The tea plantations are one of the most famous symbols of Sri Lanka and a highlight for most visitors. Easily accessible as the main train line from Colombo to Badulla passes through numerous plantations, starting mainly after Hatton train station (the jump-off point for visiting Adam´s Peak).
One of the great cultural walks in Sri Lanka is the +800 m walk up to Lipton´s seat, starting out from Dambatenne tea factory, a 45 min tuk-tuk ride from Haputale. Dambatenne was the original factory of tea-magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, and it is said that he often walked to the point now called Lipton´s seat to survey his empire. It takes around 2 hours to walk the 7 km and 800+ meters ascent up to the seat from Dambatenne tea factory, all the way through tea plantations on a paved road.
The tea-pluckers are Tamil women. They live in separate Tamil villages, located close the tea plantations, easily distinguished by prominent hindu temples. Employed by the Dambatenne Estate, they are payed 600 Rupees (around 4 US dollars) per day for a quota of 18 kg tea leaves. Whenever the bag on their backs is full, they empty it at a weighing station. If the 18 kg quota is not reached, their salary is reduced according to a specific algorithm.
It has been well documented that the Tamil tea-pluckers are among the poorest in Sri Lanka. Apart from tea-plucking being hard work, they are frequently discriminated against and the Tamil communities are not integrated into the Sri Lankan communities. My tuk-tuk drivers mother used to be a tea-plucker, but was able to give it up as her children could provide sufficient income for the household. He told me how she would complain from constant back-pain as well as chronic skin problems, not to mention the ubiquitous leeches present in the often wet tea-fields.
09:00 It is olive harvesting season and I liberate my car from under a huge net meant to catch the olives from the trees on the parking space. I share a house just outside Molyvos on the north coast of Lesvos with two other volunteers, respiratory therapists from the United States, who mainly work on the North Coast.
09:10 On my way to Moria Camp I pass an interimistic camp. 50 people, who had arrived by boats during the night waited for busses to transport them to the transit camps.
10:00 I arrive at Moria Camp. Colleagues are already at work examining patients, who queue outside the tent. Many patients do not speak English. That seems to be the main issue right now. I then began the day by walking around the hill looking for translators: Farsi-English was the no. 1 need as the Arab-speaking Syrians were registered, and thus left for mainland Greece sooner than the other nationalities.
10:30 I had succeeded finding three volunteer translators, all waiting to be registered them selves: A 21-yr old woman from Afghanistan, a 20-year old man, also from Afghanistan and another 20-yr man from Iran. Female translators were in particularly high demand, for cultural reasons.
11:00 I start to see patients. Most have minor illnesses, mainly common cold and many ask for antibiotics. Tooth problems are another major issue, for which we as doctors can do little but dispense painkillers. Our pharmacy was remarkably well supplied as several volunteers had brought medicines with them. Furthermore, complete strangers would come by and donate medicines while others would buy medicines according to a list made by some of my colleagues at the local pharmacy.
12:00 A 20-year old Afghan male arrived with severely burned fingers, which he explained happened when lighting a campfire in Turkey. Luckily our extraordinarily well-stocked pharmacy had the items needed to treat him.
12:30 Out of the blue, two dentists arrived with their equipment. They installed themselves on a plastic table right outside our tent and started working. This first day they performed five tooth extractions.
14:00 A young man, paralyzed from the lower neck and down arrived in a wheelchair pushed by his brother. The young man had been paralyzed for 11 years after he broke his neck falling down from a rock. The told me they had made the long journey from Afghanistan hoping his brother could be cured in Germany.
16:00 I left Moria and drove up to the North Coast. It was a quiet afternoon and I chatted with volunteers from some of the other groups.
19:00 A big boat with more than 200 migrants arrived at the harbor of a small fishing village as I drove by on my way home. I went out to have a look, but all seemed fine.
Lake Waikaremoana Track. A very atmospheric walk around a remote lake.The Milford Track. Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound.
The Milford Track.Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound. It is located close to the Routeburn Track, which I would walk instead of the Milford if not possible to secure a space.
Top day hikes:
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I walked this as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This is a spectacular walk through volcanic craters and lakes next to Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) with steam coming up from underneath.
The Great Walks are all relatively easy walks, with no scrambling required, thus appealing to people of average fitness and average hiking experience. They have also been chosen to represent the variations in scenery and ecosystems offered. The drawback to these walks are that all camping and hut spaces must be booked in advance via the DOC (online or in person), meaning that some of the most popular tracks sell out months in advance, most notably the Milford Track. I succeeded in getting tickets to all of the below walks a couple of days before departure, except the Milford Track (I finally booked with a commercial agency) and the Routeburn Track (I walked it in one long day).
There are plenty other hikes just as beautiful as the well-marketed Great Walks, some of them significantly more difficult. Unfortunately, I have, as of now, only walked a few of them.
Below a brief characteristic of each walk linking to an in-depth post:
Contrary to what many websites suggest, the Everest Base Camp trek is a very straight-forward trek and, as such, even for a moderately experienced solo hiker, neither guide nor porter is necessary.
What documents/permits need to be arranged in advance:TIMS (get it on the spot in Kathmandu), National Park Fee (in Kathmandu or on the trail).
Getting there: The trek starts in Lukla (plane from Kathmandu). It is also possible to walk in from Jiri (12 hours bus-ride from Kathmandu and an additional 5-6 days hike).
The trail: Is like a highway. Up and down valleys bordered by 6000+ meters high mountains. On the standard route to Everest Base Camp I would say it is impossible to get lost. If crossing the three high passes more care may be needed.
The backpack: Pack light, though remember temperatures may drop to minus 10 degrees or more and snow may be encountered at any times: Down jacket, shell jacket and pants, sturdy hiking boots. Consider a four-season down sleeping bag. Consider hiking poles. A backpack with all this equipment need not weigh more than 7 kg.
The teahouses: Are widely distributed. They all serve food and beverages and sell snacks. The accommodation is basic, blankets will be provided, however heating is only available in the dining room. The last teahouses before Everest Base Camp, mainly in Gorak Shep may be full, in which case accommodation will be in the dining room.
Electricity: Sporadically available after Namche Bazaar. I brought solar panels. Note that when temperatures are below zero, the iPhone looses battery power rapidly.
The altitude: Altitude sickness is the major danger. The recommendations from the Himalayan Rescue Association is a maximal daily ascent of 3-400 meters after 3000 meters. As it takes only 1,5 hours to ascend 300 meter and many people are impatient, I saw many guided tours ascend too rapidly with their parties. I saw helicopter evacuations every day. Some recommend intake of Diamox for prevention, however this is, in my opinion, not an alternative to ascending slowly.
The weather: May shift at any time. Above 4500 meter it gets very cold, especially when the sun is not out. Pack accordingly.
The Most Memorable Moment:
Hiking up the Kongma La Pass at 5535 meter I was surprised by a heavy snowstorm, a genuine whiteout, at about 5400 meter, just below the summit. As I could see nothing I had to turn back down the valley, the track being obliterated I had to find my way down scrambling off-track for 6 hours until I reached Dingboche:
Generally, the really spectacular scenery opens up above the tree-limit around Pheriche and the most spectacular scenery was around Chhukung and Kongma La pass.
Watching the porters carry impossible loads on their backs and still walking past me.