Photo Shoot on the Magic Tamil Tea Bus in Sri Lanka

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments
Tea Bus in Pusselawa, Sri Lanka
Tea Bus in Pusselawa, Sri Lanka
Getting on the Bus
Getting on the Bus

It all began when a little old cheery lady asked me to take a photo of her grandson.

She didn’t ask me with words, she just sort of motioned to my camera bag, wide smile and head nod.

Feeling comfortable in the Tamil bus, and having no clue as to when the driver would start the engine, I busted out my camera and got a couple shots of her grandson.

Showing her the photo on the LCD screen, her eyes filled with tears of joy.

Others waiting on the bus had noticed my camera as well and when I showed the photo, about 10 other people stood up and attempted to catch a glimpse of this novel device.

The First Lady
The First Lady

I was on an all Sri Lankan Tamil bus in Pusselawa, waiting to ride into the rolling Ceylon tea fields.

In this majority Sinhala area of Sri Lanka, Hindu Tamil’s from India came multiple generations ago to pick tea on the many plantations around.

The town of Pusselawa is almost all Tamil.

The Grandson
The Grandson

There are a few things you should know about normal buses in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lankan Bus - Before it Got Packed
Sri Lankan Bus - Before it Got Packed

So we were all in the passenger stage, waiting for more passengers, but really clueless as to when they would arrive.

Being positively patient and having flexibility when we travel is truly one of the most important attitudes to embrace.

Sri Lankan Tamil Man
Sri Lankan Tamil Man

After everyone saw my camera soon the bus turned into a bus-wide photo studio. First it was a man in the front of the bus, then another, then a boy, then a girl etc.

Sri Lankan Tamil Woman
Sri Lankan Tamil Woman

At first they would give me a nervously sheepish grin and motion for me to take their photo, and after I’d show it to them, they’d loosen up and smile wide with ecstatic disbelief as if thinking “really, that’s how I look?”

The facial expressions, smiles, and looks were priceless.

Happy but Nervous!
Happy but Nervous!

The photo session went on for about 15 minutes where to the delight of the entire bus I snapped a portrait of almost everyone.

An hour later the driver came and we thought we may be on our way; He revved up the engine and honked the horn.

To our dismay he made the decision to drive 2 kilometers per hour through town back and forth for another hour.

Every now and then we’d pick up another passenger armed with a giant jua kali style load and they’d be added to the mess of humanity in the Tamil bus.

Soon I was holding onto a bar, someone was standing on my left foot, there were a few butts pressed against my side, and I was straddling a giant stock of bananas.

Around 2 hours later we were on our way, cruising through the gorgeous tea fields aboard the Sri Lankan Tamil tea bus!

24 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Bhathiya

    8 years ago

    yes… these drivers are running on money …
    If you come to kandy don’t get on to “panideniya” buses , in that speed we can walk faster than that buses 😀
    and nice job ,
    visit sri lanka …
    in sri lanka there is all climate ..
    jafana is vary hot
    hamabanthota is also very hot
    and kandy , kadugannawa is middle of all
    and bandarawela, nuwaraeliya is very cold ….

    you need to try that ….
    visit to sri lanka and taste worlds no.1 tea … 😉

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Ahh, thanks for all this information Bhathiya!

  • Tash

    8 years ago

    So true about not moving until the bus is full to overflowing!
    Patience is the key, absolutely…..spending time talking yourself into the patient outward demeanor is character building, right!? Ha!
    I was back in Sri Lanka in August, and the local bus from Galle to Colombo was a highlight, for that real travel feel….but had all these elements (minus the photo shoot!). The squeeze, the reduction of any scrap of personal space….so real life! ha!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Haha, yup, it’s really a great experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts too!

  • Bama

    8 years ago

    Great shots, Mark! My favorite is the photo of the kid. Those little eyes say “I’m curious” 🙂

  • Gabby

    8 years ago

    Hi Mark,
    Great photos, and great blog. You are a talented photographer and gifted storyteller both! I’m excited to read your entries about Sri Lanka, as we’ve just moved here for 3 years and hope to get some travel ideas. Out of curiosity, what camera/lens are you using for these photos? They’re incredible!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Gabby, thanks so much for the kind words.

      Cool to hear that you’ve moved to Sri Lanka, wow 3 years, you’re going to have some incredible experiences and stories to tell. I am using a Canon 550D camera with an 18-135 mm lens (an upgrade from the stock lens – 18 -55 mm). Hope this helps and I wish you all the best living and traveling in Sri Lanka!

  • Globetrottergirls

    8 years ago

    Love these photos – especially the first two! All your Sri Lanka posts make us really wanna go there 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Awesome, thanks so much for checking out this post and hope you get a chance to visit Sri Lanka!

  • Jenna

    8 years ago

    I really enjoyed this. The photos are lovely, and the story made me laugh. A lot. I’ve been thinking about Sri Lanka because I have a very good friend who is there right now.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Hey Jenna, thanks for taking a look at this article.
      You should definitely visit Sri Lanka, especially if you have a friend there – it’s a great country!

  • Suzy

    8 years ago

    It sounds like a Sri Lankan bus is quite the experience! Your photo shoot really captures some great emotions and expressions.

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks for checking it out Suzy – Sri Lanka is such a fantastic country to visit!

  • Stephen

    8 years ago

    A great example of how to make friends AND get good photographs. Excellent story, awesome photos!

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Stephen! Photography is one of those things that can make a lot of friends or can make some people angry (depending on the culture) – luckily in Sri Lanka I’ve never seen people so excited and receptive to photos – it was fantastic!

  • Juno

    8 years ago

    Great photos Mark! Really enjoyed it.

  • Lakmal

    8 years ago

    Thank you for this article. Actually Sri Lanka is a paradise of tea and they are the poeple who qualified to received that credit. I know this beacause I am a Sri Lankan.

  • Jack

    8 years ago

    Wonderful images. Last time I was on a bus in Sri Lanka it crashed…but then that’s hardly a rarity by all accounts 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      8 years ago

      Thanks Jack…oh man…the driving in Sri Lanka is a little on the edgy side… too bad about the crash.