Wedged between the Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts on the eastern slopes of the hill country, Uda Pussellawa is a small, thinly populated town almost entirely dedicated to tea cultivation. It rises a height of around 2000m (6,400ft). The region is famous for rare wildlife and exotic plant species; leopard still roam its forested hills, and have even been spotted on its plantations from time to time. The Uda Pussellawa region is also close to Walapane, Maturata, Ragala and Halgranoya plantations. The Udapussellawa tea region includes the sub-districts of Maturata, Ragala and Halgranoya.
On the fringe of Uva and leading on to Nuwara Eliya is the Uda Pussellawa mountain range. It experiences the same North-East Monsoon as Uva. Two planting districts account for the tea produced. Unlike Uva, Uda Pussellawa enjoys two periods of superior quality. The traditional eastern quality season from July to September, will be its peak period. But the conditions will brighten up during the western quality season in the first quarter of the year. Plantations in upper Uda Pussellawa closer to Nuwara Eliya gain the benefit of dry cold conditions that bring about a range of rosy teas.
Due to its location, Udapussellawa enjoys climatic conditions very different from those of the western plantation regions. As with neighbouring Uva, the district receives the bulk of its weather from the northeast monsoon system, which waters the eastern slopes of the hill country between November and January. The climate is mostly wet and misty, with the Hakgala region receiving rain on an average of 211 days every year. However, the district also enjoys some ‘blow-over’ from the southwest monsoon between June and September. Having deposited their rains on the western slopes of the hill country, these monsoon winds turn desertly dry by the time they cross the central watershed.
Uda Pussellawa estates thus enjoy not one but two ‘quality seasons’, the western as well as the eastern. This is especially the case with teas from the upper part of the district, bordering Nuwara Eliya (which lies immediately to the west), though elevations in Uda Pussellawa are somewhat lower than they are in Nuwara Eliya, ranging from 950m to 1,600m (3,000-5,000ft).
Tasters’ Notes for Uda Pussellawa Tea
The tea of Uda Pussellawa is sometimes compared in character with that of Nuwara Eliya, though it appears somewhat darker in the cup, with a pinkish hue and a hint of greater strength. The eastern quality season from June to September produces the best teas of the year, closely followed by the western season during the first quarter. The dry, cold conditions during this latter period add a hint of rose to the bouquet of a tea known for its medium body and subtle character. Periods of heavy rainfall, on the other hand, tend to produce a tea that is darker in the cup and stronger-flavoured.
Uda Pussellawa produces a variety of leaf sizes and styles, reflecting the relatively broad range of altitudes at which its estates are situated. (Sri Lanka Tea Board)
Uda Pussellawa has much more to offer than just tea. Juliet Coombe found an old world charm in this lost idyll, known as the sixth largest region of tea.
“No, there is nothing to see and nowhere to stay in Uda Pussellawa,” said someone I met in Nuwara Eliya. Even its close neighbours don’t think that one of the smallest tea growing regions, which lies nestled between Nuwara Eliya, Uva and Dimbula, has any value. Tea experts, who know the area’s fine teas very well, are much less familiar with this beautiful region, whose unique geographical location provides two good tea growing seasons, from July to September and January to March. The area was once a rest and recuperation base for injured British soldiers in the First World War and is the only part of the country where precious jade is found. However, after much searching and with intrigue growing, you will find a sole proponent, and that is Nalendran at the Tea Factory Hotel in Kandapola.
Identifying Nalendran will not be difficult; in his full railway guard’s uniform, complete with navy blue blazer, a smart hat and green signalling flag, he is impossible to miss. The staff of the Hethersett Mountain Station, where mist swirls around outside in the rainy season, make you feel like you are about to board the magical Hogwart’s Express. Stepping inside, you will be amazed at the incredibly preserved, if cramped, 1930s interiors of the TCK 8865. Although the train does not go anywhere these days, the1930s British voice reveals its history with a ‘Welcome to the TCK 8865, the third-class carriage of the Kelani Valley train.’ This clearly was not the original station. In 1895, Assistant Government Agent Lushington recognized that a light railway was needed in the Uda Pussellawa district to transport tea and workers. By 1903, a line was built from Nanu Oya to Uda Pussellawa with a terminus at Ragala. The journey, although characterized by sharp bends, like the 36km drive today around twisting mountains, revealing stunning views of pine covered hills, tea factories and small-holdings.
The carriage is not only a museum piece of the area’s history, but also the country’s highest elevated, fully-functioning restaurant. Exploring this lost region of tea requires re-tracing the line. You can go by bike or car to enjoy the remains of the Kandapola station, about 20m up the main road in the town towards Ragala. On this note, you may suspect the St. Margaret’s Royal Wine Store, named after one of the original estates, of being the disguised former station but, in fact, it was on the outskirts of town and has now disappeared. The town was also home to Dixon’s Corner Club, where planters and visiting government officials would drink in the evenings, and the old motors at Baya Garage that are clearly left over from the pre-nationalization era. Today, a few of the shops still have a distinctly English cottage appearance, particularly the sweet shop close to the bus stop. Here an old lady sits behind an antique wooden table, covered in jars of the sticky treats.
Chatting to the locals who gather around outside the shops, one man chirps up: “This is not an important place. There is a big hotel in Kandapola. He is not being unfriendly, but wonders what we are doing in the small town. However, we discover that there is a treasure trove of history and Tamil cultural traditions to discover; watching gold jewellery created on the street; visiting the kovil which, memorably, has a large rat on one of its pinnacles, noticing the hanging decorations at the front of each shop, and learning that each Friday the kovil gives a decoration to bring good luck to the businesses.
At the small goldsmith’s next to the grocery and DVD shop, close to St. Margaret’s Wine Store, you will notice that there is a colourful string with a large seed bound into it, as well as a shell. Here you can pick up a simple pair of gold studs. The selection of Tamil, Hindi and a few English films on offer is also impressive for a small town and, accompanied with some fresh Bombay Mix, you will be set up for a entertaining Bollywood film session.
The place is full of old world charm. It is a place that is almost impossible to leave, with the numbers of generous offers of tea and short eats in the local people’s family homes. It was certianly tempting to stay and discover more about this fascinating Central Province.
The nearest place to stay is the Heritance Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya. Travel for about 45 minutes to Kandapola on the Ragala Road. In Kandapola town, and take a right turning at the Heritance Tea Factory sign. Visit: www.heritancehotels.com
Or try another great option Stafford Bungalow. It is a well-maintained bungalow built by Scottish planters in 1884. Spend long days exploring the surrounding tea country and Ragala town, full of open workshops and little old boutiques selling food and gold jewellery. At the end of the day, relax on the lawn drinking rosy Uda Pussellawa tea, renowned for its subtle flavours, accompanied by fresh warm scones prepared by the in-house chef.
Nanu Oya was the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya and the planting districts between there and Uda Pussellawa. A 2’ 6″ (0.762 m) narrow gauge line known as the Uda Pussellawa Railway (UPR) was constructed from Nanu Oya to serve these areas. It opened to Nuwara Eliya and Kandapola in 1903 and to Ragala in 1904. The ruling gradient was 1/24 and Kandapola was the highest railway station in Sri Lanka (6316 ft). The Uda Pussellawa Railway was dismantled in 1948 after having run as freight-only since 1940. Kaleni Valley line and Udapussellawa line were in Narrow Gauge (2′ 6″ / 762mm).
Its center lies at a latitude of 7.0087 and longitude of 80.8894and it has an elevation of 1368 meters above sea level.