Coconut trees, mountains and tea plantations

“Settled in the middle of the Uva Mountains we reached Nuwera Eliya in the mist”

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

And touchdown…Ayubowan as they say here, welcome to Sri Lanka. We had finally arrived, some 45 minutes late which was unfortunate as we had a long driver ahead to our first destination. The airport is not very large but when arriving the first thing you see is a sea of faces all holding up white placards. We were lucky in spotting our name straight away and were soon meeting our driver and guide, Vimu, for the next three days. For those wanting to pick up local currency there are many currency exchange companies but only two ATMs. The best one we found was the Bank of Ceylon as you didn’t have any pay any extra bank charges.

Heading outside into the humid hot air we were soon in our air conditioned car and heading towards Nuwara Eliya in the heart of the Tea region. Don’t be fooled it was to be a good 6.5hrs before we reached our hotel. It is only once you are here in Sri Lanka that you realise that distances seem so much further. We travelled all the way along a single lane road, passing many very busy villages and towns where everyone was just racing to pass the next person – no matter if you were a motorcyclist, tuk-tuk or car, you had to be the fastest! Unless you were a big bus where they seem to aggressively push you out of the way so they can pass you, just to stop and pick up passengers at the next corner.

The villages all looked similar in terms of shops and it seemed quite easy to be able to pick up a new car bumper, car seats, timber, wine and even plants. The most interesting to me where the fresh fruit stalls selling pineapples, coconuts, bananas and watermelon and the Bake House tuk-tuks playing an ice-cream van tune when stopping to sell their freshly baked bread.

The vegetation was thick and green with mainly coconut and papaya trees, now and again breaking away to reveal large rice fields. Rice being one of the main food staples in Sri Lanka.

It was about 2 hours into the drive when we started to make our ascent towards Kandy, which is in the middle of Sri Lanka amoung the forest hills. We took a short break at the Susantha Spice and Herbal Garden to use the toilet facilities and get a mini tour around the garden. The spices and herbs each having their uses for medicinal purposes or in Sri Lankan cooking. You can either give a donation or buy something from their shop – we did purchase some citronella oil for the mosquitoes and some spice tea (comprising cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and hill-country tea). We were rather tired when we visited the garden so were under no illusion that this is really a tourist trap and you could probably find the same items cheaper elsewhere.

The remaining 3.5 hours of the journey continued on a steep single track, zig zagging all the way up the mountain where you were able to spot the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. I am not entirely sure when the vegetation started to change from mainly mountains and forests to tea plantations as it was starting to get dusk. We travelled the remainder of the way in the dark with the bright moon shining in the sky, it had been the super moon phenomenon the night before so it was still larger than normal and created more light on the road.

Settled in the middle of the Uva Mountains we reached Nuwera Eliya in the mist before driving about 40 minutes to the hotel, climbing higher and higher as we went. We were understandably exhausted by the time we reached the hotel at 9pm and rather hungry.

We feasted on chicken coconut soup and an array of different curries including pressed banana flowers curry which was rather tasty but too spicy for my palate. The manager also kindly took me around listing all the food that was gluten free and safe for me to eat which made things far less stressful.

Now our hotel – the Heritance Tea Factory was rather impressive. The original tea factory has been converted into a hotel. They have done this really well, explaining with different colours where the original structure still stands and where they have made enhancements making the interior a ray of green, red, yellow and silver. All employees were dressed very smartly from the bygone era taking you back to the days of the oriental express.

The views the next morning from our room were certainly amazing and we found ourselves floating above the clouds looking towards the Uva mountains and luscious green tea plantations.

Our exploration of the tea area was slightly delayed due to Prince Edward and Sophie visiting one of the charities in the area but once the Royals had finished their special visit we were on our way to the Pedro Estate and the Lover’s Leap Ethical Tea Boutique. Greeted by a cup of tea our visit took us through the factory and the tea making process. I was genuinely surprised how antique the equipment looked but still in perfectly good working order. Only 4% of the tea made on the premises is sold at the tea boutique and the remaining 96% goes to the auction for export. The vistas of the tea plantations are very impressive and every so often you will spot a tea lady picking the young leaves, their quota for the day is to collect 16kg of tea leaves every day – earning them a minimum of 800 LKR per day.

From here we travelled by tuk-tuk up the mountain to see the Lover’s Leap waterfall. There are a few  of waterfalls in this particular region but this one is accessible from Pedro’s Tea Estate. You can walk direct from the estate but due to limited time we caught a bright red tuk-tuk halfway up before climbing the remainder of the way. The waterfall is 30m high and is situated on Sri Lanka’s highest mountain range, Piduruthalagala (2524m). Lover’s leap is quite an unusual name and legend says:

A prince living in Nuwera Eliya had met a beautiful girl in the nearby village and fell in love with her, but the King did not allow the Prince to pursue the relationship. The disheartened Prince on one full moon evening climbed to the top of the rocks with his love and jumped off the rock fall. Therefore naming the waterfall Lover’s Leap.

The town Nuwara Eliya is quite busy with some colonial buildings still standing along with Victoria Park and a racetrack. It is also known as Little England due to its greenery and cooler climates. We had lunch at the Calamder overlooking Gregory’s lake. It had a lovely setting overlooking the lake which was populated with big white swan pedlos. The food however let it down with very little suitable for those with a gluten intolerance – which was a pity as the pizza’s looked very good.

Our day ended by going back to the hotel to sit by the warming fire as the mist had once again rolled in. Dinner was once again spectacular and we got to try the local Sri Lankan dessert: Watalappam. The dessert is very sweet and is made out of coconut milk, cashew nuts, eggs, jaggery and spices including cinnamon and cardamom.

It was one more cosy night spent at the hotel before we woke up to another morning view above the clouds.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before starting the long journey to the south west coast.

Trip booked through Travel Counsellors. Petra was very efficient and knowledgable in helping us plan our trip and providing accommodation and route options.