The Tea Factory on Hethersett Estate, Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya is now a hotel, developed from of course a former tea factory. All the wonderful mechanical fittings in the building have been kept to convey the ‘flavour’ of the times when it was used for its original purpose. The former tea packing room is now the restaurant, bedrooms are in the loft area. So if you are visiting because tea interests you or because it is part of Sri Lanka’s history and economy then staying in a former tea factory will immerse you right in the midst of its past and present.
We travelled around the various tea estates in the area tasting and viewing all the tea production until we were totally tea-ed out. We came home with precious little wooden boxes of real tea, that is tea leaves rolled, definitely not the powdery dust that is reputed to be swept off floors. If you don’t believe in that nasty business it is possible that the powder that passes for loose tea today is ground finely and mixed with other teas, so that is not quite as bad an image but still not the kind of tea I want to drink. We learned that the top tea is gold tipped and silver tipped leaf tea and the former is the most expensive.
We spared many a thought for the women with large woven baskets or plastic sacks strapped to their backs. They crouched along and down the rows of tea, selecting just the right mature tip to pick. We were told that today the families of tea pickers are well taken care of with education and hospital care etc. I still think that paying them little and giving them some benefits ties them to the company even more, it never releases them for working elsewhere, and is there an elsewhere? People wanting to move away from their families or even their own country are in the minority so the tea business will continue to have willing low paid workers for many decades to come. Having said that, what do I know – just breezing in and out and like most travellers, taking in the information and the experience in just a superficial way.
The food was good at The Tea Factory and as a second restaurant they had an old train carriage converted into a fine dining restaurant. Our travelling friends, a Swiss couple – Surapon, originally from Thailand and Ursula from Switzerland dining with us, before fate took a hand….later you will read on and see what happened.
The tea plantations are incredibly lush and the temperature is mild, so this would have been a retreat for holidays and a place for second homes owned by the wealthy.
We had an experience that does not appear on any tourist itinerary. Ursula had a fall on a walk and had to go to the nearby hospital for treatment which entailed having her wrist bone reset. The hospital was a chronically third world poverty-stricken affair. We were taken aback but had little choice except to admit her and see what they could do for her.
The wards were overflowing with people and there were little or no toilet or bathroom facilities as we know it. The families of the patients had to come in with basic bedding and food each day. The operating theatre was poorly equipped and the conditions in no way resembled in any way the clean efficient and sterilised interiors we have come to expect in the hospitals in our country. The motor bike helmet was dropped on the sterilised trolley and see in the background where the stained linen was spread out to dry after basic washing that never succeeds in removing the blood stains.
Our friend Ursula ended up wearing my white cotton pyjamas for her operation. I won’t go into details of what the toilet facility was like when she was asked for a sample prior to the op. It was so bad that she just couldn’t ‘do it’. At least they still went ahead with the operation.
The doctor in charge had trained in Australia and he was used to better conditions and was trying hard to conduct operations in the operating theatre. He would have had better surroundings if he was in the jungle with the Mash style battalion.
The wonderful staff did everything they could for but there was no way they could offer the security of top grade facilities. Ursula lasted for the rest of the holiday with her wrist in a cast until she reached Switzerland and unfortunately she had to have the bone reset. It was a holiday she will never forget. Roz