Exploring the hill country and walking the plateau...

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March 10th 2019
Published: March 24th 2019
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We left Kandy on Sunday morning and the traffic wasn’t too bad thankfully. We were driving to Nuwara Eliya (set at an altitude of 1900 meters) which is in the centre of Sri Lank’s renowned tea plantations. Once referred to as ‘Little England’ it was the favoured cool weather destination of the early British settlers. The road twisted and turned through very pretty countryside and we were soon surrounded by vibrant green tea plantations rising above us.

Through the plantations were narrow stone steps used by the tea pickers. Lots of stops to admire the view and a great tour of the Blue Leaf Tea Factory. We’ve visited tea plantations in other parts of the world but the young man we had as guide on this tour was great - very enthusiastic and informative. Unfortunately there were no workers operating the machinery in the factory as it was a weekend but he still gave us a very clear guide to how each machine worked. It was quite a process and still today very much hands on. The tea factory shed was very large and over the next few days we were to see many more of them dotting the hills. A cup of tea followed before we resumed our journey.

We enjoyed our afternoon and evening In Nuwara Eliya. Many people go there just to catch the train from the city to Ella, a ‘tourist’ town in the centre of the trees plantations. The train trip is considered one of the iconic train journeys on the tourist travel map. It was the trip that we had been unable to buy reserved seats for so we’re undecided as to whether to do it.

Our lovely guest house was beside Victoria Park - which we ran out of time to visit, despite it supposedly being one of Sri Lanka’s most attractive city parks. Saman left us to find accommodations elsewhere so we walked into the main town. It was bustling, lots of tourists but also very busy with local people shopping. Our guest house warned us not to eat the street food as there had been numerous reports of tourists getting ill. He told us to eat only at the Women’s CoOperative Food hall, run by local impoverished women and with Govt support. We had trouble finding it but when we did the food was great and it was thronged with locals and tourists. Unfortunately there were far too few tables and most of the food available really had to be eaten whilst sitting.

Sri Lankan food has been interesting. Unfortunately most is far too spicy for my digestion but Jerry has been enjoying it. Even when they say ‘little spice’ it comes out very hot. I’ve been enjoying Kottu - which is a combination of chopped vegetables, meat, egg and roti (round flatbread, also chopped for this recipe). Another easy to eat ‘dish’ is actually a bowl shaped pancake made from rice flour and coconut. Egg hoppers have a fried egg cooked into the base of them. I’ve loved the Pittu, a rolled rice pancake filled with coconut and honey. The honey here is very much like our treacle. Also love the curd (thick yoghurt) served with honey. There are of course lots of rice and noodle dishes and fish bbq’s in the coastal areas.

We’ve discovered great ginger biscuits, really rich in flavour and next to nothing at the supermarkets. Plus they make a pretty good chocolate icecream cone. The fruit here is lovely and plentiful. Every breakfast has included plates of beautiful cut fruit and fruit drinks. I’ve discovered an Apple beer here which I’ve been enjoying. Very strong and tastes like cider, not beer

There are a lot of old buildings scattered around Nuwara Eliya, including the red brick colonial post office and the very imposing mock Tudor Grand Hotel, built in 1828 as a holiday home for the fifth Governor of Sri Lanka. We took a tuktuk around the central lake and our enthusiastic driver was soon pointing out some lovely old colonial mansions and some temples which were half Hindu and Half Buddhist. I love the tuktuks and most of the drivers become impromptu tour guides when you hop aboard.

Next morning we had decided to walk in the Horton Plains National Park before going to one of the smaller towns on the rain line to buy a train ticket to Ella. It meant an early start as we had an hours drive to get to the National Park. Bearing in mind the warnings re food we decided to eat at a pizza place that evening which was highly recommended on Trip Advisor. An enterprising local lady was making them in a one half of a tin shed and serving
Fish for sale at markets in Nuwara Eliya Fish for sale at markets in Nuwara Eliya Fish for sale at markets in Nuwara Eliya

A lot of tuna is available for sale in Sri Lanks
them at half a fozen tables in the other half. They were great pizzas and she had struck a goldmine as there was a queue of tourists waiting outside in the cold for a table to become available.

And it was cold - the first time we had felt cold enough to wear the fleeces we had bought from home. Our bedroom came supplied with hot water bottles (not needed) and blankets. Sri Lankan beds do not have blankets on them at all, only a sheet to use as cover. King size beds seem to be the usual in guest houses and hotels and there has been the odd night where I have felt cool under the air conditioners. A single sheet just hasn’t been enough cover.

The sky was glowing pink as we left Nuwara Eliya in the cool of the early morning. Many people do the walk in the park to arrive at the view point halfway around at dawn but we were pleased to see the scenery enroute to the park as it was very pretty. Lots of tea plantations and then forested hill sides. There were also a lot of hairpin bends on the route. We arrived at the park entrance around 7am and paid the usual expensive fees of US $15 each. Very few of the tourist attractions are free here.

It was a stunning walk and at times we felt as if we could have been on the moors in Scotland. It was a plateau, very bleak in places. The walk had some very steep spots, involving some rock scrambling for quite a while and a solid climb up to a waterfall half way around. World’s End is the scenic viewpoint from which you could see forever though the view was diluted by a smoke haze. Every afternoon the local people in the towns sweep leaves and then burn them to keep the streets tidy. It’s not doing much for the environment though...

World’s End is an escarpment that plunges down 850 meters. Unfortunately it’s beauty was marred by strands of razor wire looped around the viewing platform. This is to prevent people standing too close to the edge and taking selfies. There have been numerous deaths at the site including recently that of a young German tourist, whose death prompted them to lay the razor wire. It is a pity that they couldn’t find something slightly more attractive to use though.

We thoroughly enjoyed the walk which took us three hours and for much of the time we were alone on the track. A definite highlight of our trip. Saman then drove us to the tiny town of Ohiya where he left us to wait the couple of hours for the train. He took our luggage on to Ella and then went in search of an air conditioning repair shop as the car’s cooling was cutting out when it overheated. We spent the waiting time chatting to a couple of other tourists over lunch at a tiny street stall and reading in the cool of the station platform.

The train was half an hour late arriving, and after buying tickets when the ticket office opened only a few minutes before the train departed ($1 each for unreserved second class tickets for the two hour trip) we pushed ourselves onto the train. It was full, nearly all tourists and of course, as expected, there were no available seats. Trains in Sri Lanka never sell out (except probably the special first class carriages) and tickets are sold for standing room only on all services. Some train carriages must get incredibly full, especially around special temple festival days.

We spoke to an Australian couple who had managed to get a seat only at Nuwara Eliya after standing for six hours. They had boarded the train in Kandy. We managed to get a seat after an hour but I really felt that the trip was overrated. The view down into the valley and over the tea plantations was veiled by a lot of growth near the train line and I felt we actually would have seen more of the scenery if we had gone with Saman in the car. I also realised after we got a seat that we had a better view when we were standing up. A couple of hours later we arrived to bedlam at the train station in Ella and a missing driver who was still having problems with the car.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Signpost at the entrance of Horton Plains National ParkSignpost at the entrance of Horton Plains National Park
Signpost at the entrance of Horton Plains National Park

We walked the circuit - about 11 kilometres with the walk up to the entrance of the paths.

Tot: 2.267s; Tpl: 0.026s; cc: 11; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0357s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb