As I got off the bus at Dambatenne, I got a warning. ‘Careful’, the driver said, ‘yesterday two person die.’

 

What?

 

‘Yes,’ he said, indicating lightning with his hands and pointing up the hill, ‘Big storm. Two are die.’

 

It’s true that the previous afternoon there had been a big storm in the area. I’d seen the rain coming, rushed back from the cemetery I was visiting to the shelter of my hotel’s balcony, and spent the next couple of hours watching the lightning.

 

Haputale cemetery

Storm clouds approaching Haputale.

 

 

I looked at the driver, at the endless blue sky without a cloud in sight, and said yes. I’d be careful.

 

Lipton's Seat

Tea fields near Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

I love tea, so of course when I was in Sri Lanka I was going to walk up to Lipton’s Seat, where Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit and look out over his empire.

 

Lipton's Seat

At Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

Back in 1890 Sir Lipton saw an opportunity to bring tea to the masses, to change it from a drink that only the elite could afford to one that even the poorest folk would be able to enjoy on a daily basis.

 

So he bought miles upon miles of tea plantations in Sri Lanka, cut out the middlemen, and shipped it all back to the UK, selling huge quantities of it for a fraction of the price it had been. And the people loved it.

 

Tea field near Haputale

I think this means it was the first tea field planted in the area! Wow!

 

 

Now everywhere you go in the Sri Lankan highlands there are tea plantations: endless shining rows of leafy bushes in the brightest and deepest shades of green you can imagine.

 

Lipton's Seat

Tea fields near Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka.

 

 

And Lipton tea is worldwide. It’s the tea I bought by the large boxful in Hanoi for my everyday consumption. I had a box in my desk drawer at work and consumed at least 2 cups each day, often more. I am grateful to Sir Thomas, for making tea accessible to me.

 

Lipton's Seat

Tea fields near Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka.

 

 

Lipton’s Seat is not hard to get to. An hour’s bus ride from Haputale takes you to the Dambatenne tea factory, which can be visited but unfortunately was closed on the day I went.

 

From there it’s a 7km walk up to the top, between rows and rows of gleaming tea plants.

 

Lipton's Seat

Dambatenne village, at the start of the Lipton’s Seat walk.

 

 

I strolled through a small village and then the road started to climb, a long, slow zig zag up the hill. As I walked at least two more people and a policeman stopped their vehicles to warn me of the danger. Each time I nodded in agreement. Yes, I’d be careful. There was still no sign of any clouds.

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

The winding road to Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

Eventually I crested the hill and entered a small valley, which the road wound through and then up some more. In the valley there were more houses, and entire families were emerging from these to also make the walk up to Lipton’s Seat.

 

Lipton's Seat

Locals near Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka.

 

 

Was the crowd due to the storm the day before? Did they want to see the damage, or were they curious to see where and how the people had died? Or was it just that it was a Sunday, and this was a regular day-off activity? I never found out.

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

They wanted their picture taken at Lipton’s Seat!

 

 

At the top the view was spectacular. Or, it would have been, had it not been such a hazy day. Lipton’s Seat is perched on the edge of a huge cliff, with views all around, and on a clear day you can see the sea. But it’s known for having mist that moves in late morning and stays all day, so go early!

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

View from Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

Having never been there before I couldn’t easily see any storm damage, but some people pointed out a broken post on a small shelter that was there. I never found out how the people had died. Were they struck by lightning? Or was the wind too great and they simply got blown off the cliff?

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

Directional sign at Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

My camera made me a minor celebrity. I took numerous photos which I was only sometimes required to actually be in. People just wanted to see themselves on the screen.

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

When they saw I was taking photos of people they all came running!

 

 

The locals were very relaxed and happy, and curious about me. As I wandered back down I made friendly ‘conversation’ and had a few laughs with some of them.

 

The family groups had splintered off into groups of happily chattering women, groups of men who were probably discussing cricket, and children running ahead and through the rows of tea, playing and looking for insects and other curiosities among the tea leaves.

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka.

Women walking home from Lipton’s Seat.

 

 

And wouldn’t you know, by the time I was halfway down there were actually clouds moving in, and by later that afternoon another storm had arrived. I guess all those people warning me knew what they were talking about!

 

Lipton's Seat, Sri Lanka

By late morning the clouds start moving in and you won’t see anything from Lipton’s Seat!

 
Have you walked up to Lipton’s Seat? Did you encounter any storms of just bunches of lovely locals? Tell me about it in the comments!

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3 Comments

  1. dear jenny,

    i am an expat retuning from canada and australia to make sri lanka my home again. the devastation caused by lipton amd his cohorts was immense. we lost half million acres of virgin forest cover to this damn tea bush, which was an introduction canibalising tea in china. the weather pattern changes are observed only now. the british bum cut all valuable timber in this plunder and found rivers were no good for transport to colombo. so they got the railway going and eventually tea was introduced. you see as beauty for me its one of the greatest ecological environmental terrorism in the world. and now have advocated reforstation of the hill country encrocahing UNPRODUCTIVE tea land. wisdom comes slowly lady and please do not attempt to defend this plunder of lipton and his collegues. the mudslides where tea is grown is a frequent phenomenon as the damn tea bush has no ability to transpire excess water after rains under the earth. trees can! btw i am decapitalising english language!

    • Hi Sunil,

      Thank you for providing a different perspective on this. You’re right, I am sorry to say that I had not considered this side of Lipton’s actions in Sri Lanka. I hope that much of the tea country can be reforested and your country can start to recover from this ecological devastation caused by the colonialists. Is reforestation something that’s actually in the works? That would be an amazing (and HUGE) undertaking. Again, thank you for your insight on this. I do need to make sure I consider all aspects of the places I visit.

      P.S. Part of what I loved about the walk up there was all the people who joined me along the way. They were so friendly and kind! 🙂

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