A Tuk Tuk driver was called for by our hostess and he delivered us to the bus station and pointed out the bus to Nuwara Eliya. It’s a blue one! I nodded into a heat induced stupor, even before leaving the bus station, and missed the first hour of travel. By then we were in tea country. The journey continues for another 2 hours of constant climbing and twisting around corners at a speed that sometimes throws the bus into a lean, as if it were a motorcycle. On one corner the jamming of brakes brought us to a complete halt, with the acrid smell of burning rubber, but we did not connect with the bus coming towards us!
We have a stunning vista of tea plantations and vegetable garden beds. Eventually we started descending, winding past plantings of beautiful bright flowers. On the outside edge of each switchback there was a broader verge, and each of these was taken up with a vegetable stall.
We check-in to Blue Moon Hotel. The room is clean, it has an ensuite and the bonus of using shared kitchen facilities downstairs; breakfast is provided. For the three nights we stayed here, there are no other guests!
Because Nuwara Eliya is elevated, (1,868m) the air is cooler, so we set off for a late afternoon walk. It was harrowing walking on the narrow road shoulder during peak traffic. The detail on our map was scanty; in reality we had no idea where we were; so we made a decision to abandon the walk to Lovers Leap Waterfall until tomorrow.
A Tuk Tuk dropped us at Pedro Tea Estate. The factory here only operates at night when it is cooler, to ensure the tea is lighter and of a higher quality. Even though only one machine was operating, the tour was interesting. The estate was a better place to start the walk to Lovers Leap. The track took us through the tea plantation where we passed women picking, (they work an eight hour day, picking 18 kilograms) and men weeding or spraying. From the waterfall, the walk back to town is descending via narrow roads that gave us a good view of industrious local people going about their work; digging in compost, weeding and planting seedlings, and as always, someone is sweeping (the swish, swish of brush brooms is as common a sound as bird chirps). From the main road we caught a Tuk Tuk that dropped us back to town in time for lunch. At the local restaurant a noodle meal cost R200 but the green tea was R350 each!
Thunder and rain caught us as we wandered around Victoria Park (named to commemorate the 60th jubilee coronation of Queen Victoria), so we sat under the rotunda, for almost an hour, waiting for it to ease. Nuwara Eliya is a delightful little town. The city was founded in 1846 and the British used it to escape summer heat and found the climate was good for growing English plants, both floral and vegetable. Many large colonial houses still stand, with large lawns and brightly coloured gardens of plant varieties that are very familiar to us from our colder climate New Zealand gardens. The Grand Hotel is of Tudor design, and the local Post Office looks like it has been teleported from an English village.
Trip Advisor reviews pointed us to dinner at Sri Ambaal. We point to a variety of photos on the menu to order what are called ‘short eats’. The waiter indicates we should also have what everyone else is eating. A plate of samosas and curry roll is delivered to the table. Then the meal of the evening is added to our stainless steel platter. It looked like a pancake, crispy around the edge, but tastes like cottage cheese fried in ghee and this is used to mop up yellow dhall and pumpkin curry, that is poured onto the platter from a stainless steel jug, then taken to the next table. What a great idea; the same meal for every diner. All very delicious, but so much food!
Finally we’re getting lucky. Were seated on the bus to Hatton. It’s a red short-length bus, with 2 seats on the right side, and 1 seat on the left. The seats are cloth, so maybe we won’t slide as much as usual, and Nev sitting near the aisle, has an arm rest. The full bus leaves the station. We’re surprised to find that the arm rest soon turns into a dickey seat, and the bus becomes very full!
At Hatton we walk to the railway station to catch a direct bus to Nallathanniya, but we’re told it’s not the season, and the direct bus is not now operating. Our choice is to either walk back to the bus station, and get two buses, or take a Tuk Tuk the 33km. Even though the ride was the usual, bumpy, noisy, fume smelling ride, we thought our choice of a Tuk Tuk was a good one. We had a considerate driver, who was not in a desperate hurry, and was able to explain some points of interest along the way, with stops for photos of Castlereigh Reservoir. He will pick us up again at 9:30 and drop us back at Hatton station. In the meantime we have a Peak to climb.
I’m awake to other people leaving before the alarm, set for 2:45 a.m. The hotel host had encouraged us to leave at 2 a.m. (there was an opportunity here; something they could have told us!) but we figure that leaving at 3 will get us to the top of Adams Peak (Sri Pada 2243m) for sunrise. The route starts at a gentle grade on concrete or dirt trail. Plastic sheeting encloses former tea stalls that until Vesak Poya Day (last Sunday and Monday) would have offered refreshments and souvenirs to pilgrims. The monastery is open and we are funnelled through the doorway so we can be blessed by the monk as he ties a white string around our right wrist. We then need to sign the book to record our Pilgrimage and to make the non-compulsory donation of exactly R1000 as has been recorded beside every other name.
The climb up is tough! It’s just on 5 kilometres and around 5200 steps, of which the tread gets shorter and narrower as the gradient steepens. We have a headlamp and small torch that are enough to guide each footfall, but even so it’s quite disconcerting with only blackness on the periphery. Fortunately the last few hundred that are extremely steep we have the assistance of a handrail. We walk for a long while with a local who appeared to be climbing at my pace, and kept encouraging me to move with “Come on, come on” but I found he really just needed my light and was slower than me. I gave him my torch and proceeded with Nev. Many tourists were outside the temple, waiting for sunrise. We were disappointed to find many people waiting at the entrance to the temple and then more disappointed to find that it had closed a few days ago at the end of Poya, so we would not be able to see Buddha’s foot print or the place that God placed Adam when he was banished from Paradise. The sunrise was less than dramatic, but the view that unfolded before us as the sunlight drew back night’s curtain, was very impressive. Now we had to walk back down, stopping occasionally and taking our eyes from the steps, to enjoy the vista.
The 33km Tuk Tuk ride completed the morning’s exercise. Although we had the same gentle driver as yesterday it is the type of travel where I often have to tightly grip the underside of the bench seat to avoid sliding off the shiny surface, onto the road, and use my core muscles to stay balanced. A new kind of work-out!
We had booked this train, Hatton to Ella, while back in Colombo. At that time we were given 3rd class seats, being the only available. The Dutch woman waiting with us had just bought her 2nd Class ticket this morning. Nev went looking for an upgrade and only 1st Class was available. A few days ago an English couple told us they were disappointed with first class because the windows didn’t open for taking photographs, so we decided not to change. Third class was actually very suitable, with everyone seated and windows wide open. The vendors made their way to us so we snacked on samosas and other spicy ‘small eats’. The scenery was stunningly beautiful. Tea plantations, waterfalls, pine forest, eucalyptus forest, the occasional shea oak or rhododendron, and other colourful tropical trees. Small vegetable farms were replaced by jungle. Grand homes in towns indicated a degree of wealth whereas some small homes in the countryside with cladding of recycled materials, and people washing outdoors under water spouts, gave a sense of poverty. The railway was high on the ridges and the view in every direction was amazing. This was by far the most picturesque 100 kilometres we have ever covered by train.
Rain drops fell on our arrival at Ella. By the time we reached our accommodation, Ella Hide View was living up to the name. We were on the top of a hill, a couple of kilometres from town, and with the rain shower the view was now white out!