The train from Kandy to Haputale was six hours long, and having bundled myself and all my belongings into the packed carriage I realised reading on my iPad might be a bit inappropriate.
I decided to get out my sketchbook and gingerly asked the beautiful old lady opposite me if she'd mind me drawing her. When I say asked it was more miming, I'm going to be a devil at charades by the time I get home. The train rattled away throwing us all from side to side jogging my pencil in all directions. Still by the time I'd finished the whole carriage was crowded round watching and grinning at me enthusiastically. Before I knew it I had such a queue of people wanting their portrait drawn that five hours had passed before I managed to put my pencil away. So much fun! My last sitter however left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, I thought he was only eight but he claimed he was sixteen. He kept telling me he loved me then saying something I couldn't understand. The language barrier was quickly resolved when he pointed to me and the. To himself and then showed me a porn film on his phone. I think my reaction was something like that of a Victorian school mistress. I'll quickly say now that other than him everyone else has been kind beyond words.
I arrived in Haputale just before sunset, the tuktuk journey to White Monkey's rest was an event I'd rather forget. Hurtling at such speed around hairpin bends (Haputale is on a ridge 1431m above sea level) for ten minutes or so before stopping suddenly on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. He pointed down the hill and told me the home stay was 100m below before scooting off. Sure enough there were some steps, very steep steps, and the sun was quickly disappearing. Let's not forget the twenty something kilos piled onto every limb. I made it in one piece and my God was it worth it. I was staying In a bungalow on the edge of the hillside looking out over hundreds of miles of hills and tea plantations. Dinner both nights was the best food I've eaten so far.
I wish I could have stayed longer in Haputale, the views were extraordinary and I could have painted there for weeks. As it was I made the best of it and woke at 5.30 both mornings to catch the sunrise and walk for miles around the hills and town painting. I gathered quite an audience each time often turning around to find twenty or more expectant faces monitoring every brush stroke. Then someone would call their friend, I'd hear the word 'artist' and suddenly another whole family would join.
It was actually really lovely, they were all so proud of their country and pleased I was painting it. One lady insisted on driving me several miles back afterwards, in a minibus full of her entire extended family. People all around town have been high-fiving me in the street too!
This morning I took a bus to Lipton's tea factory and went up to Lipton's Seat, the spot where Thomas Lipton would sit and survey his ever growing tea empire. I could have spent days up there painting every view but i only had time for one and here it is:
Quick visit to the tea factory, sadly as its a Sunday no one was working there but it was so interesting to see all the same. Set in a colonial building with rows and rows of windows, the old wood floor has been patched up all over and some of the machines are ancient. It also smells amazing, never going to be able to open a box of teabags without thinking back to today.
Haputale was virtually untouched by tourists. This, combined with the astonishing views of the country, meant I got a much better sense of what Sri Lanka is all about. I found the painting really difficult though, there is just so much information to pack into even the smallest composition. Hills, rows of tea, trees, light, dark, clouds, distance. I wish I'd had longer as I began to get the hang of it in my fourth painting but the others were frustratingly bad. It's also just so astonishingly beautiful that it's a daunting task trying to do it any justice.