Category Archives: sri lanka

halpewatte tea factory tour~or~think for a second about what you use

view from ambiente guesthouseThe previous night (16 March 09) we’d arranged for a car to take us to the tea factory and Dunhinda Falls. Andrea had done well finding a place in town with much much better rates than Ambiente (as a rule when traveling, unless you’ve money to burn, always find your own driver/guide. Eliminate the middle man, especially if it’s the hotel). I insisted we do the tea tour. I like tea. I like factories. If nothing else, it reminds me how luxurious my life is, even when I’m crammed into a subway car and people are snarking at each other.

We ate an enormous Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers and curries and sat mesmerized by the view (see the last ten photos of the slideshow iii, if you haven’t already), which made up for our mediocre dinner the night before. It was so breathtaking. So good to be out of the city and so amazingly beautiful.

We made our way down to town and met our driver for the day. We started at the UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory, which looks amazingly flash in the website. On our tour, well, the picture below is a bit more accurate. The guy we organized the tour with was cranky with us and rude to his employees. There was no photography in the factory, which was fine as it was dark, and flash photog is generally miserable in dark places.

UVA Halpewatte Tea FactoryThe process of making the tea was interesting and amazingly greuling and hot for the women doing it. There might have been a few men, but it was mostly women. And this was probably easier than picking the damn leaves, which women do from 6am to 6pm, in addition to caring for their families and being bossed about by the man of the house. Sigma has an interesting blog post on the life of a tea planter, and Cerno offers a caricature (perhaps best read first) of this colonial legacy. Definitely worth a read.

Knowing the labor behind what we consume is important, I think. The world would be very different if we all had to put that kind of labor in for even one day. Puts a different light on the groans of a day job when I consider what could be. Often I go back to the conversation I had with a young guy selling lemonade drinks outside the gates of Khiva in Uzbekistan. I was complaining about the tourists (I was their guide and had momentarily escaped them) and the kid told me that I had quite a good job, actually, even if I did work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I would leave Khiva and eventually Uzbekistan. He could not.

In Sri Lanka, I missed the aspect of learning about what was going on behind the scenes, what workers really experienced and felt, which took time, contacts, and trust to learn firsthand in Central Asia. It’s just not possible on a quick country tour, which is why I’m so glad to have come across blogs that discuss this, and their comments as well (thanks for the links, Kirigalpoththa).

At the tea factory, we were again the only tourists around. We didn’t get to try their tea, as they didn’t have water that day, or were having problems with it (huh?). So after our tour, we left and headed off to Dunhinda Falls, an hour or so away.

hitching a ride in a tea truck, ceylon-style

From Buduruwagala we went on to Ella, stopping at Ravana Ella Falls and a little part-Hindu, part-Buddhist temple on the way (see slideshow iii). Andrea wanted to swim at the falls but decided against it. There were a few guys showering nearby, and lots of families with kids.

view_ellaguesthouse08Ella is a small town in the gorgeous hill country of Sri Lanka. Samantha took us to the guesthouse he’d recommended and he did well. The room was lovely and the views were amazing (at right, the last ten photos of slideshow iii, and the mostly dark image with the doors are at/from the Ambiente guesthouse). We ate lunch, then he left us at little Adam’s Peak for a hike and took off for the trip back to Tangalle. When Samantha left us on the road, he pointed out where we could catch a taxi or rickshaw back, and off we went.

The climb was fairly easy and, like the beach and Buduruwagala, we were alone amidst crazy-gorgeous beauty. Once at the top, we sat and admired before turning back, as it was getting late. When we got back to the road, there was no traffic at all. We weren’t entirely sure which way town was, as we came out a different way than we went in. We came across a guard at the entry to an imposing tea factory. He couldn’t understand our attempts to communicate, but he found someone who told us we could walk toward the taxi stand in one direction, or toward town, a few miles away in the other. We opted for the taxi station as it was getting dark and we weren’t keen to walk the curvy-hilled streets in the dark. Before long a tea truck come by and slowed down. The cab was full, but they asked us if we wanted a ride, and told us to hop into the back of the truck full of tea leaves. We did. The truck was less fancy that the one pictured, which I snapped on our tea factory tour the next day. Its bed had solid sides and no cover, so we were free to fall out on a sharp turn. All part of the excitement.

tea truck ella sri lankaThis was good fun, if a bit wet. We flew in one direction then the other with each curve. When people spotted us, they laughed and waved. We went through a small village, then another. I asked Andrea if we weren’t in fact going in the opposite direction of Ella, slightly concerned particularly after we passed a gaggle of parked rickshaws and continued on out of town. That the hill country is full of Tamils wasn’t a concern, as they have a different history than the Tamils of the north, and most of the problems of the civil war took place there, in Jaffna, at the northern tip of the island. Nonetheless, there’d been a bomb in Matara, the town next to Tangalle, just before we left ashtangalanka. There weren’t meant to be problems in the south, particularly not of that scale, so we were somewhat more alert.

When we finally slowed on the street outside of town, there were a few parked vehicles and rickshaws. One pickup was filled with men, one of whom was dressed in all black with black shades (at dusk) and a black headband. Oooh, not a good look. But I ignored him as we clambered out of the truck, brushed off the leaves, and went to the rickshaw. We had no choice but to go with him back to Ella, and didn’t have much bargaining power, but we bargained anyway. And back we went along the road toward town, back past the gaggle of rickshaws in town which, at this level, we could see had no drivers but were parked for the night. Ten more minutes of winding roads and we were back in Ella. We walked around town, got some water, then went back to the guesthouse for dinner. We had less-than-tasty, room-temperature crepes that took them thirty minutes to conjure as we swatted bugs in the grim cafe before we finally hit the sheets for some reading under the mosquito net—now with light! What luxury.

buduruwagala~buddhist rock carvings~southern sri lanka

WalawelaPretty, right? Such was the scenery en route to Buduruwagala. The elephant-shaped rock (below) has seven huge Buddhist figures carved into it.  We went with Samantha and the requisite guide. I’m not sure that the following info was explained as the guide was quite hard to understand, the midday heat was, well, hot, and cheeky Samantha was on the lookout for snakes. He eventually found one hanging in a tree.

Guides in Sri Lanka (okay, the planet over) tend to prefer local lore to current historical scholarship (especially the case at Sigiriya in the north).  I don’t mind this, as the history can be found in a book, and lore tells at least as much about people and their identity.

buduruwagala temple02Reading about Buduruwagala now, it doesn’t seem to be called a temple, but I’m quite sure that locals referred to it as a rock temple. It was  carved in the 10th Century, at the end of the period when Mahayana Buddhism was popular in Sri Lanka, as well as Theravadan Buddhism, which continues to thrive in the present day. These Mahayana carvings feature the Buddha, tall at center; Avalokiteshvara, in white at left; and Aryathara (Tara) and an attendant further to the left.

In the slideshow (part iii), there is a photo (before the incense box) of three more figures. On the right is Vajrapani holding a dorje, a thunderbolt which is a tantric symbol seldom seen in Sri Lanka (but common in Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism). Natha, the future Buddha, is in the center, and Vishnu is at the left.

Buduruwagala translates from Sinhala as “stone images of the Buddha.” At 51 feet it is the tallest rock carving of Buddha in Sri Lanka and arguably the world, after the loss of the Bamyan figures to the Taliban.

sri lanka photos, part iii

The third photo essay is finished! (Again, the controls are bottom right. > is play, <- is back, -> is forward.) There may be five essays instead of four, in all. It’s too pretty a country to edit down further. There’s no narration in this show. Instead, if you care, read the image titles. I’m going to try to post the main features along the way with a few stories, a bit at a time. It was mostly fun to edit them and recall just how gorgeous the trip was—almost seven months ago now.

After eleven nights at ashtangalanka, Samantha, the manager, took us to on Ella. He guides people fairly often and is good at it. He took us to the Buduruwagala Temple (Buddhist) and Ravana Falls en route (photos are in the slideshow). Samantha is quite frank and hilarious. He gave us his view of the history and dynamics at ashtangalanka, which Andrea and I enjoyed immensely. Samantha actually owns the land and Fred rents from him in an interesting relationship that is fairly common in Sri Lanka because the government taxes foreigners 100% of the property value if they buy land. The altnernative is what Fred has done with Samantha—he’s leased the land for 99 years, with a tax of 7%.

A bit on the Buduruwagala Temple tomorrow.

ravana falls, sri lanka


It takes a long time to edit photos. Usually a few days for each of the batches that you see. Part three is done. I just have to put it into flash and tell the story. In the meantime, here’s a shot of guys taking a shower next to Ravana Ella, or Ravana Falls, in the hill country of Sri Lanka. I took this the day we left Tangalle for travels about the country.

Ravana Falls (also spelled Rawana) is so named because it’s said to be near the cave where Ravana, the evil “Lankan” of the Ramayana, hid Sita from Rama.

sri lanka photos, part ii

silentbeach01This is the second round of the Sri Lanka photos.  Lots of beaches—best to be in a water mood when you view them. They begin at silent beach, which is a five minute walk from ashtangalanka. It’s the beach of the Amanwella resort, though we saw maybe one guest on this beach, and he was in sandals, walking. He didn’t swim. It was bizarre to swim in such a gorgeous place alone, with Andrea, or the other ashtangalankans, but never a crowd. This was the most beautiful beach I’ve ever visited, I think. It was deserted because there aren’t many tourists in Sri Lanka because of the war (which has since officially ended) and because it was the very end of the tourist season. I hadn’t swum in the ocean for years (since India, I think) and it was amazing. There was, at times, a strong current, and there were moments in the water when I considered that these beaches were hit by the 2004 tsunami. I felt very, very small.

andrea&puppiesMoving along, the house and dog belong to Ben and Katrina, neighbors of Fred who came to dinner several times. They’re an interesting British couple who spend part of the year here. Ben made Andrea a proper coffee (actually, Lalith the gardener made it), which pleased Andrea immensely. Then it’s back to Rocky Point, with some pics of me, Andrea, and two puppies in the cafe (at right). The puppies were strays adopted by Kathy Cooper, the ashtanga teacher.

These are followed by photos of the road in and out of ashtangalanka, which led to the path to the surf beach (where the cows were). We passed Samatha’s (the manager at AL) brother, who tried to convince Andrea to buy some jewelry. Alas, it was on to the beach. Andrea body surfed, while I took pics with my semi-dead-battery powered camera. It was fun.

To view the slideshow, follow the link and press the play button in the bottom right. The arrow keys take you forward and back, if you don’t like the pace of the show. This is the last of the ashtangalanka/beach photos. Next up: travels in the hill country.

the sri lanka photos!

Finally! The first round of Sri Lanka photos are up. This slide show is the first of three or four to come.


Andrea took the photos of me, I took the rest. Most are taken around AshtangaLanka, aka Rocky Point. The rest (the cow pics) are at the next beach.


Still to come are more photos from around ashtangalanka and the nearby beaches, then the photos from the travels around Sri Lanka (which I’ve barely looked at much less edited). Enjoy!

sunday night on holiday

It’s Sunday night. 8:09pm. I start an intensive yoga training tomorrow at 8:30am, which runs through Saturday. Good word, I have to get up at 6:30am. Where went my week off?

I’m slowly going though the Sri Lanka pics, only about 70 more to edit until I am done with the pics from ashtangalanka and environs. It’s taking a long time because they are all quite similar and I’m not sure which to cut. I’ve never mastered my digital camera, because I quit professional photog when film was still the standard, and I’ve simply not shot that much digitally by comparison, though my SLR is five years old. The way it reads light is still strange to me, which in Sri Lanka wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the two batteries I took with me was so old as to only hold charge for about 3 minutes, before the meter went mad. I discovered this when Andrea and I went to the surf beach (as we called it, because the waves were suitable for body surfing) and there were two sweet cows on the beach. I kind of fixed the exposures, but alas.

Cows on the beach in Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Cows on the beach in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

I’ve also been reading a novel in the blissful quiet of my home, the most vacation-y thing I’ve done this week. I can’t recall the last time I indulged. It’s quite good, though I’d have cut a hundred pages plus, easily, and tightened up the story (which you’ll be saying upon viewing all the ocean photos in the upcoming photo essay). I’m two-thirds through the book, A Trip to the Stars, and am waiting to get through the rest to see as if ends as I’ve expected since page 37.  I just want the separated lovers to reunite and kiss, damn it.

A week from now will be the eve of my return to the bread and butter job, and the next six days are full of yoga. The last 7 days have been full of yoga as well, lest you think I was clever enough to take the week to laze about my home and stroll in the park. Other than the novel and editing, I’ve been fulfilling the requirements for my advanced training, as well as teaching, and reading about php/wordpress, to see exactly what I can do in this realm. I taught five classes, did five hours of required, supervised privates, and assisted/observed other classes for six hours. That was my week off.  I did lunch with friends three times, squeezed in chats with a few others, and reunited with lost friends Ilona and Narimantas, whom I’ve searched for since I last saw them in Kaunas in 1995 (yes, of course it was assbook). Remarkable. I managed to clean and do laundry in <3 hours today and was delighted to have the rest of the rainy day to read, edit and finally write before it all starts up again tomorrow. I think this might inspire the next post on the yoga blog: what does it take to be a yoga teacher?

My mother told me tonight that Mr. Brown, Herb to my parents, died on Thursday, which was 10 years to the day that my paternal grandmother/namesake died. Mr. Brown lived across the street from us when I was a child. He was incredibly sweet and funny. When I went knocking with my girl scout cookie sales sheet each year, he’d tell me with twinkling eyes what a good girl scout he was in the day—sold more cookies than I would imagine. He’d also mow his lawn in the dark (when it was cooler) and sometimes in circles, walking around in the street to get the edges. The Brown’s daughter, about ten years older than me, was the town’s star softball player, which seemed very tough and glamorous to my eight-year-old self. Mr Brown often practiced his golf in the front yard for hours, and hollered jokes over while I mowed the lawn. “What??” Ah, memories. You were a great neighbor and you made us laugh, Mr. Brown. May you rest peacefully.