Lipton’s Seat in Haputale is a
favourite among road-trippers looking for a mountain view vacation. This tea
plantation marked the beginning of tea exports from Sri Lanka and if you’re
there on a clear day, it’s got a breath-taking view.
It’s called Lipton’s Seat
because it’s where Thomas Lipton sat down with a cuppa and proudly looked over
the fruits of his endeavors. Or that’s how the story goes. The Scottish
businessman started out in Sri Lanka in the late 1800s, when British
colonization made it easy, buying several tea plantations and setting Tamil Indian
workers to work on them. Lipton Ceylonta, his brand of tea, was then born, and
marketed and exported all over the world. The stuff leaves Lipton’s Seat on Dambatenna Estate and
goes to countries worldwide today.
This was actually a part of a tour organized by Lipton Ceylonta during their re-launch which was held at the premises of SirThomas Lipton’s Bungalow, which is where we came across the narly photo of him. Lipton’s Seat had been where Sir Thomas Lipton had gone to get some alone time, invite friends for a cup of tea or just to relax.
Haputale itself is a grueling seven
hours from Colombo in your own vehicle. If you survive the endlessly meandering
roads to this part of the country, getting up to Lipton’s Seat is another
journey on its own, up a ridiculously narrow road, sometimes having to
negotiate with other vehicles on the same path. Although, all along you get an
increasingly beautiful view of the plantations and the blue mountains in the
distance. The best time to be here is early morning, at around 8AM, before the
fog gets in your way.
On the way up, you’ll see plenty
of hand-painted signage featuring lines in English that preach kindness to
wildlife (like ‘animals are a sacred trust to us, they cannot speak for
themselves’), and white scribbles on the rocks in Tamil encouraging
people to vote (this time it was for Aravind Kumar).
The tea plantation is home to a
large community, of mostly Tamils – generations who’ve lived and settled here
starting from Lipton’s plantation workers who were made to migrate from South India.
The plantation workers have a complex history of their own, denied Indian
citizenship and Sri Lankan citizenship for decades, till they were finally
granted Sri Lankan citizenship in the 1990s. Even today they suffer from low
wages and long hours of work on the estate while tea corporations reap from their
If you’re here in the morning
you’ll catch children of the plantation workers in uniform heading to school
and the tea-pluckers, all women, lining up and setting off to work on the hedges. There’s a kovil
that sticks out among the green quiet of the estate, serving the majority of
Hindu Tamils in the community.
The view in Haputale is nuts.
If you’re looking for a peaceful, picturesque holiday – with fresh air, rolling
green hills, the whole works – Haputale is the place to be. Lipton’s Seat is
worth hiking up to when you get there.
We set off from Olympus Plaza
Hotel, which is near the Haputale railway station much like many of the other
hotels, at about 7AM and reached the top of Lipton’s Seat in about two hours.
If you’re a city person, the green plains, the sky and the mountain range here
can blow your mind – it’s beautiful, and if you’re a photographer, you’re probably
going to wear out your camera.
At the top of Lipton’s Seat is
now literally an actual seat with a statue of Thomas Lipton on it, with a cup
in his hand. Like the Ronald McDonald statue, this statue is just asking for
hilarious selfies to be taken with it. From here you get a spectacular view of the
Uva, Southern, Sabaragamuwa, Central and Eastern provinces – hills and sky for
miles on end. You can also buy a packet of Lipton Ceylonta from a little shop
By about 10AM, clouds may come
rolling in and suddenly everything that was so vivid and colourful a moment ago
will be just a big white space. This is actually my favourite part – it’s like
being in a Samuel Beckett play.
Lipton’s Seat and Haputale in general is one of our favourite places on the island to watch the sunrise and sunset. It gets pretty magical.
Other Stuff In The Neighborhood
Besides kicking back and
enjoying the scenic beauty, there isn’t much to do in Haputale.
There is the Dambatenna Tea
Factory in the area, in case you’re something of a tea connoisseur. You’ll find some gorgeous hill-country flowers on the immaculate tea factory lawn. As you
walk inside it’s like a film from the 1980s – everything from the machinery to
the costumes. Pay a small touring fee and they will show and tell you everything
you need to know about tea. But be warned, you are going to be smelling,
inhaling and feeling so much tea in here that you will probably not want to have
anything to do with tea for the next month.
The best activity while you’re in these parts, we’d say, is to go wandering through the hills – arrange a little early
morning hike with your hotel.
Lipton’s Seat is where you go
to get away from it all. If you’ve been having a crazy month and you’re looking
for a quiet rest and some of the most beautiful views on the island, it’s a