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The Podi Menike winds its way through Sri Lanka's tea-covered hill country. (Photo by Marwaan Macan-Markar)
Tea Leaves

Sweet or bitter: The 'tea train' evokes colonial legacy

Anniversary celebrations offer reflections on British rule and homegrown success

MARWAAN MACAN-MARKAR | Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan

Just as the Sri Lankan capital stirs, the Podi Menike, or Little Maiden, creaks and groans as it pulls out of Colombo Fort Station. The train is bound for Badulla, 290km away at the southeastern edge of the island's hill country. The 5:55 Menike was part of my life in the early 1990s, when I lived for two years in Nuwara Eliya, a chilly, mist-draped town 1,868 meters up in the mountains.

I recently boarded the Menike for the 10-hour ride to visit Ella, a stop near Badulla. I was heading there to report on the recent interest that globe-trotting millennials had taken in the town. They are drawn to the place for the treks through its tea-covered slopes; the train also features heavily in their social media posts.

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