Winding its way through the cool climes of Sri Lanka’s hill country, The Pekoe Trail takes you through some of the most culturally and ecologically diverse corners of the Central & Uva Provinces. The mist-shrouded forests, rolling tea plantations, and mystical mountain towns hold intriguing stories of myth, history, tradition, spirituality, and more.
Discover the magic and mystery of Sri Lanka’s tea country with this new series of carefully curated stories. Join Stuart Butler as he journeys through time and terrain, unraveling unique stories and experiences in the highlands surrounding The Pekoe Trail.
There is evidence to suggest that Horton Plains was inhabited in the monolithic ages, over 10,000 years ago. Ever since, this wondrous region in the tea country has been a source of fascination for many. It’s a grassland fringed with epic peaks and rare cloud forests that are home to endemic fauna and flora. Look closer and many of its diverse inhabitants retell a rich history as Stuart found out in conversation with Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda, world-renowned Sri Lankan biodiversity scientist and author awarded the Linnean Medal in 2022.
Although depicted negatively in the epic saga Ramayana, Ravana was and still is a highly venerated king of ancient Sri Lanka. Legend has it that Ravana kidnapped the Indian prince Rama’s wife Sita and hid her in the Sri Lankan highlands. Much of the legend takes place in sights along The Pekoe Trail, and Sunela Jayewardene renowned architect and author who explores the subject in her book The Line of Lanka is here to give us her insights.
The Pekoe Trail’s official starting point is Kandy, the last feudal kingdom of Sri Lanka. Inspired by its unique aesthetics and distinct art styles, renowned architect Channa Daswatte has made the Kandyan countryside his holiday home. Take a walk through the city and it’s bygone era to unpack the traditions and caste system that shaped Kandyan architecture.
What does a man who has traversed many of the world’s most famous mountains and trails have to say about The Pekoe Trail? Johann Peries is one of the first two Sri Lankans to reach Mount Everest. Yet, it’s the highlands in his own turf that he revisits every chance he gets. Johann talks to fellow adventurer Stuart Butler about their experiences of trekking the Sri Lankan hill country, and why The Pekoe Trail is in their opinion, a world-class trail.
Avian life in the hills is unique in that there are many endemic species, and their eclectic habitats have resulted in unique bird behaviors. Growing up in Africa, Namal Kamalgoda developed an appreciation for wildlife, which he lives out today in Sri Lanka as a renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist.
Listen to Namal’s birding adventures and learn how The Pekoe Trail offers the perfect vantage from which to discover and photograph the colourful world of Sri Lanka’s hill country birds.
Standing in front of a gushing waterfall as the mist and gentle spray caresses your face, it’s easy to see how the waterfall is a true masterpiece of nature. It tells a tale of perseverance and transformation, of water’s gentle touch shaping even the hardest of rocks. It whispers of the passage of time and the beauty that can emerge from even the most rugged landscapes.
Sri Lanka is blessed with a network of rivers and many of them begin their journey as waterfalls in the hill country. Sumedha Chandradasa, a seasoned national guide has been chasing waterfalls for much of his life, and he unveils the myths and legends behind the cascades that you will encounter along The Pekoe Trail.
Refreshed from a tea tasting, Stuart sits down with Lalith Ramanayake, a connoisseur of Ceylon Tea to talk about the brew that put Sri Lanka on the world map. Tea fields take pride of place along The Pekoe Trail, and Lalith gives a breakdown of the teas that trekkers will encounter as well as the taste nuances of each variety.
The final hurdle of the British invasion of Sri Lanka was the Kingdom of Kandy. Power plays between native elites and their new colonial masters and a disenchantment with the feudal system led to the last King’s capture and British victory. Three notable battles interrupt the colonial era and Shamara Wettimuny, historian and founder of Itihas – a non-profit organisation that promotes a more inclusive Sri Lanka through a better understanding of its recent history, joins Stuart to decode them.
Planters are the custodians of Ceylon Tea, who wrote the blueprint for growing tea in the highlands. On the historic occasion when Ceylon became an independent Sri Lanka, planters stepped up to take over a burgeoning tea industry. Their life stories and lifestyles reflect this juncture. Bernard Holsinger, a retired veteran planter who spends much of his time in the hills, shares with Stuart how the heydays of Ceylon Tea truly were the good old days.
The tea country’s vintage trains have been the popular mode of transportation through the region, yet, walking The Pekoe Trail offers a far more enriching experience. Professor Devaka, a senior professor at the Department of Zoology, who has been immersing himself in the region for decades as a nature researcher, says walking gives you the best chance of discovering the mammals, amphibians, butterflies, birds and perhaps even the elusive leopard that Sri Lanka is famous for.
Sri Lanka’s highlands lay claim to not only tea but an abundance of native crops, thanks to plenty of natural water bodies, fertile soil, and an idyllic climate. Long before tea came into existence, native folk and ancient rulers harvested a variety of crops in the hill country.
Stuart speaks to Mahendra Peiris, winner of the Presidential Green Award 2016 for the Best Sustainable Farm/Agro-tourism Model in Sri Lanka, and learns that there is much to be said about the highly purposeful and, not to-mention, delectable agri products one could find along The Pekoe Trail.
Mapping a hiking trail is quite a unique process and is not merely about marking waypoints; it requires a deep understanding of the environment, the terrain’s nuances, elevation changes, and the symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna. It takes a trailblazer to be able to do this.
Trail extraordinaire Miguel Cunat was already sold on Sri Lanka when he stumbled upon the walking trails that connect the hill country. His global trail experiences helped him map out the 300km long Pekoe Trail. Join Stuart as he chats with Miguel to find out about what makes The Pekoe Trail unique, and how its design allows trail walkers to experience serendipity on foot.
In the heart of the forest, where sunlight filters through a canopy of leaves, time seems to stand still. Picture yourself stepping into this enchanting realm, where the air is filled with the fragrances of earth and foliage. It’s not just a walk; it’s a journey of the senses. As you meander along the winding trails, each step becomes a deliberate communion with nature. In this verdant sanctuary, the forest becomes a healer, offering moments of peace and connection that linger long after you’ve left its embrace.
Rachel Chanmugam, who recently trekked several stages of The Pekoe Trail together with Stuart, affirms that it’s a transformative mind and body experience. A nature-connectedness facilitator by profession, she found that the diversity of nature experiences in the Sri Lankan highlands was ideal for mindfulness practices. During her trek, Rachel discovered the healing powers of The Pekoe Trail.
The whistle of a kettle, the clinking of fine china and cutlery on a silver tray, and the pitter-patter of feet on cement floors. The Appu scuttles to the living room of the bungalow to lay out the piping hot tea, scones, homemade strawberry jam, and fresh clotted cream; a scrumptious afternoon treat in keeping with the traditions of a bygone era.
Buttler, housekeeper, mixologist, and master chef, The Appu is the ultimate multitasker heralding from the hay days of Ceylon Tea. Stuart sits down to a cup of tea and homemade scones with Shiara Bandaranayake, a planter’s wife whose very own Appu has been with her for over 24 years, to understand the unique role of The Appu in a planter’s home.
Several planter’s bungalows along The Pekoe Trail still have their very own Appu who’d easily whip up a dining experience not to be missed.
Ceylon Tea is an industry that started from scratch, spearheaded by a handful of industrious and innovative chaps nearly 200 hundred years ago.
Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, a planter by profession and a leader of the local tea industry in Sri Lanka, is here to paint a picture of its historic beginnings and to set the record straight on the discovery of Ceylon Tea, in conversation with Stuart.
The Pekoe Trail in many ways is an opportunity to discover the incredible biodiversity that Sri Lanka has to offer, and Hanthana where the trail officially begins, will set your expectations high. Stuart in conversation with Dr. Siril Wijesundera, former Director General of the Department of National Botanic Gardens in Sri Lanka, discovers the staggering number of endemic flora and fauna that hikers will pass by and how to spot them.
Anyone walking through the tea estates along The Pekoe Trail is sure to stumble upon a lively festival as Stuart found out. Aside from the symphony of music, dance and colour of these multi-cultural and multi-religious festivals, the true beauty of it is that they are welcome to everyone.
Find out how you can encounter vibrant festivals celebrated by the plantation communities along The Pekoe Trail, as Stuarts speaks to Sundararaj Prabhu and Sarath Jayasekera, both of whom are well versed in the subject.
Sri Lanka’s highlands lay claim to not only tea but an abundance of native crops, thanks to plenty of natural water bodies, fertile soil, and an idyllic climate. Long before tea came into existence, native folk and ancient rulers harvested the hill country for agriculture.
Stuart speaks to Mahendra Peiris, winner of the Presidential Green Award 2016 for the Best Sustainable Farm/Agro-tourism Model in Sri Lanka and learns that there is much to be said about the highly purposeful, and not to mention delectable, agri products one could find along The Pekoe Trail.