The Monsoon Mountains Tea Company

The Monsoon Mountains Tea Company
Tea at World's End

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

At Loolecondera

Today is Vesak Poya. My mind takes me to the sun and jungle, to the rain and wind , to the morning mist that cobweb clings its refreshing veils of wet upon the body as it works its way to waking up the soul, to the hills and mountains covered in cypress and pine and rhododendron,  all the while, remembering the sweet exquisite perfume and edible fragrance of Frangipani flowers. 

And the lights and especially the lanterns of Vesak kiss the land like millions and millions of fireflies big and small, and the countryside at night glitters.

Today, all over the Buddhist world, people celebrate the life of the Buddha from birth to Nirvana with lights and lanterns decking houses, lighting up gardens private and public alike. I have it from a good friend in Colombo that the days are bright and warm and sunny now, and the city is festive and beautifully arrayed in the spendour of lanterns and lights.

And wherever you travel in Sri Lanka at this time, there is celebration everywhere you go, from the very serious to the joyful and fun. 

But there is especially one Vesak Poya which I just cannot forget because it was something not that I had experienced, but found written, on a placard at the Loolecondera plantation.

Loolecondera is an endearingly special place and I regard it with depth of a fondness which I can't rightly place. I walked about this tea plantation, wondering, alone with my thoughts in the peace and quiet of a hot spring day and it was not too dry. The early mists of the morning still hovered and clung to the green, which, in the heat, lent a sweet pungency to the atmosphere. Especially that of tea. Tea and sweet earth and tea and flowers and something familiar like the sweet aroma of lime tree blossoms filled me with such potency that I felt as though I was in a dream, walking there. 

Sunshine, Saris, they
Pick tea, glinting, like gems in
An emerald sea.

Here I was at Loolecondera and feeling rather overwhelmed. This is the very first tea plantation in all of Sri Lanka. James Taylor planted the first tea bushes here in 1867. And, to this day, tea is still being plucked from some of the original bushes which he planted as seedlings, and sent with rest of the harvest to the Colombo auctions . Imagine sipping a cup of tea that connects you to the hand of James Taylor himself! If one ever has the good fortune of travelling to Sri Lanka, go to Loolecondera and stay a while. Say nothing. Only feel. And on this Vesak Poya, I would like to add the words of one I had copied down because when I read this on  it's modest signpost there, no one could have written a better, more thoughful piece than this stranger who has touched the hearts of all who have been there: 

Ode to James Taylor

I felt the presence in his own domain
As of a lord and master, or power under God,
Thinkest not of me as having left
For once again, I see the beautiful
Green tops of Loolecondera tea plants,
Standing in endless array unmoved
By the strong winds, and fearless
Of the strange sounds they make
Often shy when touched
By tender fingers of a loving hand.

May you all protect the cherished land
The salubrious environment and what
It contains – I too, riding on
High clouds that float from over
The sacred Sri Pada ( Adam's Peak) shower
My blessings and protection to all
But those who ravish the sacred soil.
  • thoughts from James Taylor picked up by a sensitive friend on the Wesak Night of 6 May, 1993.

       A Very Happy Vesak Day to everyone. And may the Universe be with you always.  
     with love from a cloudy cool Edinburgh on Vesak Day, 17 May, 2011, 
    Helena Fergus-Strathmore

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Tea in Glen Lyon

Rannoch Station

'I would like to go to Rannoch Station' says I, when husband Neil asked if Friday turned out to be a good day, where we ought to go for a run in the car. I had never been to Rannoch Station before. 

And so, on Thursday night, of the 28th April, we got the gear together, items for tea and coffee making, frying pans for the bacon rolls, the primus stove , and, the following morning  saw us rising at six am and to the local 24 hour supermarket for seven am to buy supplies for the day.

We had a 5litre bottle of drinking water with us, and our first stop was at Loch Tummel forest park where we found a lovely table , and as Neil proceeded to make bacon rolls I made coffee for him and a pot of tea for myself. Loose tea. Just regular good old Yorkshire loose tea.
I had, after all the time I have lived in Scotland, never been to the Queen's View. This lookout point has a vista of Shiehallion looking westwards to Loch Rannoch over Tummel, the two bodies of water meeting and almost looking like the map of Scotland itself. Quite breathtaking and, although the place itself is associated these days with Queen Victoria, it is actually named the Queen's View after Queen Isabelle, The wife of Robert the Bruce, who's favourite place this was. Lovely, to be standing in the place of such historic footprints. Guarded by the slopes of Shiehallion.

Shiehallion. The heart of Scotland, and a most majestic peak, rises from the foothills a perfect cone,looking deceptively smooth sided and seen from miles around. The summit slants up to the sky, a pyramid formed by nature and truly majestic. Like a crown. 

Rannoch Station  is a beautiful little railway station one could say in the middle of no where at the end of the road that runs along the shores of the loch, through some wild terrain,of  rocks of various shapes and sizes strewn about the hills as though tossed by giants having a go at who could throw a rock the farthest. It reminded me so of Kalevipoeg, our own Estonian rock tossing hero. 

Glen Lyon

We all have our own variants of discus throwers, it seems. These hills about Rannoch are not so high, because we are at the line of the land that borders with the great moor, and the three sisters of Glencoe dominate the distant skyline. But what lies between this and the Glencoe route is a sea of bog. The railway line which runs through it has been built on this sponge, by layers and layers of packing, Neil says, filling and packing, to lay the railway line so it would not sink into the moor. The bogwater, reflecting oily methane slicks of Newton Rings and the aroma of peat and wild mountain winds rather reminded of something out of Tolkien. I looked behind me along the track that runs up to Mallaig, and saw hills like those of Rohan and before me, the dead marshes and Glencoe looming in the distance. Not Mordor, of course not - only the three sisters, and the Pap of Glencoe, thrusting upwards like the knuckles of a fist to the sky.

We spent a good deal of time wandering about the station; a very pretty station, before heading back along the same road to Loch Rannoch but, turning at Gaur to drive along the south shore and make our way to Glen Lyon. We thought it would be lovely to stop by Carie and have lunch, which we did. And it was at Carie, before we left, that Neil dipped the bottle into the rushing cataract and filled the now empty bottle. I was amazed at how clear the water was. Slightly peat coloured which is to be expected, but the cleanest I had ever seen. And he promised we would stop in Glen Lyon and make some tea with it, but first, we had to go to Fortingall. 

In Fortingall, there grows a Yew, the oldest Yew in all of Europe.  It used to have a girth of 54 feet. It's been protected by a wall for may years now, as it has been victim to vandalism even burning in the past, but it is still magnificent. And Fortingall itself is a place out of time, where thatched cottages line the road and wander into laneways of this small village; just the houses, the church, and the Yew tree, all at peace, a quiet sleepy hamlet.
Fortingall, GlenLyon

It is the most beautiful glen I have ever been in. Yes, for me, it even rivals Glenshee and Glen Doll. The fairy folk live here , strong, ancient fairy folk, Thomas the Rhymer fairy folk, in every tree under every stone and invisible Naiads in the running river, dancing everywhere around the green men winding about in the leaves from tree to tree.

We stopped the car at a quiet spot just over an old stone bridge. There is a large memorial cairn standing high on the other side and the river cascades in a small gorge decked with Douglas fir and tall tall straight larches in their pale spring green veils. The music of water rushing in the land of the mountain and the flood. I roamed about the river's edge in half a dream and took photographs from the bridge while Neil made the tea. And I felt a presence there, a very very strong sense of belonging.

Glen Lyon
And how perfect it all was. Tea in Glen Lyon, made with the River Water, and we drank it deliciously beneath the pines, the sun just glistening gold speckles in the late afternoon, gold, tea gold, water gold, gold river water. We had all we needed. Nothing was wanting. 

Greetings from Edinburgh in Springtime,
Helena Fergus - Strathmore