POONAGALA – A Group of Tea Estates Which has Stood Over 100 Years
Poonagala, a sprawling group of estates is located east of Haputale and south of Bandarawela in the Uva highlands of Sri Lanka. One has to travel about 120 miles from Colombo towards the south east of the country to reach this place by road.
I had the opportunity to travel to this property by road from the nearest town Bandarawela, a distance of about 14 miles through a steep, winding road. As I climbed up the road, of course by a four-wheeler, I felt the atmosphere suddenly changing from somewhat warmth to a cool one, similar to that experienced in Nuwara Eliya. By the time I reached the estate, I was shivering even though it was a bright sunny afternoon.
The estate’s elevation ranges between 2,500 feet to 5,000 feet above sea level. It is over 4,400 acres in extent with eight divisions, and considered one of the largest plantations in the island. At the time of my visit, the entire property had only one factory located at Poonagala, producing the largest quantity of CTC tea in the country.
To me personally, it was not merely a sight-seeing tour. I was visiting my brother who was the Factory Manager at that time and was very much involved in the re-structuring and conversion of the old factory into a large CTC factory which required a tremendous amount of dedication and hard work from all concerned.
According to records, the first four estates forming the Group in 1895 was owned by Sir George Pilkington and at the time was being managed by James Bisset, a contemporary of James Taylor, the father of Ceylon Tea.
The entire estate abounds in trees which seem to have been planted in the right places, as windshields and for timber. Wind plays an important part in the production of Uva teas, and creates high demand during the July/August dry season. It is because when the south west monsoon blows out in the Nuwara Eliya range of mountains, it drifts across Uva, taking out the moisture from the tea leaves resulting in high flavored seasonal made tea fetching very high prices.
Today, Poonagala has a work force of about 1,700 compared to about 700 when the estate was formed in 1895.
I visited a place called Pilkington Point where the scenery below was simply breath-taking. This is called the Second World’s End, due to its striking similarities.
A section of the estate leads toward Koslanda Valley and estate workers used to be in constant fear of wild elephants encroaching into the estate from this valley.
Below some pics taken from Pilkington Point: