After the bar we spent a chilled hour or so looking out over the black chasm of the valley from my balcony. Frogs croaking incessantly down below. The one disturbance was a loud bang, must have been some kind of electrical fault next door.
The next day I set out for the dambetenne tea factory to walk to liptons seat, he of liptons the grocer and liptons tea fame. My bus is a batters mini bus, functionality is the main priority jammed with hard women with saris jumping on and off, some with babies, some with 20 kilo sacks of rice. The road hugs the side of the hillside, very dramatic winding up through the tea bushes.
The walk is quite arduous and is a climbs maybe 300m. I follow the road, switchback after switchback, later coming back I use the shortcuts through the tea fields. It’s different from Ella. The tea pockets, barefoot dark women with sacks on their backs call hello, and are not asking for money. Small kids, however do. The walk is fantastic and very beautiful. Lazy or maybe more sensible others catch struggling tuk tuk rides to the top of the mountain. The cloud is low. Actually we are above the cloud. The fantastic view remains largely hidden. I feel quite ill, I’m cold and nauseous and vomit. Maybe it’s something I ate, maybe all the unwashed hands I’ve touched. The sun comes out briefly, it warms me and I see the beginning of the extend of the view. I have the most satisfying cup of tea and begin a descent which becomes increasingly wet. I chance upon Rolf, who I met in Ella, coming the other way. We sit and chat then part.
Signs painted on the walls of the tea fields bless echoing us to take care of nature, that animals fates are linked to ours. Messgas in 3 languages telling the planters not to pollute the water ” for the brothers and sisters in the valley”
The valley has the wonderful aroma of drying tea leaves. The bus back the intoxicating fig of Ayurvedic balm, the medicine of the masses.
Later that evening he comes by with some special medicinal soil to ease my stomach. We chat at length about politics, Germany, Britain then I go back to bet. Need to get better.
Waking today the cloud is swamping Haputale. Everything is wet. This doesn’t seem like the best weather to go for another walk.
Various times frm 6,30 to 8.30 this morning…
Over breakfast I chat to Rolf, the German next doe, about that German identity thing and how even now he feels some kind of imposed shame and regret that he can’t say Germany is great or good, or even speak its virtues. A long important history, rich in culture, invention and innovation, all sullied by 12 years of hitler. Changing the subject. Siva, the manger tells us about giant vegetables. His best story is the massive freak papaya out of which flew 2 bats when hacked in half. I’m not sure whether to believe this.
At Ella station I’m met by Fran. The train to Haputale is quite full, and I stand by the open door for the sinuous slow climb through jungle and tea plantations up 400 meters to Haputale, which is perched atop a ridge with staggering views, down on the clouds and the undulating toylike landscape beneath. At the station we are touted by the owner of the abc guesthouse, named after his sons first initials. He has 3. The place is on the hillside with a n amazing view from my balcony. The price is good too. The road leading down from abc is being extended with occasional explosive blasts.
The town is certainly less touristy than Ella. In fact I hardly see a white face. There are numerous shacks selling freshly fried snacks, alcohol shops selling a rack by the quart. Many poor faces. A withered hind woman who tugs our sleeves and shoves out a hand. She bugs me so much later on that I have to gesticulate wildly and shout at her to stop following me. Alcohol and betel seem common here. A mango seller gives me his phone number, insists I visit him for dinner. I think it could be a mistake….I chat to a snack firer and take his picture along with two curious cops. I sit on the fence by the railway waiting for Fran and share my snacks with a bedraggled old guy selling destroyed looking found shoes.
We have decided to go to the Benedictine monastery which is housed in a mansion built high in the kills by an English tea planter. The book says its 3 km away. I want to walk, Fran takes a tuk tuk. The walk is much further, more like 3 miles. It winds up along the ridge through the tea plantations and through a nature reserve. I hear wild boar, I think, making a fearful sound of pain and aggression. The monastery is curious if nothing else. I cannot see the view for the clouds. The garden has many fruit trees and the monks, who is font see either. Make jams and chutneys. I buy a wood apple jam and then look at the three rooms we are allowed access to.
Like a junk shop
Battered reel to reel tape recorder, a pair of 1940s era radios! some cracked wash bowls! a large scale and some rusty weights a cluster of tarnished crucifixes. A screw down printing press, an old black hole punch. A martellii desk fan
The sign in the first room reads silence. So much for the sound of the video tape playing. The living room contains fake leather well sat in arm chairs. An aura of sombreness and dullness. Think wooden doors with rounded doorways. A clock stopped at 1.45 am or pm. A severe portrait of an austere ecclesiastical looking from above a wooden gireplace. Dreary sofa covered with a plastic dust sheet.
Fran has set off back ahead of me. I finally find her grimacing at a tea stall by the road. She has naively taken a betel parcel and is chewing it unaware of what it is. She makes a bit of a scene and asks for tea to relieve the bitterness and numbness. Somehow we lose each other on the walk down. I take a slight wrong turn back in Haputale and cheeky cricket playing kids ask me for money.
Sun has now set on my balcony. The road builders have built a fire and the mosque is calling to prayer.
Little Adams peak in low cloud
Cloud is Blowing through the tea plantations hundreds of metres below. Tamil women younger than they look, sat on the path under trees drinking tea from bottles labelled whiskey,, scooping handfuls of red rice from lunch boxes. This is the tea planters lunchtime. They ask if I want to take their photo, which I do then hand them a few rupees.A women with betel stained teeth mimes picking tea and asks me to take a photo in exchange for a few more rupees. I meet a lady on the way up called kanti. She tells me she runs a library for kids and teaches them handicrafts. I promise to visit her.
The views are amazing, the cloud drifts and conceals then reveals little Adams peak, ravana falls and the road snaking along and up Ella gap.
On my way back I buy some seed necklace from a girl and her mother. She shows me the plant that the seeds come from. They dry as red or grey or black seeds. I tell Her aim. From Brighton and she produces a faded card of Brighton pavilion given to her by another traveller.
Children chase me ask if I want to take a photo. They want sweets and school pens. Pass a small shack on the edge of a plants settlement. Young teen boy in pink shirt with gents fashion written on the back calls me over for a wood apple shake.clothes washed and spread out to dry on the thick bushes.
It’s not raining .
I chat with the boy. He is called Jackson. A very young looking 16. He is Tamil, parents are tea pickets. He is working in his school holiday. He likes volleyball and gardening. He dances and body pops for me. Sassi, his boss appears and breaks this spell.. He is also Jackson’s volleyball coach, a bit pushy but kind. He offers to show me the little muddy village where they both live. A shack with cows, where the cow hand shows me his pride. Women carrying jugs of water from the stream, I offer to help one. The houses are roofed with leaking metal sheeting. The walls stone. Dim, dingy. An outside communal toilet. Sassi’s house is full of posters of Indian actors and volleyball trophies. Jackson lives with 6 family members in one house. They cook over wood fires. We go to the playground next to the little Hindu temple. I make some videos of the local boys playing cricket with a bat hewn from a tree trunk. I also have a turn at batting.
I take lunch at the cafe. It is meagre poor and overpriced. Jackson is attentive and smiley. We arrange to meet in the evening. I’m going to treat them to beer. We write the appointed time on each other’s hand.
I have a headache. From the change in climate? Heat? Altitude? Maybe from being unaccustomed to tea.
On the road back I do visit the children’s library and am amazed by kanti’s resourcefulness. She is building a shack, at hatching it with palm leaves, as a place to sell her cushion covers. I decline a head massage from the guy with the shop next door. I think it might make a migraine even worse.
After a sleep I meet the tamil guys at dusk. We walk up and down looking for a place to eat. They choose an unwelcoming soulless place where the beer is costly. Sassi tells me Jackson is hungry. I don’t really want to buy them dinner…is this mean? By fluke Fran is the other side of the window that separates the restaurant from an Internet shop. I relent and buy the boys a roti kotthu. Their eyes light up at the sight of meat. They say this is the first time they have eaten out since April. This is a treat for them. They shake my hand. Thank you my friend. You are good heart. Fran joins us she and sassi sketch each other. Jackson looks cold and tired. 8.30 is his bed time. He is wearing a pink and black hoody emblazoned with the words punk coulture, which I try to explain, but this means nothing. Unsurprisingly. We talk more. Sassi claims to have a girlfriend. Jackson says he doesn’t like doesn’t like. He has 20 computers in his school. Sassi tells me he only owns 2 shirts. He asks me for at shirt. I tell him impossible. Tonight he and Jackson’s re wearing their best clothes.
Jackson 3 February
Sassi 2 November
They leave at 8.30, it’s time for their bedtime.
Fran and I go to another place. Where she ensues in a confused discussion. About wine. It’s a. Bit like being in Brighton. The curry and rice is feeble, but as luck would have it the waiters maths are not too good and we get undercharged. By 10pm the town is shutting down and there are hardly any tuk tuks. At the junction in that dark are cops. I spot a couple of tuk tuks that have stopped a little up the road. I go and chat to the drivers. They tell me they are drunk so they won’t proceed and get stopped by the police. Finally we find a sober one, with 3 guys in the back. Fran clambers in for a dicey ride home.
Watching my pennies. Dada offers me free use of a kayak, I decline to preserve my burnt neck. Instead spen a sleepy morning in the hammock on the beach, reading a Michael Cunningham book which just feels wrong here: middle age crises in New York. For a late lunch I go back to the coco bar where I ate before. The lady there speaks great English and I have a spicy tofu basil dish with rice. A strong wind picks up and swirls us around under the porch. The lady shows me some blue flowers. Pea butterfly, used to make a herbal medicinal tea.