Taking that favourite cuppa a notch higher
A few weeks ago I told my friends that I was going to Idalgashinna for a cousins ‘get together’. ‘Idalgashinna? ‘ Where is that?’ was the general reaction. Idalgashinna is such a beautiful mountainous place covered in a cosy blanket of mist most of the time. The fresh mountain air renews even the aged in both mind and spirit. We were visiting our cousin whose husband is in charge of producing designer hand crafted green tea.
He introduced us to this popular tea in his home- picking the tender leaves, steaming them, and showing us its rubbery feel after the steaming. He told us that any tea small holder could do this in their own homes. My cousin Riti was all eyes and ears as she owns a tea small holding.
Early the following morning after a good breakfast we went to the tea factory where designer organic tea is produced on a large scale. This had been an old run down tea factory which has been transformed. The outer shell remains the same. But it has been given a face lift, both inside and out. There is a wall of pictures showing the BEFORE and AFTER. Even the old ‘pulle camarea’ is now a modern nursery.
I was told by my cousin’s husband Samuelraj that the workers are well looked after.It was quite a revelation to me. I was born on a tea estate and knew tea factories. As children my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would run through the factory enjoying the aroma and feel of the fresh tea.
This tea factory is quite different. We had to first get into protective clothing from head to toe. It seems to be a very well organized place. Doors to be closed before one entered the next section. All this to protect the unique flavour of the teas produced here. A slight variation in the moisture in the air could ruin a large batch of tea. It really is a very clinical process.
The one new method that took my breath away was the manner in which designer tea was hand crafted. The young workers were in proper attire and they sat around tables not on the floor and rolled or twisted each tea leaf to a unique individual design. It was a beautiful sight.
Now I come to the unpleasant part of our journey. We planned to go by train, as there are no direct buses to Idalgashinna. Fifteen days ahead we made the bookings, the Observation Car was what we wanted. We made the bookings, and on the appointed date we were at the Fort Railway Station. The staff of the Observation car booking office could only book the tickets. The officers could not provide simple information about this train its restaurant car, the stops etc. They directed us to the ‘Inquiries Counter’. There is an Inquiries Counter’ facing the main road but with no officer manning it. We had to go looking for it, found it tucked away near the ticket issuing counter.
The Observation Car is another story. It is so very dirty. No brush, broom, mop or washing liquid has touched it for many months. Rotting food particles were between seats. As one enters the Observation Car the first thing you see is the dirty toilet.
The Guard with whom I chatted said that when a VIP toured the Observation Car a few months ago, the Guard had made only one request; that was for a good toilet. He said that many tourists took pictures of the toilet and he the Guard was embarrassed. One has to cover one’s nose as you get past it. The windows are dust covered. How could one observe anything through dust covered cracked windows panes? At intervals a man in dirty clothes walked in trying to entice the passengers to buy his Nescafe. Poor Nescafe!
It is not all negative. I must say that I was quite impressed with the Railway stations. They seem to have got a face lift. Many potted plants beautify the stations and new seats have been installed. But here again there is a glitch. My sister and cousin were to join us at Peradeniya Junction Station.
As they do not travel so often by train they had inquired of the Station Master the platform where they should board the train. They waited in the indicated area, when without prior warning they were asked to go to a new platform. They had to climb uneven steps, cross a bridge, climb down uneven steps carrying baggage and just managed to board the train. They are not young, and they did have bags to carry.
It was the Station Master’s duty to have given adequate notice of the change of platform. In contrast the Idalgashinna Station Master and staff were very courteous and considerate.
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