Friday, 21 October 2016

A Sri Lankan pitstop in England.

Nurwara Eliya 21st Oct 2016 - 23rd Oct 2016

Nurwara Eliya is a small town located in the mountains of central Sri Lanka with the interesting nickname of Little England. The settlement originally earned its name when it was founded by British civil servants and tea planters. Sitting at an elevation of near 2000m above sea level this, cool cloudy region of the island was perfect for growing tea and as such to this day the entire area seems to be dedicated to the growth of tea.

Perfect village green with appropriate weather
Immediately as we entered the town the British influence was noticeable. We arrived at a small red-brick post office which wouldn´t have seemed out of place if it sat at the centre of a rural West Country village. Around the corner on the outskirts lay a small lake, bordered by a pristine village green, fit with flower beds, a pavilion and pedalos. The only way it could have looked more British would have been if there was a Vicar partaking in a local cricket game.

 As a side note it´s amazing what strange things you can begin to miss when you´re away from home; it occured to me when we were walking past the well groomed lawns how much I missed grass. Sounds odd right? Having spent the previous months in parts of the world where the climate had just been too hot and dry for a proper field of grass the only times we´d seen it had been the occasional  well tended private gardens of hotels, clubs or of a wealthy person. The rest had been primarily pavements, sand, dust, and a few wiry grey green shrubs. Seeing the green made me miss the inordinate amount of hours I´d spent (badly) playing football with my mates growing up.
There was also a horse track which I presume has to be due to British influence. At least it´s not something we´ve seen any where else during our time in S.E Asia.

They´ve nailed that English house look.
The place we chose to stay was once again according to all the tuktuk drivers "very far" which seems to be a global taxi driver code for "I´m going to charge you an extortionate price because you´re not from around here". The stupid thing in this instant was that he couldn´t read the map we had presented him with (after staring at it blankly for 2 minut

es) and he had never heard of the place but he was still quick to tell us how far away it was. We´ve since discovered that few taxi drivers in S.E. Asia can read maps but instead prefer claiming to know the destination, getting lost then asking nearby locals for help. Our relationship with taxi drivers isn´t a particularly happy one. Admittedly the ironic thing here was that compared to the size of the town our accommodation was quite far away. Still only about 40 minutes walk though. After a quick phone call to ask for instructions we made it there and boy was it odd.

Located in the back garden of the owners´ house next to a preexisting cosy looking wooden lodge designs for groups of people sat our newly built little brick shed, built for two. The interior was a double bed with about 5 thick blankets laid on top and a small table with two chairs next to it. There was a small bathroom through one door and a kitchen with gas stove, camping kettle, 2 each of the crockery, cutlery and pans through the other. Oh and also zero insulation. We were very thankful for the stash of blankets we been given which accompanied our own 2 nicely and we were definitely thankful to ourselves for having lugged our skiing socks around with us for the past few months. When we left home we thought we´d only need them when we arrived in the US during winter but man oh man did we need them here too. Getting up in the morning was a mission of sheer willpower braving the icy floor tiles which you could tell were cold even through the thick woollen socks. But there was definitely something charming (perhaps in a bemusing sort of way) about our little hut; shuffling toward the gas stove in the mornings fully clothed and wrapped in a woolly blanket like an arctic nun to boil our little kettle to make the cups of tea that we desperately needed. I mean how could we not drink tea in the morning, we were at the centre of the tea world. It was also very nice to go to bed at night without having to make the choice of either sweating with the heat to the point of dehydration or being kept awake from the constant droning of a nearby desk fan. Peaceful, silent, cool bliss.
(Because the place was new and needed a photo to put on, they used us as models. We are now the coverphoto for this cosy shed's booking profile. I don't suppose our faces will bring them many new customers though)
Nuwara Eliya is amongst other things home to Sri Lanka's highest peak Pidurutalagala (bless you) which stands at a whoppingly small 2,524m, in other words it was low enough for us to walk up in a day without too much hassle. At least that was the theory. It turns out that the entire peak of the mountain is owned and controlled by the Sri Lankan military and it serves as a radio outpost. As a result access to the top is very restricted, so much so in fact that you need your passport to get past the military checkpoint at the base of the incline and you have to be driven by tour guide, taxi or private car. We weren't allowed to hike the hike. Somewhat dejected by this revelation, especially after the hour+ walk it took to get there (poor planning on our part I guess) we walked off in search of adventure elsewhere.

Lovers´ Leeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaap
We found it in a waterfall nicknamed "Lover´s Leap", the tragic tale stating that when a young couple´s love was forbidden by their parents they through themselves off the waterfall. I suppose every country has their own version of Romeo and Juliet. Although the waterfall sat just on the edge of town, so close that we could just about see it from our hostel, it was an absolute mission to get to. No directions on the road and no maps listed any of the winding roads we were on. We ended up walking down private roads, through farms, disturbing the odd cow, and along very small lanes. As such it came as a surprise when it turned out that the route we'd taken was right. With one final point down a mud path from a friendly local we arrived. You could immediately tell the extent of the drought which apparently affected this region too. It was suppose to be wet season yet there was barely a trickle of water flowing over the precipice above. At the base there was meant to be a pool of water but instead there lay bare rock. Although terrible for the environment it was quite advantageous for us as we summoned our inner mountain goats and joined the locals in scrambling across the precariously stacked boulders. There was sat and sunbathed, warming up from the cold night before like snakes on a hot rock. Mission accomplished, all we had to do now was scramble back down into town...

We couldn't be staying in the middle of tea country without visiting a tea plantation, that would be ludicrous. So we did the thing we knew best; we googled the cheapest plantation museum/tours in the area and finding a free one a few miles outside of town we eagerly hopped on a bus (which then waited another 45 long minutes in the station) before rocking down the zig-zag mountain roads to Mackwoods Labookellie tea plantation and factory. Hoping off the bus (and feeling not just a little motion sick) we were spotted by the staff and ushered inside a large wooden panelled cafe without asking or hesitation we were given a free cup of tea to sample and piece of chocolate cake each. Whatever followed afterwards this place was going to be getting 5 stars on Tripadvisor. Taking our time and enjoying the warming tea we eventually finished and after a few more tourists we done we were shown around the factory which sat just across the carpark. It was a basic tour but it was entirely free and nevertheless informative. For instance I had no idea that Green Tea and Black Tea comes from the same leaf as does English breakfast tea the only difference is how the leaf is dry, rolled and prepared. The drying room the was fascinating; I've always associated the smell of tea with the wet steaminess of a freshly boiled kettle but in this hanger sized room with desert heat and dryness (if you haven´t guessed the purpose of this room is to draw any moisture whatsoever out of the leaves), the powerful scent of tea filled every square inch of the air. An inescapable aroma, it was incredible.

Two more mildly interesting facts: Apparently tea factories prefer to employ female rather than male tea pickers because their hands are more nimble, faster and accurate at snatching up all tiny leaves. All tea from all the different factories in the country is sold to brands and businesses at a central auction in Colombo (the capital) meaning the tea leaves in every box of PG Tips you buy may come from a completely different source. Cool right?

After managing to score ourselves another free cup of tea and cake the clouds rolled in turning the verdant scenery into an eerie scene: a giant old factory building surrounded by woods and low clouds on the edge of an all too quiet mountain (a Silent Hill if you will). We hopped back on the bus to town just as the rain started up - I guess no more drought - and then it was time to pack and move onto Ella. Another train journey. Woooo.

Until then,

We waited far too long to hear someone say this

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