Home Sri Lanka Learning the ropes, literally

Learning the ropes, literally

by Matt Brazier


Bentota, Sri Lanka


The way in which we all experience travel is evolving. ETG travellers are increasingly seeking out the authentic stories that lie behind the glossy brochure images, and which, we like to say, reveal the fabric of a destination. So, inspired by your own travel moments, we sought out some of the very human stories that lay behind them. We wanted to share them with you; to inspire you to start thinking about your next travel story and inspire like-minded friends and family members to do the same.

Not your average day job

ETG clients have always been captivated by the toddy tappers of Sri Lanka. We’re not surprised – we are too. It’s quite a surreal process to behold and definitely not for the faint-hearted! Watching the guys scale the palms with no safety ropes is pretty impressive, if not, heart-pounding.

Why Tap the Toddy?

Let’s start with the most important factor in all this – Sri Lankans love a tipple, and tapping the flowers from coconut palms is the foundation for not one, but two famous Sri Lankan drinks. The first is gleaned directly from the flower sap of either palm tree – Kithul or coconut – and called ‘Toddy’. It ferments naturally over a few days. The second drink comes from mixing the toddy with yeast, which becomes the basis for Arrack: the fiery spirit beloved by Sri Lankan men.

You must try at least one glass on your holiday. An ‘entry level’ Arrack would be as part of an Arrack Mojito – a delicious drink, best made at one of the converted colonial boutique hotels in Sri Lanka. Purists will always drink it ‘on the rocks’, or with a dash of soda or water.

The challenge is that the flowers are often 60-100 m high, so it’s a constant process of going between the different palms to get the right flowers at the right time – hence all the ropes between the palms. To collect the sap, the tappers beat the flower over a few days (which aids the fermentation process), then tie a container (labu Katey) and leave this underneath the flower to collect the sap, often overnight. The process can be repeated twice a day. Once a large amount of sap has been collected it can be drunk directly, or mixed with yeast ready for the distillery.

You’ll find Toddy Tappers scaling the palms trees in a few areas of Sri Lanka, primarily along the west coast. Around Chilaw and Bentota are our recommendations to see the sheer scale of their operation.

Meet Indika Suresh

Indika Suresh is the Toddy Tapper pictured. He is one of around 200 left today working in Sri Lanka full-time. He started working in a local Toddy shop, which was owned by his family, and got to learn the ropes (excuse the pun) from his father. He receives a good income from doing it full-time and can support his wife and 3 children – 21, 18 and 7. He also earns a bit of money from tourists stopping to take photos. Once he’s climbed the ropes, he’ll be up there for around an hour.

We asked Indika whether he actually likes Toddy – he said that he’s a bit immune to it these days, but enjoys a nice glass of Arrack and Soda on a special occasion.

If you want to meet Indika on one of our holidays, then your private chauffeur guide can get in touch with him in advance – he’s based around the Bentota region. We’d also recommend our privately guided bicycle tour around this region.

Curious about occupations you didn’t even know existed in Asia?

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We don’t believe in standing still. Watching
the world go by through a window. Hearing it
through the stories of others.

You want to be in it, out there. Asking questions
and finding answers. Finding yourself in worlds
unknown. Finding the path less trodden. Meeting
people with a different story to tell.

Never stop asking why. What. How. Who? We’ll
never stop helping you find the answers.

Our travellers come home with stories to tell,
memories to keep and new ways of seeing their
lives around them. That’s what happens when
you truly connect with a destination.

Free your curious side with
Experience Travel Group.


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