep hillside.
When we arrived it was raining and the town looked rather foreboding, but our guest house (ABC) was welcoming. Guests share the downstairs living area with the family who run it, which gives it a homely feel.
The next morning it was fine and we caught the 8.30am bus to Dambatenne Tea Factory which leaves from behind the main bus stop. The tea factory is 11km from Haputale along a narrow, very scenic road and takes about half an hour (it costs 28RP each way).
Dambatenne Tea Factory was built in 1890 by the Scottish tea baron Thomas Lipton. Lipton wanted to make tea available to everybody by providing good quality tea at affordable prices. To do this he needed to cut out the middle men and sell his tea directly ‘from the tea garden to the tea pot’. To this end, he began buying tea estates in Sri Lanka and arranging low cost packaging and shipping overseas.
But we weren’t there to see the tea factory; our destination was ‘Lipton’s Seat’, a 7km walk from the tea factory (at 1,970m above sea level). This vantage point with a view said to rival that of nearby World’s End, is where Lipton is said to have sat and contemplated his empire.
By the time we set off from Dambatenne Tea Factory it was 9am. The guide book said to leave earlier as it is often too cloudy to see anything after 10am, but we were optimistic. We walked up a narrow road that zig-zagged uphill between terraced tea plantations so steep we wondered how it was humanely possible to pick the tea, past tea pickers’ villages, schools and temples.
We chatted to some of the early birds we met coming down who told us about the amazing view at the top. But by the time we got there it was 11am and the guide book was right – the view was completely obscured by cloud. So we did the only thing possible in such circumstances … we had a cup of tea!
A Canadian couple we’d met on the way up had told us that the primitive tea stall near Lipton’s Seat sold very good tea at a very cheap price. We ordered tea, but it was accompanied by a tray of breakfast – samosas, rotis, chick peas, tomato chutney and a couple of plates of sweets. Although we’d had breakfast it looked so delicious we decided to have an early lunch. It tasted as good as it looked but the bill was a bit steep (560RP). However, as we hadn’t asked the price before we ate we couldn’t complain.
Then we sat under the rotunda at Lipton’s Seat and chatted to some Dutch people while we waited to see if the cloud would clear. After a while a fragment of cloud rolled back to reveal a small section of spectacular scenery. Encouraged, we stayed and watched until, eventually, the cloud completely lifted and we got to see the whole valley. It was definitely a sight worth waiting for.
On our way back down the tea-covered hillside we contemplated how a nice cup of tea can solve many of life’s little problems; and how lucky we’d been to see the magnificent view that inspired Thomas Lipton without having to get up at the crack of dawn!