A Journey Across The Hill Country, Sri Lanka
I had been told Sri Lanka was gorgeous, but I only fully realized that once I arrived to the Hill Country, a place in between reality and fantasy. My journey across the country started with a visit to Sri Lanka ancient cities and most holy places.
I thought the journey had reached its peak when I visited Gal Oya National Park. I didn’t think Sri Lanka had more surprises waiting for me. It felt like a small casket full of jewels, that would appear day after day.
Kandy and its surroundings
The Hill Country marks the kind of landscape one would not expect to find in Sri Lanka, which to me is the quintessential tropical country. Its main access point, coming from the north, is Kandy – the cultural and spiritual capital of the country.
Most people stay in Kandy just long enough to visit the Sri Dalada Maligawache, also known as the Temple of the Tooth Relic, famous for storing the most important religious relic of Sri Lanka: Buddha’s tooth.
Diana and I spend three days in Kandy, but with hindsight, two would have been more than enough. Other than the famous temple – which is nothing special to anyone who has visited other Buddhist temples in Asia, such as Angkor Wat – and the artificial lake built around the beginning of the 20th century and that gives the city a magic aura, there’s not much else to see.
With so much extra time to spend in Kandy, we decide to explore its surroundings. And since the Hill Country is famous for its tea plantations, we start our wanderings at Geragama Tea Factory, one of the oldest tea factories in Sri Lanka. There, we learn about the production process of tea, the plant that made Sri Lanka famous, and needless to say we sample a few varieties.
The following day we visit two temples which can be easily reached via public transportation. Though the locals are very friendly and kind, it is hard to communicate with them as they speak little to no English. So we take a good 30 minutes before we find a bus that takes us all the way to Embekka.
The moment we get off the bus, the sky turns pitch black. We barely make it to the temple of Embekka Devale and it starts pouring. It is monsoon season, after all. We stay inside for a good hour, hoping that it will stop raining, eventually. At least we can enjoy the lovely atmosphere of the temple (a nice change after the unreasonable crowds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic), and observe the locals who flock in and out to place their prayers.
As soon as the rain stops, we start walking towards Lankatilaka Vihara, a temple that stands on top of a beautiful hill, overlooking the incredibly lush landscape. Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe this temple: it is totally worth the effort of getting there, even under the rain which, if anything, adds to its charme.
Nuwara Eliya, or Little England
We reach Nuwara Eliya by bus, from Kandy, on a cold and rainy day. And while we are not surprised it is raining (it is a tropical country, after all), we can’t believe we are actually shivering. Nuwara Eliya is known as Little England. I have lived in England for 8 years, and I can immediately see why it deserves that nickname.
Temperatures in Nuwara Eliya are at least 15 degrees lower than those of Kandy, and soon enough the humidity works its way all the way to my bones. Before we freeze, we hop on a tuc tuc that takes us to Oatlands by Jetwing, where we spend two nights.
It isn’t just the cold and wet weather that earned Nuwara Eliya its nickname. I suppose this actually comes from the fact that the city is literally surrounded by tea plantations, which were transplanted in the Hill Country around the second half of the 19th century, after an epidemic completely destroyed the coffee plantations.
But there’s more: Nuwara Eliya is packed with buildings in Victorian style architecture. And our hotel is a perfect example of that. Just four rooms, inside a beautifully furnished cottage, complete with an on duty butler, Oatlands by Jetwing looks more like the beautiful dependance of a royal palace than a hotel.
There’s a gorgeous living room, where we can relax in front of the fireplace, sipping tea while overlooking the cloud forest that surrounds Nuwara Eliya. It feels like we have jumped back in time.
The morning after, before breakfast, we decide to take advantage of the naturist guide on site and walk all the way to the cloud forest, crossing the beautiful vegetable gardens that surround the city.
After a scrumptious breakfast at the adjoint Jetwing St. Andrew’s, out butler warns us that there are high chances of rain in the afternoon. He explains that this is very typical: mornings are sunny and warm, and then at around 12:30 it starts raining.
We decide to make the most of the rest of the morning and hop on a tuc tuc that takes us to Pedro Estate, one of the most famous tea plantations in Sri Lanka. The landscape is breathtaking. I had seen the coffee plantations before, when I visited the Eje Cafetero in Colombia. I can’t believe how beautiful the tea plantations look: the green color of the plants, and the blue of the sky are only seldom interrupted by the colors of the women that are picking the leaves.
As the tuc tuc drops us off at the gorgeous Victoria Park (once more a resemblance to England, and not just in the name), the rain starts falling – softly at first, then more persistent. People seem undisturbed by it: children continue playing; women continue walking, their colorful dresses in sharp contrast with the bright green color of the grass.
But we can’t take all that rain. So we decide to head to Bale Bazaar, where we can find clothes of the most famous sports’ brands at more than reasonable prices. Happy with our shopping, we head back to our hotel for a cup of tea (we are in Little England, after all!).
Crossing the heart of the Hill Country
But the best has yet to come. We finally decide to leave Nuwara Eliya and hop on a train to Ella. We’ve been told that the train ride from Nanu Oya, the train station at around 10 km from Nuwara Eliya, to Ella, is the most spectacular in the country. We can’t wait to see it with hour own eyes, but the train is almost 2 hours late.
The minute the train pulls out of the station, we understand that the rumors were correct: the landscape is simply gorgeous. The trains pushes along incredibly slowly. It takes around 3 hours to reach Ella, which is a mere 60 km away. But the time goes by incredibly fast, so entertained we are by what we see.
We spend those 3 hours standing at the door, taking pictures of the women working in the tea plantations, surrounded by the fog. It is an incredible show, for which we have paid a mere 60 rupees (around 40 cents).
Once again, I am convinced that the best attractions in Sri Lanka are the cheapest ones.
Have you been to the Hill Country of Sri Lanka? What did you like the most about it?
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Oatlands by Jetwing during my visit to Sri Lanka. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.