The Grand Canyon painted green
Ever wondered how the Grand Canyon would look if there were trees in
it - trees, lakes and bushes of tea in every shade of green imaginable?
Wonder no more. Make it to Haputale on a clear day, travel along the
Dambethanna road for 1 km and you will see it - a sight more beautiful
than a picture or more breathtaking than a painting of Monet, Turner or
Yes, you too would be as breathless as I am, as I raise my eyes
upwards and search the horizon trying to identify Ambilipitiya,
Lunugamvehera, Handapanagala and the light blue line which might indeed
be the Indian Ocean ever so far away.
More beautiful than a painting of Monet
View from Dambethanna road
Breathless too, like me, when you move your eyes downwards to look at
the precipice only a few inches away from your feet, so deep it reminds
you of an image of a crater on the moon.
Looking down at the tiny white spots 5000 feet below me, I recall a
scene in an Indiana Jones movie where passersby stand peering into a
deep ravine thinking Jones had fallen into it, and has breathed his
last, when he suddenly appears behind the crowd and taps one in the back
to ask what they are so solemnly gazing at down below.
Just as I begin to smile recalling the smug look on Jones’ face,
someone taps me too, on the shoulder. I jump, backwards (had I done
otherwise I would not be here to tell you the rest of the story) almost
into the arms of an elderly gentleman - my host - who has so graciously
invited me to experience the cool, lugubrious surroundings of the
Haputale mountain range on this brilliant sun kissed day.
Ganaraja Rajakrishnan, who prefers to call himself an ‘agriculturist’
who loves the soil and who believes like Thoreau “we can never have
enough of nature”, points his finger at the eastern sky and tells me
there, on that far mountain top called Poonagala is the famous Lipton’s
seat, the favorite view point of Sir Thomas Lipton. He wonders aloud if
I have seen the Bogoda Bridge, which is about 40 km away from Haputale.
When I shake my head to say no he says, the bridge said to be built
during the 16th Century has a wooden roof over it and is considered the
oldest surviving wooden bridge in the world. He ends his lecture with an
“Sri Lanka is such a small country, but you have not even visited
half of it”. I make a pledge to myself as well as to my host that I will
remedy the situation as soon as time permits. “Good” he nods in
“When you come next time I will show you a tunnel built by British
soldiers which is said to run underground from Haputale all the way to
Ella”. Has he been inside? “No” he gives one of his rare smiles. “No one
who goes inside has ever come back”. Perhaps they emerged at Ella and
decided Ella is a far better place than Haputale and lived there happily
“No”, this time the answer comes from his assistant K Mervyn Perera
who has worked as a field officer in almost all the tea estates
surrounding Haputale. “This is the most beautiful place I have lived
in,” Perera insists. He should know.
With over 57 years experience as a field officer, having worked with
27 European planters and an equal number of Sri Lankans, Perera recalls
the ‘good ol’days’ when planters rode on horseback and kept an
uncountable number of dogs as pets.
“One Manager had over 40 dogs who went around with him wherever he
went. Another, a retired war veteran, P L Powell, always had a pipe in
his mouth. He kept mumbling incomprehensible phrases and lost his temper
if anyone dared to say “I beg your pardon”.
Perera shows me a row of roses he had planted way back in the early
1990s, roses which still look as young and healthy as though they were
planted only a few months ago. “Can you think of a product made with the
roots of roses?”
Since I am in tea country the first and the only answer I can think
of is “rose tinted tea” - wrong answer. Not only wrong but far off the
mark. When I give up he shows with gestures the act of smoking a pipe.
There you have it. Pipes (the kind you smoke with) are made of rose
Time to fall in step once more with my real life Thoreau. The sky
which had till then looked like well worn denim, once dark, now faded
into a lighter blue, suddenly turns gray. The mist descends on us like a
white curtain as if Mother Nature’s magnificent performance has come to
an end, but not my lessons on nature and the power of observation.
“Do you see those two patches of mist above those rocks?” He asks.
“Do you see the difference between them?” He asks again.
“Look closer”. When I still fail to see anything more he tells me.
“The colour of the mist on your right is different from the colour on
your left. This side is darker, the other side lighter”.
I lose my breath (again). As I watch the colours of the sky change,
the colours of the landscape in front of me too begins to change: from
dark green to light green to green-yellow.
Thus ends my day in Haputale with an unforgettable lesson etched into
my mind. Observe. Look beyond the obvious. See what is really there
instead of what is expected. Helen Keller hits the nail on the head when
she said the biggest calamity that could fall on someone is “to have
eyes and fail to see”. From now on, no cloud will ever be just a cloud.
Thank you, Uncle Rajakrishnan.