In the heart of Sri Lanka’s central highlands lies a hidden gem waiting to be explored – the Pekoe Trail. As I ventured into the bustling town of Galaha, the gateway to this captivating hiking route, I was greeted by the vibrant chaos of daily life in Sri Lanka. Tuk-tuks weaved through the streets, women in stunning red saris bustled about, and the melodious notes of Beethoven’s Für Elise wafted through the air from a tuk-tuk peddling fish buns. This was the starting point of my journey along the Pekoe Trail, Sri Lanka’s first long-distance hiking route, and it promised an adventure like no other.
A Tea-Infused Beginning:
The name “Pekoe” itself is a nod to the high-grade black tea made from young tea leaves, a specialty of Sri Lanka’s central highlands. This 185-mile trail stretches from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, delving into the heart of the hill country. Funded in part by the US and EU, it follows an extensive network of footpaths established during British colonial rule in the 19th century. These paths were originally carved out to facilitate the transportation of tea and workers between the tea fields, factories, and the newly constructed railway line.
The Pekoe Trail’s objective is clear – to entice visitors away from the well-trodden paths of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and into the uncharted beauty of its interior. Many of its 22 stages are now open, offering a glimpse into the country’s rich history, culture, and breathtaking landscapes.
A Journey in Sections:
Rather than tackling the entire trail in one go, my plan was to experience it in manageable sections. Guided by Ramli Raban, a local with a passion for sharing the secrets of his homeland, we embarked on a nine-mile journey southeast to Loolecondera. This route took us through the charming market town of Deltota, where a Hindu temple painted in pastel hues greeted us before we transitioned from tarmac to a dirt track lined with pepper plants and papaya trees.
The Deltotte Tea Estate unfolded before us, a mesmerizing carpet of parakeet-green tea bushes, meticulously spaced and pruned to waist height. Women silently plucked tea buds with lightning speed, depositing them into tarpaulin sacks that we accompanied to a weighing station. Each picker aimed to harvest 20 kilograms of tea, earning them around 600 Sri Lankan Rupees. Ramli, our guide, shared stories of his friends who toiled on these tea estates, describing the challenging life they lead – waking at 5 a.m. and walking up to 10 miles before breakfast.
From Chef to Guide:
Ramli himself had an intriguing journey, transitioning from being a chef and restaurant owner in Colombo to becoming a guide in his homeland. He shared his experiences of adversity, from the Easter bombings that forced him to close his business to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and food and fuel shortages. Despite these setbacks, Ramli remained hopeful, believing that tourism would bounce back. His enthusiasm for the Pekoe Trail was infectious, and he emphasized how it offered a genuine, grassroots experience of Sri Lanka, devoid of scripted tours.
A Different Perspective:
My next stop was the village of Ambadandegama, the base for exploring another segment of the Pekoe Trail. Here, I stayed at Amba Estate, an organic farm producing hand-rolled teas for renowned restaurants, including Copenhagen’s Noma. Neethanjana Senadheera, Amba Estate’s production manager and tea taster, challenged traditional tea industry terminology. At Amba, tea pluckers were viewed as tea artisans, and a sense of camaraderie prevailed.
Amba’s focus on small-scale, high-quality production meant that tea artisans were involved in every aspect of tea-making, from plucking leaves to packaging the final product. This was a far cry from the hierarchical, colonial-era tea plantations that still persisted in some parts of Sri Lanka.
Hiking Through Hill Country:
Joined by guide Thilantha Abeysinghe, I embarked on a two-day journey through the hill country, from Lipton’s Seat viewpoint to Demodara train station. The views were nothing short of mesmerizing, with morning mist clinging to forested hills and lush tea fields stretching out below. We passed by shrines and temples, each draped in vibrant silks, and the air was filled with the songs of flycatchers.
Thilantha, a former banker and chef, emphasized how many Sri Lankans took these landscapes for granted, opting for beach resorts over exploring their own backyard. He believed that the Pekoe Trail had the potential to not only attract foreign visitors but also foster understanding among Sri Lankans from different backgrounds.
A Taste of Cultural Diversity:
As we took a break under the shade of an empty tea-weighing station, Thilantha conjured up china cups filled with hot ginger tea and served coconut sambal and chapatis on a palm leaf. The distant sounds of the Muslim call to prayer, Hindu drums, Christian bells, and Buddhist chants blended in the air, showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich cultural tapestry, even in the remotest corners.
Thilantha’s words resonated – the Pekoe Trail was not just about hiking; it was about connecting with people who lived differently, understanding their way of life, and forging friendships along the way.
The Pekoe Trail offers a unique opportunity to delve into the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, away from the typical tourist spots. It’s a journey that immerses you in the history, culture, and natural beauty of the central highlands. From the meticulously tended tea fields to the warmth of the local people, every step of the trail tells a story.
If you’re looking for an adventure that combines hiking, cultural exploration, and a deep appreciation for nature, the Pekoe Trail beckons. It’s not just a hike; it’s an unforgettable journey through the heart of Sri Lanka.
Additional Hiking Options:
Knuckles Mountain Range: Northeast of Kandy, the UNESCO-protected Knuckles Mountain Range boasts dense forests and unique bird species. Community tourism projects like Abode offer opportunities to stay in local villages for a truly immersive experience.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve: Explore the last remaining primary tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka on foot. Challenging jungle hikes in Sinharaja bring you face to face with rare wildlife, including elephants and colorful birds.
Adam’s Peak: A pilgrimage site for Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians alike, Adam’s Peak offers a spiritual journey with a breathtaking sunrise view from its summit.
- Flights to Sri Lanka are available from various UK cities.
- Hiring an experienced local driver is recommended for navigating the central highlands.
- The best time to hike the highlands is during the dry season (December to April).
Where to Stay:
- Ellerton Bungalow
- Amba Estate
- Kalukanda House
How to Do It:
Experience Travel Group offers tailor-made, all-inclusive hiking itineraries on the Pekoe Trail, starting from £4,500 per person for around a fortnight. These packages include a private guide, chauffeur, and stays in luxury tea plantation bungalows and boutique lodges. You can also combine Pekoe Trail experiences with other adventures in Sri Lanka, from wildlife spotting to temple visits.
In conclusion, the Pekoe Trail is a journey of discovery, offering a unique blend of adventure, culture, and natural beauty. Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply seeking an authentic Sri Lankan experience, this trail has something special to offer. So, lace up your hiking boots and embark on an unforgettable adventure through the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hiking Adventure
Q: How long is the Pekoe Trail in Sri Lanka?
A: The Pekoe Trail spans 185 miles, running from Kandy in central Sri Lanka to Nuwara Eliya in the heart of the hill country.
Q: What is the significance of the name “Pekoe” in the trail’s name?
A: The name “Pekoe” is a reference to the high-grade black tea made from young tea leaves, which is a specialty of Sri Lanka’s central highlands.
Q: How can I explore the Pekoe Trail if I’m not an experienced hiker?
A: You can choose to experience the Pekoe Trail in manageable sections, making it accessible to hikers of various skill levels. Local guides are available to lead you on your journey.
Q: What is the best time to hike the Pekoe Trail in Sri Lanka?
A: The best time to hike the Pekoe Trail is during the dry season, which typically runs from December to April. During this period, you’ll enjoy plenty of sunshine and cool temperatures.
Q: Can I combine the Pekoe Trail experience with other activities in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes, you can. Experience Travel Group offers tailor-made itineraries that allow you to combine the Pekoe Trail with other adventures in Sri Lanka, such as wildlife spotting and temple visits.
Q: What makes the Pekoe Trail different from other hiking trails in Sri Lanka?
A: The Pekoe Trail offers a unique blend of hiking, cultural immersion, and a deep connection with nature. It takes you through the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, away from typical tourist routes.
Q: Are there accommodations along the Pekoe Trail?
A: Yes, there are accommodations available along the Pekoe Trail, ranging from luxury tea plantation bungalows to boutique lodges. These options provide comfort and convenience during your journey.
Q: What kind of wildlife can I expect to encounter on the Pekoe Trail?
A: While hiking the Pekoe Trail, you may encounter a variety of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, and even elephants in some areas. The trail offers a unique opportunity for nature enthusiasts.
Q: How can I arrange a guided hike on the Pekoe Trail?
A: You can arrange a guided hike on the Pekoe Trail through Experience Travel Group, which offers all-inclusive hiking itineraries with private guides and chauffeurs.
Q: Is the Pekoe Trail suitable for solo travelers, or is it better for group excursions?
A: The Pekoe Trail can be enjoyed by both solo travelers and groups. You can choose the experience that suits your preferences and travel style.
More about Hiking Adventure
- Sri Lanka Tourism Official Website
- Experience Travel Group – Pekoe Trail Hiking Itineraries
- National Geographic Traveller (UK)
- Knuckles Mountain Range Community Tourism
- Sinharaja Forest Reserve – Wildlife Worldwide
- Exodus – Highlands of Sri Lanka Tour
- SriLankan Airlines Official Website
- Pekoe Trail Official Website