Southwards from Kandy, the central mountains rise in elevation until the plateau of Nuwara Eliya is reached. Beyond, the land descends in a series of peaks and passes before rising again to a second high plateau, known as Horton Plains, from the edge of which it falls precipitously down to the forests of Bintenna thousands of feet below. Between these two high plateaus lies the tea-growing district of Dimbula (or, as it is sometimes spelled, Dimbulla). The name is derived from that of the valley which lies at the heart of the region, surrounded by the sub-districts of Bogawanthalawa, Dickoya, Kotagala, Maskeliya, Nanu-Oya and Talawakelle.
The history of this part of Sri Lanka actually begins with the plantation enterprise, for before its pioneers began opening up the hill country, it was uninhabited and almost impenetrable. This was the true Mayarata or Land of Illusions, reputed haunt of demons and evil spirits, where only the most desperate outcasts and fugitives ever ventured – never, more often than not, to be seen again. Wild elephants by the thousand, deer and sambhur by the tens of thousands, grazed upon the high, misty meadows of Horton Plains, safe from hunters and settlers; eagles rode the biting winds, pythons and leopards silently pursued their prey through rhododendron woods and dank, mossy cloud-forests where orchids of fantastic shape and colour glowed in the darkness among the tree-trunks – all unseen by Man, who had never once ventured here since the dawn of time.
Its isolation ended with the coming of tea in the 1870s. Dimbula was, in fact, one of the earliest districts to be planted in the new crop. The teas of the district were found to produce a distinctive flavour of their own, one that lovers of fine tea prize to this day. This happy discovery brought settlement and commerce to the formerly uninhabited region, though Dimbula and its sub-districts remain wild and thinly populated to this day. Most local residents are plantation workers and their families; the remainder also tends to be occupied in work that serves the plantation industry in other ways, such as supply and transport.
Dimbula teas are characterized as ‘high-grown’; the regional definition specifies an elevation of between 1,100m and 1,600m (3,500-5,000ft.), but in practice the region’s estates all stand at an altitude of over 1,250m (4,000ft.) It is wet and misty for much of the year, and western-facing estates are drenched by the southwest monsoon between May and September; however, Dimbula also benefits from the cool, dry winds of the western ‘quality season’, a period that begins around the turn of the year and continues until March or early April. Dimbula estates yield their best teas during this season, when the air is crisp and cool by day while the nights are cold and windy.
DIMBULA -“Refreshingly mellow”
Between Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains lies the district of Dimbula, whose teas are defined as “high grown” as all estates exceed an altitude of 1,250m (4000 Feet). The complex topography of the region produces a variety of microclimates, which produce differences in flavour – sometimes jasmine mixed with cypress. All, however, share the Dimbula character: a tea that produces a fine golden-orange hue in the cup, and which is refreshingly mellow.