Kandy and tea country

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April 7th 2017
Published: April 7th 2017
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The good thing about current technology and carrying iPads around with you is that don't really need to buy an expensive and heavy travel guide to pack around with you - you can Google everything you need. The bad thing is that you then end up in a town with no maps and no idea of where anything is! Arriving at the Suyaama Guest House in Kandy in the early afternoon, we decided to walk into town - It sounded straightforward - 1 km down the hill but then we took a wrong turn and thought, well if everyone else walks along the train tracks so can we. Eventually we found the train station ( it is on the tracks after all) and tried to get our bearings from there.a A number of wrong turns on busy vehicular streets and suddenly we were at the edge of the lake that is the focal point of the town. We wandered a few streets, looked in a few stores (despite being a standard stop on the tourist trail in Sri Lanka, Kandy is really just a large busy town with steep entrance fees to the few attractions that there are), a couple of spicy chicken wraps from a stand for dinner and headed back uphill to Suyaama. I made brownie points with the manager Rahul after he learnt I was " from the land of the All Blacks" - he was captain of his Trinity College rugby team.

April 2 and time to really explore Kandy. We started by walking uphill to the big white Buddha on the hill (did I mention that Kandy is built on hills) and then down into town. A relaxing stroll around the lake took us to the Kandy Cultural Centre where we bought tickets for the evening dance performance. One of the big attractions in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth (Buddhas' tooth) but as I was wearing a tank top, we couldn't visit. Oops. The central market had a lot of spice shops (I'm always up to buying fresh spices) and stores selling batik wall hangings. A new dish for lunch was Kottu Roti at the Muslim Hotel (restaurants are called hotels). This dish is essentially finely chopped vegetables, meat and roti with spices added. In a way it is like a stir fry where the roti replaces the rice. Not thinking too well, we each ordered a dish and got a huge amount of food!!!! The dance performance in the evening was interesting - it lasted about an hour and finished with a fire walk!!! Walking back to the guesthouse, we were astounded by the thousands of crows flying around the lake and trees and making one hell of a racket.

April 3 and our Sri Lankan train adventure into the hill country. Our first breakfast at the Suyaama guesthouse had been great - fried rice, pork curry, coconut roti, omelette, toast, jam and coffee or tea. Second breakfast was the same but minus the fried rice and curry. However we were given a package of roti and egg for our journey so that was nice of them.

Sri Lankan trains have three classes: first class which has to be reserved and is air conditioned; 2nd class that has fairly comfortable seats that all face the same way and 3rd class when the seats are upright and in groups that face each other. 2nd and 3rd are further broken down into reserved ( where you are given an actual seat assignment) and unreserved (these tickets never sell out so the carriages can be quite crowded and it is possible that you will be standing for the whole journey). We had 3rd class reserved which everyone said was better than 2nd class unreserved - we had tried to upgrade but everything was sold out for three weeks!.As it turned out, the train trip was awesome - the two people sitting across from us got off the train less than an hour after we departed Kandy and the majority of other passengers (mostly tourists) got off at Nanu Oya - so we kind of had the carriage to ourselves for the next 4 hours. The scenery was amazing - coconut palms leaving Kandy, then lush tea plantations for miles (it was so exciting seeing my first tea pickers) and market gardens on terraced hill sides. I am still trying to find a good topographical map of the area - some of the tea fields were SO STEEP - and once the train reached Idalgashinna (1615m above sea level), the track ran along a ridge with spectacular drop offs and panoramic views on both sides. It certainly lived up to the reputation of being one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world. And with big open windows, the air was fresh - and all this for less than $4.00 each for a 6 hour journey to the small village of Ella. And not to forget the railway stations themselves - so pretty with pots of flowers on the platform, flowering bushes along side the tracks and so clean!!!

By the time we arrived in Ella (1041 m above sea level) it was actually getting chilly and we both had our second (and only extra) layer of clothing on. A short walk from the railway station and up an extremely steep driveway we found our new home Top Heaven. And a very brief new home it was. We are not exactly picky when it comes to some of the places we stay in but..... this one was a bit dirty, the curtains were falling off the rod and there was no water in the hot tap the next morning but the final straw was the owner starting up his smelly motorbike right beside us as we were eating breakfast (an awesome breakfast too: pepper omelette, coconut roti, coconut sambal, hoppers, savoury pancakes and fresh fruit). We hunted out a new home and found the Blue View Inn - and got a huge room on the top floor with a huge covered balcony where we could hang out during the afternoon rain storms and a king sized bed!. It overlooked some jungle and the only evening noise was the crickets. No English was spoken and although there was a restaurant, there was never anyone around to ask for food. An interesting tid bit about bedding - here in the hill country there is one large sheet AND a blanket or comforter, whereas elsewhere, each person got their own thin sheet and that was it - it is too hot for any thing else and is quite nice not having the bedding stolen off you in the middle of the night!

Ella was a strange little town - a single main street lined with restaurants and heaps of guesthouses. We are certainly saving money by not buying any souvenirs as we can't find any! The most common type of restaurant was Roti Shops (we had kottu roti chicken twice - and learnt form the first time in Kandy, and shared a dish) with a few up scale "western style" places. We treated our selves one night to Devil Chicken at the Chill - a place packed with tourists especially those travelling with children. This was maybe because of the hamburgers on the menu or the fact that the kitchen staff wore white chef hats.

Ella is all about out door activities. The hike (or climb) to Little Adams Peak turned out to be quite brutal - a gentle 1 km walk out of town, then a deceiving narrow paved road for a while before the stairs started and then some really steep up and down and HOT!!!!!! It was a little hazy so the views were not as good as on a clear day.

On day 2 we caught the early train to Haputale (an hour away and 1431m above sea level) for a day excursion to Liptons Seat (of Lipton tea fame) in the Dambatenne tea plantation. A tuk tuk took us within 1 km of the view point - this was a distance of nearly 20 km uphill through spectacular tea country with many stops to take photos and admire the scenery - the air was so clean and lightly fragranced. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the leaves of the black tea plant are light green, the white tea plant are red and green tea is dark. We walked the final 1 km up hill to the statue of Sir Thomas Lipton which is at 1950m ASL and unfortunately the clouds had rolled in so we could not appreciate the sheer drop off and views to the coast.A leisurely walk back down hill (7km) along the narrow switch back roads, occasionally taking the workers shortcuts ( they are more nimble footed than we are though). It is easy to see the British influence with the attractive Manager and Assistant Manager Bungalows with their landscaped grounds - this in comparison to the Tamil workers shacks. It was kind of weird seeing marigolds and chrysanthemums in a tropical country. The whole area was stunning and is my highlight of this trip to date.

Copied from the internet - "Sir Thomas Lipton, the man who introduced the Lipton Brand Ceylon Tea entered in to purchasing tea estates in then Ceylon in 1890’s when the country was under the British rule. In 1890 Dambetenna which was 925 acres in size was purchased by him and he setup the largest tea processing factories in the Uva region. It is said that this point was one of his favorite viewpoints where he surveyed his vast estate and that it was one of the favorite places to entertain his guests. While the estate changed hands in 1930’s name of this view point survived as a remembrance to Sir Lipton"

Arriving back in the small town of Haputale we had the most awesome short eats - small meat samosas, roasted bulbs of garlic, veg rolls and other yummy food. This town seemed to have only a couple of roads that zig zagged down the hill and which were lined with regular shops. Some friends of ours had spent a couple of days here and we were curious where they stayed as there was not a lot there!!!!Back at the train station, we discovered that our return train was one of the old red trains (so far all our journeys had been on the newer blue trains) that was waiting on the second track from the platform - a scramble down off the platform then a steep climb up the train steps - the lowest one was about 3 feet from the ground. Standing room only and the entertainment was watching the Asians hanging out the door to get that all important "selfie". I wonder if there are statistics anywhere on how many tourists train injuries or deaths there are! We ended up talking to a French couple who had been in Nuwara Eliya for the past two solid RAINY days - we were pleased to tell them that the weather in Ella has been awesome - some rain showers in the afternoon but nothing that cramped our style- at least our umbrellas are getting an outing.

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