A gentle tap on the tent startles me. I reluctantly get up from my cosy bed and lift the flap, to be greeted by a mesmerizing sight. Dark, ominous clouds swiftly cross the sky and settle upon the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. The moon becomes visible every now and then, painting haunting patterns in the sky. A handful of lights glow in the valley below. Fireflies shimmer above the tea plantations. The tap on the tent was just the wind, inviting me for a glimpse of this magical night.
We tuck back into our alpine tent, and this time, I fall into a deep slumber. At sunrise, I watch my surroundings slowly emerge from the dark – rolling hills covered with tea plantations as far as the eye can see, a waterfall gushing down the mountains, and a richly forested valley below.
Like the tea planters of yore, we set out early with Kithsiri, the naturalist at Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, to inspect our tea plantations which date back to the 1860s. Most of the tea pluckers are elderly women with nimble fingers, their skin tanned dark by the mountain sun, their smiles warming us on this chilly morning. Kithsiri tells us that their daughters don’t think highly of the art and are migrating to the cities of Kandy and Colombo. When demand becomes higher than supply, he is confident that their pay will rise and tea plucking will become lucrative again.
Back at our lodge, a Sri Lankan feast awaits us, alongside fresh croissants and freshly brewed tea. We spend the day lounging around the planter’s bungalow. Oil paintings of tea-pluckers look upon us from the wall, instrumental tunes play in the backdrop, and outside, the colorful outfits of tea pluckers break the monotony of the vast green terrain. We take a dip at the lodge’s infinity pool on the mountain’s edge, hike to the hills above and the waterfall below, and go for long walks along the tea trails of Madulkelle and its neighboring estates. By the time high tea is served with home-baked cakes and cookies, the estate’s colonial charm has captivated me.
Two days ago, as I lay on a hammock in Galkadawala, I was transported back in time by a fascinating book about a boy who grew up in the days of the British Raj, when Sri Lanka was still called Ceylon. I longed to join his escapades in Ceylon’s hill country and indulge in its colonial charm, unaware that here at Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, I was going to experience just that.
Later that night, the clouds finally burst. We snuggle up by the fireplace with a glass of wine, hearing the rain pour incessantly. The British Raj in Sri Lanka is not widely talked about, but by now, I know that it has its own stories and legends. Its own secrets. Madulkelle is one of them.
What are your thoughts about Madulkelle? Have you ever stayed at an eco-luxury retreat?
About Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge
Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge is an eco-luxury getaway, in the hill country of Sri Lanka, an hour from Kandy. Tents are erected on wooden stilts on the Madulkelle Tea Estate, tastefully furnished with wooden panels, a rainforest shower and dim lighting. Their balconies overlook the tea plantations below and the mountains above. The Planter’s Bungalow now serves as the reception and dining area, with a verandah overlooking the infinity pool and the mountains beyond.
Most of the tents on the estate are powered by solar energy. Much of the water is recycled at the lodge’s own waste treatment plant (an area that Kithsiri, the naturalist at the lodge, specializes in). Vegetables and fruits are organically grown in the lodge’s garden. And the team at the lodge is involved in community-oriented projects, including computer classes for kids from the nearby villages.
How to reach Madulkelle
Madulkelle is a one-hour uphill drive from Kandy, winding along tea estates and sleepy countryside villages. A tuk tuk from Kandy to Madulkelle costs roughly 2,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (~INR 1000). Another option is to take the bus to Wattegama, and a tuk tuk thereafter.
Best time to visit Madulkelle
Round the year. The monsoons paint the entire region a lush green. Summers are cool atop the hills, and winters can be a little chilly.
Contact and Costs at Madulkelle Tea Estate
Double/twin accommodation in a luxury tent is priced at US$ 155. Visit Madulkelle Tea Estate’s website for online reservations and join their Facebook page to be tempted further to experience it first hand!
*Note: We were hosted by Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge for this leg of our trip. It’s okay to be jealous!
This post was written by Shivya Nath and published on The Shooting Star travel blog.
Title by Neha Upadhyay Bagri.