Nazir Keshvani joins the Ceylon Tea Trails in Sri Lanka, which offers a stay at four 100-year old bungalows complete with high ceilings, open fireplaces and butlers serving English high tea.
TEA & ROSES
ROLLING GREEN HILLS, TUDOR STYLE-COTTAGES and rose gardens, afternoon tea with scones and fresh cream, a roaring log fire... A day in the English countryside? Not at all. I am at Bogawantalawa Valley, also known as the Golden Valley of tea, Sri Lanka's premium tea growing region.
My drive form Candy, the nearest town and the capital of old Ceylon (Sri Lanka's former name), up the winding trails of the hill slopes towards the tea plantations, inspired me to leave my car windows open. It was a brilliant move - the cool breeze and tea leaves created a mild, flowery fragrance that ignited my senses.
At 4,000 ft (about 1,200 m) above sea level, the air in Bogawantalawa Valley is rarefied, it's cool mist adding to the almost magical setting of undulated tea-carpeted hills dotted with Tudor-style bungalows.
Bogawantalawa is where Scottish planter James Taylor set the first tea sapling in the rich brown earth of Sri Lanka's hilly regions, in 1867. Since then, tea plantations have flourished on the island, giving rise to the tea planters laidback lifestyle.
This leisurely pace is one of the attractions of the Ceylon Tea Trails, a project initiated by the Dilmah Tea Corporation, of the world-famous Dilmah teas. Discovering that guess visiting the tea plantations often asked for a taste of what iit was like living on a secluded tea plantation, the company acquired four rundown bungalows - former homes of British tea plantation managers in the late 19th century - and restored them to their original splendour.
Living like a royal guest
The Castlereigh, Summerville, Norwood and Tientsin - each have their distinctive character (see page 53). Visitors can book the entire bungalows or individual rooms or suites - there are 20 in all, and prices start at about US$278 a night. Each bungalow has a resident chef, butler and support staff, and you get an idea of how guests at a plantation manager's home might have been pampered in those days.four century-old bungalow of Ceylon Tea Trails -
My stay at Castlereigh, high on the slopes overlooking Lake Castlereigh, was near perfection. The rooms were grand and had luxurious bathrooms. The extensive gardens, with flowers plumper than most I've seen, were lovely to relax in with a good book until the sun dipped over the waters of the lake. This is when the temperature drops and the log fire becomes a much-awaited treat.
My amiable Sri Lankan butler Roshan gave me a glimpse of the privileged life. After all, how often can you say you had your bath water drawn by a butler! The dining service is excellent. Waiters second-guess your every move and you never have to stretch very far for a glass of wine or fruit bowl. The menu is based on traditional English food to enhance the mood of a bygone era, and the portions are very substantial.
The nearby market gardens supply ingredients that are so fresh, they need very little embellishment. My favourite meal of the day was the typical English breakfast: toast and marmalade, eggs made to your liking, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, fresh fruit, fruit juice and tea, of course.
Lunch is normally light - a wholesome soup with a distinctive homemade taste, cold cuts, salad (again all very fresh), a variety of breads and deserts which in all probability could be an English trifle, a bread pudding or a fresh fruit compote.
As befits a tea-growing region, afternoon tea is quite a ceremony, with cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, curry puffs and thin finger sandwiches made from oven-fresh bread. High tea can take the better part of an afternoon and is just the thing to look forward to on a relaxing holiday.
Drinks are followed by dinner, the most formal meal of the day with a generous table serving three- of four-course meals in the dining room.
As for activities, Castlereigh and Norwood have swimming pools, while Tientsin has a clay tennis court. For the less active, there are sedate board games and in-room spa services.
Away from the comforts of the bungalows, the trails have much to offer. There are visits to a tea factory and those who need to work off the results of the daily feasting can go on trekking and energetic mountain bike outings. Keep a lookout for the colourfully attired tea pluckers as they skillfully move between the tea bushes, deftly plucking 'two leaves
and a bud' and then tossing them over their shoulders into the wicker basket slung on their backs
As an added attraction, Ceylon Tea Trails is a 45-minute drive from Adam's Peak, which at 7,300ft (about 2,200m) above sea level offers spectacular views, especially at sunrise and sunset. Adam's Peak is considered a holy mountain and has been a place of pilgrimage for more than a thousand years.
in its infancy, but it's hard to imagine improving on such may still be .perfectionTo use my tea analogy, my stay at Castlereigh was the 'silver tip' of my trip to Sri Lanka. Ceylon Tea Trails.