Nuwara Eliya – A city nestled in the middle of Sri Lanka’s hill country and prime tea-growing region. At over 6000 feet, it’s also one of the island’s highest cities. Picturesque views all round and a cool temperate climate throughout most of the year; the city is a perennial holiday favorite amongst both locals and tourists alike.
During colonial rule, the British adopted the city as their personal hillside retreat. Nuwara Eliya served as a welcome respite from the sultry weather of tropical Colombo. With her temperate climate and verdant surrounding landscape redolent of the English Countryside, the British regarded Nuwara Eliya as a home away from home. No efforts were spared in moulding Nuwara Eliya into the likeness of an English Town. Manicured lawns, English Cottages, Victorian Town buildings and even a lake were constructed.
Although the colonial era has since faded into the annals of history, vestiges of the past still remain. In fact, they’re celebrated and preserved by the locals. Nuwara Eliya’s colonial history still influences modern developments as buildings are often built in colonial style. Hence, the physical outlook of the city still remains largely unchanged, earning it the nickname of ” Little England “.
If you’ve been following our Sri Lankan adventure thus far, you’d be aware that we arrived in Nuwara Eliya from Kandy by car. The entire trip was arranged by Shnani, the owner of Villa 49 for 8000 Sri Lankan Rupees. We were too lazy to shop around for better rates so I’m certain you’ll be able to score a better deal if you put in the effort.
Getting in by road is the most convenient option – Lesser travelling time and you arrive directly at your accomodation. Besides the luxury of convenience, irregardless of which direction you travel from, there are numerous pitstops you can make along the way. If you are travelling in a group, getting in by road also makes economical sense.
Nuwara Eliya Bus Station is situated in the city centre. As far as I know, there are no direct buses into Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lankan buses serve the local clientele and routes often include numerous stops that meander from town to town. Buses however remain the cheapest option. If you are willing to trade comfort, time and convenience to save money then buses are the way to go!
Nuwara Eliya does not have a train station. The nearest station is Nanu Oya located approximately 10 km from the city centre. Buses, vans and tuk tuks are readily available at the train station for onward transportation into the city.
We arrived in Nuwara Eliya around lunch time or was it lunch time? The only indicator I had of time was the sound of my stomach and the grumbling confirmed that it was indeed lunch time. Since we set off from Kandy, time came to a standstill. The sun was still hidden by thick cloud cover. When we arrived in Nuwara Eliya, fog and mist greeted us.
Visibilty was barely 20 metres ahead. This was particulary dangerous. Besides oncoming vehicles, there was also the additional traffic of wandering cows from the surrounding valleys. On multiple occasions, we screeched to a halt and waited for a confused cow to regain its bearings. Sinhalese don’t horn at cows. It’s understandable for Hindus not to do so since they revere the cow as sacred but majority of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and so was my driver. I was puzzled. A question to be answered on my next trip perhaps?
Where to Stay?
We drifted off the main road and onto a slip off road before beginning a steep uphill climb. (Just when I thought we couldn’t get any higher) The road soon gave way to a dirt road. Perched on top was a small complex of low rise cottage houses. We entered through the side gate amidst the incessant barking of dogs. A rather ominous welcome to Misty View Lodge!
The staff handled our luggage and escorted us into the living room where we were welcomed by the owner and manager, Dammika. As per Sri Lankan tradition, we were treated to tea, biscuits and friendly conversation while the staff ensured our room was ready.
Upon initial greetings, Dammika immediately identified us as Singaporeans. How did he know? Did our accents give us away? Or maybe he remembered it from our booking form? As the conversation developed, we learnt that Dammika had spent a couple of years in Singapore studying hotel management at SHATEC and working in hotels before returning home to set up Misty View Lodge. He joked that he was able to spot a Singaporean a mile away!
After we were done with the complimentary tea and biscuits, Dammika gave us a short tour of the property which culminated at our room. There were three main reasons why we chose Misty View Lodge and upon entering our room and the tour, these reasons appear to have been justified!
At 48 USD for a deluxe room and breakfast, Misty View Lodge is a real steal!
2) Panoramic View
Always dreamt of waking up on Cloud 9? You can literally do that at Misty View Lodge! Misty View Lodge lives up to its name – The room’s doors really open up to the clouds! There’s also a porch with tables and chairs overlooking the city and terraced tea plantations below. When night falls, the city below is illuminated in lights – A truly magical sight! I believe I’ve finally found my castle on the cloud.
Misty View Lodge is marketed as a homestay and I’m a sucker for homestays. While it’s not entirely a homestay per se as you still enjoy the perks of a guesthouse/hotel, it sure exudes a homely vibe. Dammika and his family stay on the property and this is reflected strongly in the lodge’s design. The wooden walls are adorned with personal artifacts and cultural artwork. Shared spaces such as the living room and dining room are cosy and very family oriented. Misty View Lodge is your very own cosy mountain cabin!
Misty View Lodge is situated on the outskirts of the city centre, a 10 – 15 minutes drive away. This isn’t really an issue as Dammika can arrange transportation to suit whatever itinerary you may have. Dammika engaged a tuk tuk driver to bring us around Nuwara Eliya for a day at 2000 Sri Lankan Rupees!
Tuk Tuks are ready available throughout the city and is the preferred mode of transportation. Guesthouses and hotels will be able to arrange tuk tuks to ferry you to whichever destination you require.
What to do?
The city centre of Nuwara Eliya is small and easily walkable. There are a few activities to keep you occupied:
1) Gregory Lake
Built by the British during the colonial era for relaxation and watersports, the lake continues to serve the very same purpose today. There’s a small admission fee of 500 Sri Lankan Rupees. Take a stroll along the waterfront or try your hand at watersport activies such as paddle boating.
As mentioned earlier, Nuwara Eliya is often referred to as ” Little England “. Explore the city centre and marvel at English architecture. Notable buildings to look out for are the National Post Office with its Victorian-inspired clock spire and the Anglican Church amongst others.
Nuwara Eliya boasts a challenging 117 year old, 18 hole golf course for all you golfers intending to get a game under your belt! Hidden in a valley with fir lined fairways and bunkers, it’s naturally one of the most scenic courses on the planet.
Where to Eat?
Since Nuwara Eliya is a tourist hotspot, numerous eateries featuring various cuisines across the entire price range are dotted throughout the city. There are a few restaurants on the edge of Gregory Lake worth trying. We dined at one of these establishments that served French – Sri Lankan fusion cuisine and it was pretty decent.
Residing at Misty View Lodge? Try their set dinner menu! Only the freshest local ingredients are used to whip up a 4 course home-cooked Sri Lankan dinner consisting of soup, appetiser, main course, dessert and drink. Dinner is served in the communal dining hall where there are ample opportunities to interact with other guests. Dinner menu varies daily and reservations are required. You may even get a taste of homegrown carrots and potatoes if they are in season!
If you intend to splurge, consider dinner at the Hill Club adjacent to the golf course. A Gentleman’s club dating back to 1876; a quintessential English instituition that has withstood the test of time. Ladies if you’re wondering, yes you’ll be allowed to enter! The Club abolised the “Men Only” rule decades ago.
Prices are steep but you get what you pay for – Top notch food and service. Waiters decked out in traditional Sinhalese costume complete with white hand gloves serve the restaurant’s continental and eastern cuisine. Since this is a formal dinner setting, guests are expected to dress up accordingly. A jacket is compulsory for men. If you forgot to pack your jacket, the coatroom offers rental services.
Most travellers choose Nuwara Eliya as their base for further trips into hill country. Besides the numerous tea factories within the vicinity, there are other options for you to consider as well:
Now that you’ve visited Little England, let’s travel to another Crown Territory – Little New Zealand. Locally known as Ambewela, a prime agricultural region situated an hour’s drive from the city centre. Here you’ll find the pastoral life – herds of cattle grazing lazily on rolling hills and neatly drawn plots of organic produce.
There are a few organic farms growing temperate produce such as strawberries, carrots and potatoes for you to explore. Most of these farms also offer tours and tastings. Ambewela’s most famous products are dairy and strawberries.
Combine both and you get a match made in heaven – freshly picked strawberries with freshly churned cream. Simply divine!
A 2 hours drive from the city centre. It’s highly recommended you set off early for this trip to catch the sunrise over the plains and also to avoid the clouds and mist which engulf it after midday. The route to Horton’s Plains from the city centre will traverse through Ambiwela so that’s a pitstop worth considering on the return journey!
For those who intend to reside at Misty View Cottages, Dammika can make the necessary transport arrangements for this trip. We paid 4500 Sri Lankan rupees for the trip to Horton Plains.
Horton’s Plains is a national park and as with most national parks you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. The entrance fee at the time of visit was 15 USD per adult. The fee can also be paid in Sri Lankan Rupees subject to the average conversion rate.
A massive plateau with its own cloud forest, Horton’s plains is rich in biodiversity. The plains are home to a variety of species such as birds, monkeys, sambhur and the endangered Sri Lankan leopard. At first glance, it reminded me of a temperate savannah interspersed with a temperate forest. Herds of Sambhur deer gallop freely in the open grasslands that enclose the road to the start of the trekking path.
We arrived rather early so all we had for company was this group of Japanese tourists.The trekking path forks into a crossroad 10 minutes in. Either path is fine since the trekking road is a circular loop. Don’t worry about getting lost!
We decided to head the other direction and separated from the Japanese group. Not long after we realized we were alone in the wilderness. It’s a scary yet amazing feeling.
The trekking path is well marked and relatively easy. If my 64 year old father with multiple knee surgeries can manage, I doubt anyone else will encounter any problems.
Horton’s Plains is also home to two geographical landforms: The magnificent Baker’s falls and the jaw-dropping World’s End.
Getting to Baker’s falls involves some effort. You deviate from the main trekking path down a steep flight of stairs carved into the incline of the slope. Mist render the steps slippery so tread with care. The sheer sound of water thumping onto rock grows in volume with each step, egging you on as you draw closer.
There’s a viewing area enclosed by railings for you to gaze safely at the falls. For all you daredevils, you can climb over the railings and sit on the ledge like I did. Watch your step as losing your footing will send you tumbling down into the rocky rapids below. Be prepared to get wet though!
A precipice with a 2000 m drop into the valley below. There are no railings here so you’ll be able to dangle your feet in the air – that’s if you have the guts to do so! We tucked into our packed breakfast (Courtesy of Misty View Cottages) and took in the view. Breakfast was very traditional and consisted of boiled farm eggs, locally produced yoghurt, fruits and homegrown baby potatoes.
Animals roam freely in the park and this can be a cause for concern to some. The monkeys here are rather aggresive and tend to move around in herds. They usually stay on the trees but the sound of them howling in unison as you approach can be quite startling to the uninitiated. Just relax and move on normally. Unfortunately or should I say thankfully we did not come across the Sri Lankan Leopard. We did not see any park rangers throughout our trek so if an accident or an confrontational encounter with animals were to happen – Good luck to you!
We completed the entire trek in a record time of 3 hours. Our driver remarked that he didn’t expect us back that early but my Dad and I felt we trekked at a leisurely pace!
Horton’s plains is highly recommended and I would say it’s a “must-visit” if you’re ever in Sri Lanka. There are few places on this planet that can compare to Horton’s Plains. It is truly one of a kind. A rare opportunity for city-dwellers like you and me to reconnect with nature!
Horton’s plains was our last stop on our Hill Country adventure. Coincidentally, our train back to Colombo departed from yet another noteworthy attraction, Pattipola – The highest train station on the Sri Lankan Railway at 1892 metres.
An 8 hour train journey back to Colombo awaited us. Only local trains ply this route. We bought tickets over the counter a few minutes before the train arrived and scored ourselves 3rd class tickets. Travelling like a local woohoo! 3rd class tickets are a real steal – 250 Sri Lankan Rupees for an 8 hour train ride! 3rd class isn’t all that bad in reality. You get a cushioned wooded plank seat and a decent toilet at the end of each car. There’s no air-conditioning but in this temperate weather why would you even need it in the first place?!
Our time in hill country was truly enchanting and I’m already relishing my next trip here. If you ever need a destination to do some soul-searching or simply reinvigorate your drained batteries, Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is the answer. Up next… The hustle and bustle of the capital, Colombo!
***TO BE CONTINUED***
Nanu Oya Station taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mal-b/6919060520
Nuwara Eliya Post Office taken from http://srilanka.for91days.com/2012/03/04/nuwara-eliya/
2nd Hole @ Nuwara Eliya Golf Course taken from http://nuwaraeliyagolfclub.golfgaga.com/
Hill Club taken from http://www.reddottours.com/139/hill-club-accommodation-profile.htm
Dinner Service taken from http://pressroom.dilmahtea.com/one-image-files.php?file_id=82&maincat=125&subcatone=186&subcattwo=207#.VbONv_mqqko
Cattle grazing taken from http://archives.dailynews.lk/2008/07/28/bus01.asp
Herds of Sambhur Deer taken from http://www.lakdasun.org/attractions/attraction-07-horton-plains-national-park.htm
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