However there are always days in one’s life when all that one wants is to get away from the maddening crowds, the hustle and bustle of the city, and the tropical heat of beach resorts.
The heart longs for that moment of solitude among green foliage and the crisp mountain air that fills you with wonder, drawing you closer in spirit to Him. When I think of such places, there are many hillside towns that come to mind. They capture my imagination and soul and serenade me with the welcome music of solitude. One that I often think of is closer home – in my friendly and beautiful neighbourhood – Sri Lanka.
Only 180 km from Colombo and about 70 kms from Kandy, this beautiful town is perched at a height of about 1890m above sea level. Nuwara Eliya waits – a gentle reminder of an era gone by. It takes only 6 hours or so by bus from Colombo to reach Nuwara Eliya. The town is also accessible by train from Colombo and also Kandy.
It is the quintessential hill station of Sri Lanka. April is the peak summer month and the Colombo population seems to move en masse to this town in search of the cooler climes. As the bus rolls and trundles up the mountain path to this very British and colonial town, and the first cool breeze hits your face, you know you have left the hot and humid Sri Lankan capital far behind.
The surroundings are really all about your cup of tea. Literally. Tea gardens abound and the place is reminiscent of a quaint British village you may encounter during your sojourns to the interiors of England.
Nicknamed the ‘City of Lights’ and ‘Little England’, Nuwara Eliya has everything from an old brick post office, a country club, sprawling golf course to even a marina with boating facilities. It is easy to see why the British loved it and why it has an appeal that beats all excuses that one may offer in order to lounge by the pool of a Sri Lankan beach resort.
The town has many Tudor style bungalows with gable roofs and well-kept gardens, and rose bushes blooming between moss-covered gravestones. Mostly populated by tea planters, it also has many people who are on their way to Ratnapura, which is the heart of the gem center of Sri Lanka. This is where one can find the famous Ceylon blue sapphire.
When we reached Nuwara Eliya one summer afternoon, thankful for its salubrious climate that reminded me of the ‘Thandi Sadak’ in Dalhousie, we hunted for a place to stay. There are few choices.
The Hill Club is old and was established in 1876. For some months it opens its doors to non-members and one can stay there. The place is a treat with white-gloved waiters, candles on tables whilst you soak the British tea planter’s club atmosphere and wait for dinner that’s worth every penny.
Another probable place where one can stay is the Grand Hotel near the golf course. The post office sits bang opposite the bus stand is fully functional even today. It is about 120 years old and has been given a facelift at a considerable cost since it is a major tourist attraction. Its Scottish facade is a cherished landmark in the center of the town photographed by many who visit it.
Around Nuwara the highest plateau in the island beckons one. Horton Plains stretches at a high altitude with grasslands and natural walks – a favorite place for trekkers. The World’s End is a point at the southern tip of the Horton Plains. At this point the drop is precipitous and a steep 700-750m.
Staring below is fascinating and at the same time fills one with vertigo. It is also the point to stand and catch the panoramic view of the zig-zag mountain roads with a verdant wide valley where many waterfalls drop their abundant supplies in. The height gives the place its temperature variation too. Mornings can be warm but evenings can be cold with temperatures dipping to sub-zero.
Sri Lanka is the largest producer of tea in the world and the tea gardens around make for a must-see on any tourist’s itinerary. Stretching for miles around, the gardens are full of tea pickers that dot the landscape – adding a touch of colour to the verdant green. Each tea plantation comes with its large signpost that declares the ownership and directions to the manager’s bungalow in the garden.
Grey metallic buildings, which are the tea factories, are also worth visiting. These are the places which process the tea leaves into the recognizable form that pops out of the carton you throw into your shopping cart. However, the finest tea can be bought here much cheaper than back home. That itself is a good incentive to visit the tea garden if the lush green surroundings are not enough.
It is hard to count all the waterfalls that the region has: Devon falls and Laksapana falls particularly stand out. The Oliphant Estate set up by Lawrence Oliphant is worth a dekko. Here the first 30 tea plants made their way from China and took root in Sri Lanka. Gradually the estate expanded to almost 100 acres.
The Hakgala Botanical gardens are a horticulturist’s delight. Lying below the famous Hakgala Peak, these gardens are set at a high elevation of about 6000 feet making them one of the highest botanic gardens in the world. Here 100-year-old Monetary Cypress trees from California, Japanese Cedars, Himalayan Pines and English Oak stand tall
The popularity of Nuwara Eliya in the summer months is understandable. The beauty of the place and the cool climes makes it an ideal summer retreat for people like me…!(Times of India)