Monday, August 5, 2013

Travel Mondays: Tea Estates, Waterfalls and a stopover in "Little England"

I could easily wax poetic about how Nuwara Eliya reminds me of home, hence it's nickname of "Little England", but it is more than just the end destination. For me it is has a lot to with "the journey"... the ways and means, the to-and-from Nuwara Eliya, that really lights me up. I've visited the Nuwara Eliya region many times over the past few years and I never fail to enjoy everything to do with exploring, immersing, photographing, observing, and taking time for random layovers along the way...

On this particular road trip, we started our journey from Kandy. We had spent the previous day at the ODI cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Pallekele. I don't know whether you find the same, but after a day/night match at the cricket I often need to re-connect with nature. It helps me to let go of the intensity of watching a cricket match.

The drive out of Kandy is really lovely, especially on the weekends. Once you're out of Kandy town center (which I think is an absolute nightmare for traffic and pollution) it's all green, luscious and spacious.

Before too long you hit tea plantations, more mountainous landscapes and the wide open road. We were blessed with great weather on this trip.

There is always plenty to observe and absorb if you're open to it. We had stopped off to stretch our legs and take some photos when I caught this village lady walking past... she had collected wood and was carrying it in a sack on her back.

We passed a small waterfall where we saw some tourists had stopped off.

Rather than lingering at the waterfall, we drove on till we found a place by the roadside where we could stop for a cup of tea and a good stretch of our legs. I love this aspect of Sri Lanka. There is always somewhere to stop off for a drink (cold or hot) or snack by the roadside run by local people. It's unassuming and usually there's a nice view of the jungle, river, mountains or something natural.

The lady who ran this particular spot was in a great little spot, which was well-stocked and she also happened to have the longest hair I've seen in quite some time. I swear the length of her hair almost hit her knees! 

We enjoyed a strong cup of tea with a generous-sized chunk of jaggery! The jaggery in Sri Lanka is made from the treacle of the kithul tree. It was so delicious I bought four halves of jaggery from this lady. I paid about Rs 250 per half.  Luckily, it was superb quality as it softens into liquid jaggery very easily. Sometimes, I pop a spoonful in my mouth when I need a little snack (*grin*).

Our next stop off point was at Ramboda Falls. We had been traveling on the A5 highway and the waterfall is just before the Ramboda Pass. We hadn't searched the map for waterfalls. Road trips tend to be unplanned for the most part and I enjoy the randomness of the traveling experience - it goes with my love of adventure and discovering the unexpected. There was a large group of college students who were gathered to take a group photo and so we stopped to see what the fuss was all about. Lucky we did!

According to my subsequent research, Ramboda Falls is 109m high and the 11th highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and 729th highest waterfall in the world. 

The view was spectacular - you could see a few segments of the waterfall from the mountain-side of the road, and then after crossing the road, it is possible to see the path of the water as it flows down the mountain. It eventually forms part of the Panna Oya which is a tributary of Kothmale Oya, which you can see from Ramboda Pass.

Most of the drive on this Saturday was what I consider gentle. There weren't that many vehicles driving up toward Nuwara Eliya and surprisingly few buses horning and making a commotion to get past you. All-in-all an unusual but pleasant drive for a change, especially with the winding and bendy mountain roads and the gradual incline in altitude.

Around a many bends and turns, we found ourselves stopping at a strawberry shop run by Adma Agro. It's not a farm, but has a small area displaying some of their plants and seedlings. It is set by a small waterfall which you can see from inside the shop. 

The shop/cafe sells strawberry jam as well as all kinds of strawberry drinks and snacks. I tried a fresh strawberry juice as well as fresh strawberries with pancake, which turned out to be my lunch. Both were yummy! A few other travelers stopped here for a snack and I noticed many ordered chocolate covered strawberries and fresh strawberries with icecream. 

After this stop the road leads you past many tea centers where you can sample tea, learn more about the different kinds of tea (for example, orange pekoe, BOP, BOPF etc) and purchase to your heart's content.

We stopped at Bluefield Tea Gardens and Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre as part of our afternoon of tea tasting and enjoying some time off the road. It was busy at both establishments on the day we visited.

I think Mackwoods offers the prettiest setting and if you're a foreign tourist they don't charge you for the tea. However, if you have the chocolate cake it sets you back Rs 30.

Just like my mother, I love a good strong cuppa tea. Fresh milk isn't often served in Sri Lanka, but I enjoyed this cup with some light condensed milk.

And polished off a slice of chocolate cake too... if you're paying attention, I've eaten mostly sweets all day! I'm certainly not complaining (*wink wink*).

After a few hours we made our way into Nuwara Eliya town. I took a few shots of the views...

The views are mainly of tea shrubs, market gardens and interspersed housing.

Around Lake Gregory it's very scenic. There are boat rides and horse/pony rides available.

I find it interesting to see how some of the local people live. This was somewhere near Lake Gregory and I was fascinated by the lady on the roof collecting her washed clothes that she had placed up there to dry.

I was also fascinated with the "everydayness" of how people go about their daily lives with people growing crops near their houses, kids running around freely and lots of washing put out on the line as well as on the roof. Naturally I only get a small glimpse.

Just before dusk, when I went on a walk, I was fascinated to watch the mist coming in from over the mountain range. The day had been quite sunny with some cloud cover, but as the sun was setting, the temperature dropped and the mist started to cover the scenery.

When we went out for dinner in the evening, the temperature gauge in the car read 17'C. It didn't actually feel that cold. I wore a light jacket over a shirt and was comfortable enough.

However, most places to stay in Nuwara Eliya are not heated and most don't have carpets (unless they are in the expensive category), so if you're traveling budget or mid-range, bring socks, hat and something warm to wear at night. I always find it funny that most of the places are tiled, which often makes the rooms colder than if you were outside. 

After an overnight stay, we were greeted to another beautiful sunny day, which we spent around Nuwara Eliya visiting more tea estates and enjoying a relaxed time at one of the hotels for lunch.

If you're interested in a cooler climate, tea estates, waterfalls and seeing a different side to Sri Lanka, this region offers much to explore and enjoy.

On my way home, I usually take the opportunity to buy some fresh vegetables to take back to Colombo with me. The prices are good, you get to support the local community, it's fresher than the supermarket and it tastes great!

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