May 31, 2024

Trekking Between Bungalows at Ceylon Tea Trails - My Debut Hike

Written by Ashmitha Gunaratne – Senior Executive Impact, Resplendent Ceylon.

Waking up early in the morning, before the sun dawns, is not something I can say I enjoy. I am by all means not a morning person. But at Dunkeld in Tea Trails, waking up to a stunning sunrise, tea in hand felt surreal. It was peaceful, grounding—a moment of pure gratitude. These were the moments that filled your heart with gratitude and contentment. So why would I then decide to leave these feelings behind and go on a 4 hour hike that was described as ‘difficult’?

I had met the naturalists, Keith and Hashan, the night before. Both described the hike as worth the effort as we were planning an activity for the next day. They were optimistic that I could complete it, I however, did not share their optimism but was determined to try something new and push my own limits and I was assured that breaks were allowed along the way and I could turn back if I changed my mind. I was hopeful my pride would somehow allow me to finish it.

I got ready and was kindly gifted a pair of leech socks by the bungalow manager. Even though it was during the dry season and encountering leeches was unlikely, I was not going to take a chance. In true hiking fashion, I put the leech socks on accompanied by a fanny pack, just in case my hands must be free to break a possible fall.

Setting off from Dunkeld Bungalow, Hashan and I braced ourselves for what we knew would be a tiring trek. As we began our ascent, conversation flowed effortlessly between us. Hashan, a knowledgeable naturalist, shared insights into the history of the tea estates, recounting how the British had brought Indian workers to cultivate the tea fields, leading to the establishment of a vibrant Tamil community in the region. His words resonated deeply with me, highlighting the immense contribution of this community to the legacy of Ceylon Tea. The very tea we enjoy across the world and the same tea I had enjoyed so much earlier that morning.

As we ascended, the trail grew steeper, and exhaustion started to weigh me down. That’s when Hashan, seeing my struggle, kindly offered me a swig from his backpack-stashed water bottle. Pausing to catch my breath, I glanced around and was met with a breathtaking sight—the reservoir stretching out before me, framed by lush tea bushes and verdant foliage. It struck me then, amidst these emerald mountains, how could an island also boast golden beaches? How much more could this small island in the Indian Ocean have left to offer?

We came across a small community in the Upper Dunkeld Area past a bungalow that I was told belonged to the Assistant Manager of the estate. There was a crèche, set up by the MJF Foundation, with around 15 little ones playing outside who stopped to wave at us as we walked. The houses in the area were side by side and of different colours, which Hashan said was to differentiate each house from the other. A small shrine had been erected close to the homes. I was told that faith and religion run very deeply among the communities here and you were likely to find smaller shrines across the estates. It was a poignant symbol of the profound faith and spiritual devotion ingrained within this community. It struck me as a simple yet profoundly organic aspect of life here—a testament to the deep-rooted traditions and values that define this close-knit community.

Admittedly, as we journeyed past this juncture I was already very tired but we had come across more flat land and unsurprisingly what seemed to be a sea of tea bushes. This area was more remote and far away from anyone really. I could see why this is a guided hike. I’m certain I would have gotten lost if I attempted to do this alone.

As I contemplated whether to press on, I instinctively placed my hands on my lower back, to support my posture, put one foot in front of the other and focussed on my breathing. Hashan was kind enough to slow down even when I didn’t ask him to, he didn’t say anything either or ask but just adjusted his pace. It was kind enough that it kept my pride still very much intact. As we rounded a bend, Hashan asked me to look to the left, where stunning mountain views unfolded, with the silhouettes of even more peaks in the distance.

The tea country is meant to boast a rich biodiversity, from leopards, sambar deer to a diverse array of birdlife. Guiding our trek with expertise, Hashan’s keen eye didn’t miss a beat. He pointed out some scat belonging to deer and porcupines along our path, and identified the calls of various bird species. Each step of the way, I found myself immersed not only in the stunning scenery but also in a wealth of knowledge about the area surrounding us. Even if I had chosen to turn back at that moment, I would have carried that knowledge back with me, thanks to Hashan’s expert guidance.

I was told we were close and before I could convince myself otherwise, we had reached Ravana’s Rock. Ravana, is known to be a multi headed king or in some versions of the story, an emperor of the island in Hindu folklore. The rock that we visited was said to be his “airport”, one of six meant to exist across the island. The landing and take off location of his chariot. Hashan showed me long lines across the rock which is said to be the indentation of the wheels from the chariot itself.

A sense of accomplishment swept over me as I completed the hike, revitalising my weary muscles and banishing any lingering exhaustion. It was as if a surge of endorphins coursed through my veins, instantly lifting my spirits. The descent, now downhill and naturally much easier, allowed me to fully immerse myself in the breathtaking scenery once more.

Reaching the bungalow, I was met with genuine warmth from the staff, who kindly recommended a refreshing lime soda to help me replenish after the hike and beat the afternoon heat.

As I sat back, reflecting on the journey, I couldn’t help but ponder the sense of contentment which was much stronger than what I had felt earlier that morning. I was in awe as I reflected through the entire journey, how I would have loved to complete more trails, maybe I was turning into a hiker now or maybe it is just the area surrounding these beautiful bungalows.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to hike the number of trails and walking paths surrounding each bungalow but I am excited to come back and do it again!

Written by Ashmitha Gunaratne – Senior Executive Impact, Resplendent Ceylon.