The call of the tea trail | Daily News

The call of the tea trail

Tea Trail walks go  off the beaten track trails
Tea Trail walks go off the beaten track trails

“If you hear the Tea Trail calling to you, don’t delay grab your walking boots and head into a wonderful world of green discoveries.”

Fed up with a year of curfews, being locked inside, stressed from working everyday on line and unable to travel overseas, then why not look locally for a socially distanced and safe place to spend this years festive break, government rules providing.

Walking or in particular climbing/hiking in the tea country mountain region is perhaps the most holistic way to reboot, relax and feel safe as it 300-kilometre long, so plenty of space to social distance and enjoy one of the islands most unspoilt regions, plus stop and reflect on life from time to time over a freshly made cup of tea. You can start trekking from Sri Lanka’s Royal Palace Complex in Kandy at the Buddhist Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic is always a highlight of any trip to the area and ends in Badulla in the USA Province, one of the island’s oldest towns, dwarfed by the nine peaks mountain range of Namunukula. Badulla. a buzzy city in the heart of the tea province, was set up as the colonial transport gateway to the east coast, which is the end of the line for the tea going to the Colombo tea auction houses. It is also an important pilgrimage hub, owing to its magnificent Muthiyangana temple, one of the sixteen most sacred places in Sri Lanka. From here, you can book a seat in the observational carriage of the train back to the capital or stay on and visit Bogoda, the mystical four to five hundred year old wooden bridge, the oldest in Sri Lanka, only eight miles south of Badulla, close to the town of Hali-ela.

Along the way, the breathtaking scenery takes you though paddy fields, forbidden forests, secret passageways through rocks, tea bush stair cases and epic jungles, with medicinal healing powers, that go back to the dawn of time. Other highlights include two National parks, the famous Adams Peak, Worlds End, the graceful ‘Ella, the home of waterfalls’, prehistoric mountain cave paintings, and a mysterious labyrinthine of tunnels through mountains that connect with different religious sites and it is said once acted as escape tunnels through which only the chosen few know the way. If you only have a limited time head for one of my favourite hidden gems Norwood a small village in the Central Province, known as ‘The Golden Valley of Tea’; a place you can try your hand at picking tea, only to realise it takes both talent, experience and dextrous speed, to keep up with the areas plucking teams. An idyllic spot to disconnect yourself from the outside world and walk along the many different pathways. A place you will discover was the home of one of most significant 19th century female British photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was totally bewitched by Sri Lankan plantation life. Leaving Norwood Ceylon Tea Trails Bungalow behind you, with its fine views of the eastern end of the Bogawantalawa valley, head along the trail to the next valley to find Tiensin church, named after the Chinese village that the original tea seedlings came from. It is here that this famous photographer of the people of the coffee and later tea country was buried in 1879, at the age of 63, having spent six years producing wholly original portraits of the islanders. Cameron originally went to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, to help manage the family coffee plantation, which was badly damaged by the blight, but was soon mesmerised by the strength and extraordinarily powerful spirit of the people of the hills.

Her black and white photographs, already well known in London society, showed a new level of respect for these hardy people of the hills, unmatched even to this day by other portrait photographers. Always supported by her coffee farming husband, Cameron wrote: “My husband, from first to last, has watched every picture with delight, and it is my daily habit to run to him with every glass upon which a fresh glory is newly stamped, and to listen to his enthusiastic applause.” Her obsession, to capture the beautiful people of the hills as she walked through the plantations daily, amused guests to her home, who would say, “if she took a fancy to the back of one of the people she was photographing, she insisted on her son retaining him as her gardener, though she had no garden and he did not even know the meaning of the word garden.” Cameron’s dramatically lit pictures, with soft focus and angles that looked up at those she captured uniquely caught the inner strength of these inspirational people whose descendants still live in these remote pockets; copies can be seen in Tiensin Bungalow. With this in mind, Bogawantalawa, The Long Valley is a serene spot, unchanged for centuries, full of eccentric characters who are considered the pioneering spirits of Ceylon Tea. The Long Valley is a place that is so picturesque and old world one can see why stories hark back to a time when the planters would travel on horse back or walk through the tea fields and forests, as if it were yesterday.

From the fascinating grave yard with fantastic ancient hill trail views you can discover different varieties of tea and ways it is being made, along with medical studies that prove walking through nature is the ultimate green prescription for health and activating our survival wisdom instincts, as these areas are rich in cultural and heritage values, which are life changing and life affirming. As an active form of meditation, it frees up one’s mind from our increasingly busy and stressful lives, calms brain activity and brings walkers closer to their natural environment as they walk alone or together with their family through ever changing terrain, from national parks to private tea estates, where leopards still roam freely. Each day will challenge your conditioned patterns of thinking, so you can process information more clearly about life and analyse issues from a distance, in the cold light of day, feeling healthy, energised and getting the best form of natural exercise.

Walking these ancient pathways through the Hill Country is not easy at times and will not only get you fitter as you navigate the more challenging sections without roads, but for for those with high blood pressure lower it, reduce cholesterol with drinking curry leaf juice, prevent strokes, combat Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Most importantly of all, whether you go for a week or longer this heritage enriched trekking area, you will find within a day of walking, that you will quickly forget the constraints of modern day life as you discover hidden valleys, and the extremely steep and dangerous Devil’s Staircase. As you zig zag your way through the ever changing terrain, the world you know will vanish into an unconstrained flow of thoughts and way of looking at things anew, where all that matters each day is keeping as dry as you can, tending your feet, tying your bootlaces tight and walking on and on, and facing what ever the tea country’s unpredictable weather throws at you.

The tea trail what ever section you choose to do is an enlightening one, a simple way of living, where you don’t need much to sustain you, free nuts and berries can be harvested en route, and to which you can return any time. Every day brings new vistas that lead to different experiences on different levels; the most enriching of personal journeys that gets you fit and thinking in new ways. One’s life becomes a blank canvas on which to absorb all kinds of ancient wisdom and learning - others and one’s own - that are treasured as memories, from which strength can be drawn in future times and storytelling skills can be honed.

People are like passing ships, trading nuggets of knowledge in fleeting moments before vanishing into a sea of tea bushes, never to be seen again, but their words remembered for a lifetime.Messages and special quotes are left behind on hand painted wooden plaques or sketched out on planks of old abandoned tea chest boards left outside people’s homes, in chapels on the noticeboards, and in UVA a whole wall has been dedicated to their thoughts, and taken up by those that read them as trail talking points.

The whole experience helps to build social confidence through direct interaction with others on the trek and by being a conversation piece, on returning to the modern world, that evokes the spirit and excitement of such a rich and unique adventure. Most people think wellness is about yoga retreats or sweating it out doing weekly dancing, or hitting the gym each day for extreme work outs, but to reap any real long term health or fitness benefits one must have peace of mind, robust physical, spiritual and mental health, making time each day to feed ones soul and at times being prepared for getting totally lost along the way.

Those spirited free-thinking adventurers who have walked Sri Lanka’s Ancient Tea Trails will tell you the only way to think outside the box is to just walk and let go of the frenzy of high speed, high tech fully automated world, as the fresh air pumps through clearing your veins and simplicity of living will stimulate you to come up with new ideas and perspectives on the planet that now more than ever with a global pandemic shutting much of the world down daily desperately needs a re-boot in thinking if it is to be here for future generations.

This mountainous trek, past staircases of green tea bushes that vanish into the clouds, is guaranteed to change your perspective on life, as you wake each day to a new unknown challenges and learn the greatest lesson of all that the secret to a long and happy life is passion and the healing powers of the great outdoors. The British Medical Association says, “Active forms of travel, such as walking, are the most sustainable forms of transport and are also effective ways of integrating, and increasing physical activity in everyday life; for the majority of people it is game changing to their way of life.”