Great Scenes of Dambatenne
Published : 21 Aug, 2020

One of the most impressive tours from Colombo by road, one would feel, is the climb to Haputale through Ratnapura, Balangoda and Belihuloya. When you come to the bottom of the Haputale hills, you would start feeling the coolness of the Uva province right from a small town called Haldumulla. From here, you climb up the zigzagging road and when nearing Haputale you get romantically blended with the surrounding beauty which is so enchanting.

From the road you could see low lying areas stretching a s far as south east of Sri Lanka as far down as Hambantota. If you are lucky with the weather gods, the atmosphere should be free of clouds to believe what you see. Haputale is a small town, which during most part of the year is covered with mist and sometimes thick fog. When it’s windy, strong gusts make you shudder and feel as if the air is going through your ears into your soul. From this town, Dambatenne Road branches off leading toward the mighty hills of Haputale.

The road was paved and reasonably well maintained. But the condition of the road was of little concern to me as I proceeded further up the hills toward Dambatenne, my mind fully focused on the abundance of beauty nature has bestowed. Unmistakably, anyone who visits this part of the world will see a difference in atmosphere.

Haputale is a small town, which during most part of the year is covered with mist and sometimes thick fog. When it’s windy, strong gusts make you shudder and feel as if the air is going through your ears into your soul. From this town, Dambatenne Road branches off leading toward the mighty hills of Haputale.

The road was paved and reasonably well maintained. But the condition of the road was of little concern to me as I proceeded further up the hills toward Dambatenne, my mind fully focused on the abundance of beauty nature has bestowed. Unmistakably, anyone who visits this part of the world will see a difference in atmosphere.

At one point I saw three tea factories standing majestically in a row, all across Haputale valley. The first one is Thotalagalla, then Pita Ratmalie and the last towards the end Dambatenne itself, beyond which looked like a dead-end. I was told the other side is Poonagala Valley. All these three factories produce some of the best Uva High Grown teas which attract high prices in the Colombo Tea Auctions.

As I travelled further up the bumpy road, Dambatenne Tea Garden welcomed me with a number of sign boards, beautifully designed to show off prominently, what I wanted to see. From the entry point of this vast garden, sign boards indicated I was near Dambatenne Tea Factory.

However, I was now more eager to visit the out-door seat used by one of best known names in the tea industry – Sir Thomas Lipton’s LIPTON SEAT. This has become a tourist attraction, from all over the world. My trip to the factory could be postponed, I thought.

“Today Lipton means tea. However, in his time Sir Thomas Lipton was known for much more. Raised in desperate poverty, he became rich beyond his wildest dreams. He built a global empire of markets, factories, plantations, and stockyards.” Michael D’Antonia in Biography of Sir Thomas Lipton

Lipton’s Seat used by Sir Thomas Lipton

It took me some time to gather as much facts as possible about this personality named Sir Thomas Lipton, whose name is so commonly seen on the packets of tea leaves throughout the world.

Perhaps, the most interesting episode on Sir Thomas Lipton’s life history has been summarized in the Glasgow Guide, a UK periodical: “ Born in a tenement in Gorbals in 1850, of Irish parents, Tommy Lipton left school at ten and at 15 was in America. He had stowed away in a ship. Initially he worked as a farm labourer in Virginia and South Carolina, later working in a grocer’s shop in New York. He must have absorbed American business flair, for five years later he was back in Glasgow opening what was to be the first shop in an extremely successful retail empire.”

In ten years he was a millionaire, acquiring tea estates in Sri Lanka and meat processing factories in America. His business philosophy he summed up as, “Work hard, deal honestly, be enterprising, exercise careful judgement, advertise freely but judiciously.” In the tea business, particularly, he was innovative, selling different tea blends to different countries and using containers to help preserve freshness. It was Lipton who was the first to package tea in small, convenient tins to keep it fresh, preserve the flavour and guarantee that customers received the correct amount of tea. By the turn of the century, tea was a popular beverage on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Sir Thomas Lipton died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Osidge UK on the 2nd October 1931
The tea plantation he acquired was DAMBATENNE Estate.

“In 1937, six years after Lipton’s death, a High Court order allowed his trustees to sell his interests with the proceeds going to the Lipton Trust for the benefit of the poor in Glasgow. By 1946, when the last payment was made, The Lipton trust had donated a total of £821,000 to the City. The Lipton brand, now owned by Unilever, is still going strong.”

The total distance from Haputale town to Lipton’s Seat is about 20.5 kilometres, but one would not feel the distance due to the beautiful scenes one could enjoy along the road. Sign boards indicate the way up to the famous place.
Travelling to Lipton’s Seat cost a good deal, as the price from Haputale has to be on a car, van or three-wheeler, charges are exorbitant whatever means you choose. A small stretch of land has been cleared up on the edge of the cliff to make a tarmac, made comfortable for visitors to park their vehicles and relax under a thatched hut. From here the actual Lipton’s Seat is connected by flights of stone steps down a foot path.

Sir Thomas Lipton, often came here to admire the expansive panoramic views. Mornings are best if you wish to visit as clouds cover the area on most days around noon till the following morning. On a clear day, you could view all the way to the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

We could only imagine how Sir Lipton must have enjoyed the natural beauty of the magnificent landscape. It is hard to describe the serenity nature could offer us in the form of green hills, white clouds floating above tree tops, in the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

A small eatery for refreshments for the visitors has been built in the vicinity and the entire place is being maintained by the management of Dambatenne.

Dambatenne & Lipton Seat

History In A Nutshell – A roadside plaque on Dambatenne!

While the tourists and visitors continue to look at the concrete structure below the car park as the ‘seat’ where Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit, relax, admire the beauty of nature and may even have meditated in silence, an interesting revelation was related by a one time planter. Mr. Vige John Pillai who was the Assistant Manager of the division from 1979 to 1983, in which the Lipton Seat is located. During this period, he was in charge of an Accelerated Replanting Program undertaken by the estate. According to him a huge stone above the tea shop in the picture was the actual “seat” Mr. Lipton had used and it was broken and removed to make terraces for the replanting operation. This claim may be true, since the view from this location is much more enchanting than the “concrete shed” now being shown to visitors as Lipton’s Seat! (Most people believe that the concrete structure pictured below was the spot where Thomas Lipton had his Seat).

Above: The exact spot where Lipton’s Seat was supposed to have been located, where an observation structure has now been built. However, I could not find any further evidence to this claim!

On the way back to Haputale, I stopped over near Dambatenne Tea Factory, which was my primary purpose of the trip. A long white building, the factory was built in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton and most of it looked as if nothing had been changed even though it has seen much modernization.

The factory is one of the finest looking buildings in the whole of the Uva Highlands. I gathered that some of the equipment and machinery of the colonial era have been preserved, obviously, for sentimental reasons!

Above: Sir Thomas Lipton

Dambatenne factory has been producing some of the finest teas Ceylon Tea could offer the world. No wonder the present owners of Lipton’s continue to buy large quantity of Dambatenne tea they sell to the world.

Anver Kamiss

Tuan Branudeen Kamiss writes with the pen name ‘Anver Kamiss’ was born on an upcountry tea plantation in the Dickoya Tea Planting district and completed his senior secondary education at Highlands College, Hatton. He was the first expatriate to complete 23 years of continuous service on a United States Air Force contract in the Sultanate of Oman as the Senior Administrative Officer. Anver Kamiss had a previous life! He served for over 18 years in Sri Lanka’s lush tea plantations in the Dickoya and Dimbula planting regions, his final tint at Drayton Kotagala in the Dimbula planting region, where he was in-charge of the plantation office. His passion for Ceylon Tea never diminished, upon his return made him switch to extensive research on some of Sri Lanka’s best Tea Factories in the Upcountry area. His book was purchased by one of Sri Lanka’s top Tea Exporters – Akbar Brothers five years ago. Anver Kamiss has settled in Canada and will be contributing a series of articles on the life of Tea Estate people, Factories and Machinery, all of which go to produce what the world recognizes as CEYLON TEA! Any questions on the subject may be directed to him by email [email protected]

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