Monday, January 09, 2006

Same-Same ... But Different

Last January I was at the end of the world when I visited Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, the last bastion before Antarctica. Now, almost exactly one year on, I am at the end of the world again. Or, to be more precise, World's End. The centre of Sri Lanka is mountainous, and therefore referred to as upcountry by the locals, and refreshingly cooler than the hot and humid plains of the coast. This is where Sri Lankans go on holiday (in a strange reversal of roles Westerners usually go on holiday to go somewhere warmer whereas here they go somewhere cooler). The southern edge of upcountry ends at Horton's Plains where the hills abruptly fall away to the plains below. The edge is called World's End.

Horton's Plains is a huge draw for local Sri Lankans because the scenery is unlike anything else on the island: mist-shrouded, undulating, boggy plains with low, tangled forests and copses. Personally I was rather underwhelmed as it looks rather like what I imagine Dartmoor to look like: it's marshy, misty, drizzly and there are even people prancing about in deer-stalker hats (apparently the height of hiking fashion over here). All that the place needs to make it perfect is a big, scary dog running around scaring the bejeesus out of people. I was even less impressed by the entry fee ($17), but I managed to get around that by taking a 5 mile detour round the ticket office along some dodgy paths, through some fields and up a couple of hills.

I've been using this trip to Sri Lanka as a bit of a return to nature, after the ruins and cities of Pakistan and India, due to the diversity of landscapes in such a small area and their easy accessibility. My rambles have taken me to upland rainforests where I saw plenty of birds and monkeys; to isolated waterfalls with beautiful pools for swimming; and through lovely tea plantations that cover most of the hill country, clinging to impossibly steep hillsides and shrouded in mist. Of all agricultural crops, a tea plantation is probably the least ugly and unnatural for me, as it looks more organic, hugging the contours of the hills it needs to grow on. And although I'm not much of a tea drinker I found the visit to a tea factory fascinating. The whole process is quite complicated, with innumerable sorting and sifting stages to differentiate the tea into different qualities and grades, such as the bizzarely named GFOP (or Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) and Dust Number 1. I was even lucky enough to be there during a quality assurance taste-testing, though to me all the teas tasted the same: very bitter! thank god for milk and sugar.

No comments: