Sunday, November 21, 2010

Loolecondera - The first Tea land of Sri Lanka

Loolecondara is in Delthota, Hewaheta, bordering the district line of Kandy and Nuwaraeliya. It’s about 35 km from Peradeniya on the Galaha road.
Loolecondara is well-known as the first ever tea estate established in Sri Lanka. In 1867 a Scottish cultivator, James Taylor, who is regarded as the founder of Sri Lankan Tea, was the first to plant tea in Loolecondara. Before that this area was used for coffee and cinchona plantations. There was a Museum build with the equipments and the remains from that era to commemorate the efforts of James Taylor to the Ceylon Tea. But now it’s no more there the exhibits have moved to the
Tea Museum at Hanthana Kandy. Still, you'll find several landmarks of James Taylor in the upper part of the tea estate. "Taylor seat" (a stone chair which he has used to admire the beauty of nature), "Log Cabin" (ruins of his bungalow), "Taylor's well" (well which he used to take water) are among them.

Another key feature in the estate is it possesses the longest Tea Factory in Sri Lanka with a length of 324 ft. The factory still produces fine upcountry tea leaves which having a good demand. Here they produces the "Sliver tips”, the most rarest and most expensive of all teas produce by the country. This facility has several machineries which build by the British planters. A massive generator, installed in 1935 and even used today is among them, it’s said that the parts were brought here by the elephant carts. So, this is all about the Tea legend of Loolecondera. Let me explain you the natural beauty and the rich biodiversity here.

Planting tea has done a huge damage to the natural environment of the hill country in Sri Lanka. Comparatively the damage done to the forest is low here in Loolecondara where James Taylor designed Tea estate in such a way that the effect on the environment was minimized. The virgin natural forest in top of the estate is evidence of his great work.

The special feature of this forest is the forest type which it belongs to and its rich biodiversity. It belongs to a unique forest type called “mid elevational lower montane forest”, which is one of the thirteen different forest types that can be found in Sri Lanka. Forests of this type are seen only in Knuckles and Rakwana, except Loolecondara, which represent the three major mountain ranges in Sri Lanka. Elevation of this forest type is 900 – 1400 m from sea level and the temperature, rainfall and cloudiness of the forests vary with elevation.

Trees of family Dipterocarpacea are dominant in some areas of the forest, specially the Doona species. Occurrence of this type of trees in the hill country is considered as unusual. Rhododendron arboretum Subsp. Zeylanicum a member of Family Ericaceae, an endemic flowering tree, which is a common site in Horton Planes also can be seen here. It is rare to see this tree in a relatively low altitude like in Loolecondara.

Some of the floral species you can see here is Rhododendron zeylanicum, Gordonia zeylanica, Elacocarpus glandulifer, Cinnomomum litseafolium, Gaertnera walkeri, Psychotria zeylanica, Gordoniya ceylanica,

In the ground layer of the forest you’ll be able to witness rare ground Orchid species, Anoectocchilus setaceus which is called in sinhala as “Wana raja” and Ipsea speciosa (Naga-meru-ala).

Not only the floral diversity, the faunal diversity in “Loolecondara” is prominent. Out of the five lizard species recorded here, three are endemic to Sri Lanka. Rhino-horn Lizarrd (Ceratophora stoddartii ) is an endemic lizard which has a high abundance in “Loolecondara” forest.

Many bird species have also been recorded in this forest including endemic species especially a rare bird Dusky-blue flycatcher (Eumyias sordida). “Loolecondara” is a heaven of amphibians and other small vertebrates. These are several amphibian species that have been recorded including Bufo melanostictus, Limnonectes limnocuaris, Limnonectes greenii, Limnonectes kirtisinghe, Limnonectes corvugatu, Rana temporalis.

The largest predator in Sri Lankan forests, Sri Lankan leopard (Panthara pardus kotiya) is also found here. There are other mammal species such as Fishing Cat (Felis viverrinus), Purple-faced leaf-monkey (Pithecus vetulus), Indian Hare (Lepus nigricollis sinhala), Wild Boar (Sus scrofacristatus), and Common Palm Civet (Paradoxyrus heramphroditus).

Today the growing importance of uplands as catchments for water conservation, biodiversity conservation and other downstream services has been recognized. “Loolecondara” as a unique upland plays a significant role in ecosystem integrity. Therefore, conservation together with proper awareness of this forest and its biodiversity should be highly considered.

On weekends and public holydays general public used to come here in numbers to enjoy & to see the breathtaking view of the mountain top (“Kondagala” 1514 m). Most of them seem are unaware of the history, rich biodiversity off the place. It’s noticeable that many try to pollute the place by dumping ploythenes, plastic bottles and garbage. Even some try to mark their names on the rocks and trees [some even do it by paints!! I can think of people, bringing paints on trips to write their names!!!]. Worse thing is some used to grab flowering plants and orchids on the trees & they try to take home, thinking they would have a nice garden at home!! These practices of the place should be stopped, currently the estate authority has some level of intervention on visitors, but it’s not sufficient as their main priority is not visitors.

So, anyone who reads this and thinking of going there, Please do not pollute the place… try to be a responsible person. Finally I would quote the famous saying

Kill only time…

Take only pictures…

Remove only rubbish…

Leave only footprints….

Photographs by © Suranjith Bandara 2010