Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tea Highlands in Sri Lanka: Madulkelle Tea Eco Lodge

Tea Highlands of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is the world's fourth largest producer of tea and over 10% of the population still lives on tea plantations (all tea is hand-picked by very poorly paid women). Many of these plantations are fairly close to the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka's Central Highlands (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The region is spectacularly beautiful and full of rare animals and plants. Even though Sri Lanka is a tropical country, the weather in the highlands remains at around a pleasantly cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit year round (in other words, a climate just like San Francisco! no wonder we liked it).
Lawn and swimming pool of our tea lodge
Traditionally the tea plantations were owned by very wealthy British planters who enjoyed lifestyles of extreme luxury on their de facto mini-kingdoms. They lived in "bungalows" (in California, this means a small, modest Craftsman-style house: in Sri Lanka, it's a fabulous European style mansion with a broad verandah) with armies of servants. (For a taste of this, you can see the otherwise cheesy Elizabeth Taylor vehicle Elephant Walk set in post-WW2 Sri Lanka.)
Lodge interior with fireplace and leather armchairs where you can enjoy sipping cocktails
Our welcome drinks of fresh local organic juice
R with her beloved "bubbly water"
Today many of the tea plantations are tourist destinations, where you can stay in luxurious accommodations while enjoying beautiful rural landscapes. There is something a bit problematic about this though, as the tea plantation workers are still incredibly poor, live in highly substandard conditions and are frequently abused/exploited. Kind of like colonialism never ended!
Vegetarian lunch grown mostly on the property
The local tea: it was really good
Part of their on-site organic farm
So B and I chose to stay at Madulkelle, an "eco lodge" which has many of these benefits (like delicious multi course gourmet cuisine) but is hopefully a bit less exploitative.
You stay in the fancy equivalent of tent cabins, which are quite far from each other to ensure privacy
Entry to our cabin
View from our balcony
Me inside, wearing a cheap sari I bought for temple-viewing modesty purposes: each cabin has its own bathroom (behind the wall)
I don't have the knowledge or expertise to evaluate their success in aiding the local community, but the hotel was definitely completely fabulous. I would love to go back for a longer stay!
R walking through the tea fields (the bushes are kept low to aid in picking)
Goofy goofy
I like Madulkelle!!

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