Nuwara Eliya – tea growing area in Sri Lanka

Train to Nuwara Eliya – the most scenic train ride…

The train ride from Kandy to Ella is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Most of the online articles say break the journey at Nuwara Eliya before continuing to Ella. The online articles also say try and stand in an open doorway so that you can take photos. As you go to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy the spectacular side is on the right. There are some lovely views on the left too but you spend most of the time hugging the mountain side. Luckily a Sri Lankan man called me across to the left side to see some beautiful waterfalls.

The train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya was chocker-block full of people. Half locals and half tourists. Barely a chance to see anything for four hours. If it can be, the trains in Sri Lanka are even slower than their Indian counterparts. The general attitude seems to be – keep selling tickets until you can’t squeeze any more people in.

Again the online articles say travel 2nd or 3rd class. The 1st class air-conditioned carriages have glass windows that produce a lot of reflections making nice photos nasty with secondary image reflections. Getting a 1st class ticket is all but impossible unless you book months in advance. 2nd class reservations are the same. So you can be pretty sure that you’ll be standing most of the time unless you are lucky enough to collar the door and sit with your feet on the running board. Apparently there is a “scam” where all the tour guides reserve the seats for the clients that are prepared to pay well over the odds.

One of the first things to know is that the train doesn’t go to Nuwara Eliya, it stops at Nanu Oya. It will cost you 600/- LK to get into the town of Nuwara Eliya (2018 price). Yes the tuktuk driver will try and scam you. My advice is talk to people on the train and share a ride. Get dropped in the centre of town or Victoria Park. The first driver will pile on the cost if he has to make two or three different drops. Find a second tuktuk to your destination.

Nuwara Eliya – and Sri Lanka’s tea.

Nuwara Elyia is nestled into a plain around Lake Gregory with many of the houses on the hillsides around the lake. It’s a pretty town dedicated to tea production for the most part. My first day there I walked around Lake Gregory and climbed up through one of PEDRO’S tea plantations to the top of Single Tree Hill. I did, according to google, 16·2km that day.

There is quite a lot to do in Nuwara Eliya but you’ll pay through the nose for it. I wanted to go to Horton Plains and Adam’s Peak. The first has a spectacular 1.200m drop called World’s End, the second is supposed to be great for the sunrise. I was alerted to Adam’s Peak when someone said that you have to leave at 02:00 to get a good spot. Since then I have talked to people that never made it to the peak for the swarms of tourists. Both are national parks. Both charge about 25€. So by the time you’ve done four things in the area you are 100€ down. This is the same business model as Costa Rica. Pretty soon these two countries will be only for the rich tourist.

The second part of the journey is to Ella. The hostel in which I was staying was full of people that were either going to Ella or had just come back. Most said that it was a quiet town, really expensive, with not much to do except some hiking trails. I decided to give it a miss. Partly because I had no wish to be a sardine again, partly because being in town with the same mob from the hostel didn’t do it for me.

There are hostels and hostels

The hostel that I chose in Nuwara Eliya was called the Hi Lanka. It’s in a beautiful spot with some lovely views and only about 1km from town, so easily walkable. I’d booked through booking.com who told me the two nights would be about 1600/-LK. I arrived and was charged over double. $24 to be exact. I don’t work in dollars, it’s american currency. I’d have preferred the price in € or £. The hostel was shabby. My dorm had no WiFi connectivity, that was only available in the main room or the terrace. Guests arrived with bookings only to find no space. Other guests were moved beds to make space for others and three were delivered to another hostel. That said the breakfasts were big and good. From a hostel point of view, it was one of the worst I have stayed in, only a touch better than Bunk Planet mentioned here and to my mind priced like a cheap hotel not a shared dormitory hostel.

Having decided to miss out Ella, I decided to go back to Colombo and lie by the beach. I’d picked up an infection on the plane that had been sitting on my chest and making me cough and I had a streaming nose. I figured that a bit of sea, wind and lazy time would probably be a better option than standing interminably on trains getting increasingly irritated and feeling rough. So I headed back to Mrs Merle Senanayake’s excellent establishment The Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel. By far and away the best hostel I’ve stayed in on this entire trip. If the hostel had been in India I’d have asked if I could rent a room on a semi-permanent basis!

I left Hi Lanka fairly early. I wanted to try and get a seat for the 8 hour ride back to Colombo. Luckily there were some free seats in the 1st class carriage. I booked one with relief. Luckily the car wasn’t that full so it enabled me to pop up and down and hang out of the front doors of the carriage to video the spectacular scenery that I’d missed on the way up. I still have to edit it to include on this page.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
With great relief I arrived back at Colombo Lavinia Beach to find that the Spanish man, Valentín, I’d been talking to 4 days earlier was still there. He told me he’d been having a great time where he was and felt no need to move on. He stayed a month in total and finally dragged himself off to see Kandy and the scenic train route the day before I left for Galle in the south, where I am currently writing this.
mt lavinia beach hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel


Bike ride into the Western Ghats

Western Ghats - Talakaveri

Uncomfortable in the Western Ghats

Baja Pulsar 220 F in the western ghats
Baja Pulsar 220 F
Madan has had me sitting on the back of Baja Pulsar F 220cc motorbike for my journeys into the Western Ghats mountains of this part of India. The bike is incredibly uncomfortable and the scenery is incredibly beautiful. So it makes a sore bum worth while. (I linked the specs of the bike for those of you that like that kind of thing… Yes Tim, you.)

Areca nuts
Areca nuts with a cat. Looks uncomfortable.
The geography of this area and the Western Ghats still confuses me, largely to do with the place names that bear no resemblance to European place names. I’ve been to the joining of the three rivers that form the holy river of the south, the Kaveri, at Talakaveri (tala = head) and I’ve seen coffee plantations. There are coconut palms everywhere and also areca nut palms. The latter look a little like mini-coconuts both growing and when taken apart, they are fibrous inside just like a coconut. They are a little smaller than a tennis ball. Areca is used as a kind of tobacco substitute here. It’s chewed with a bit of tobacco wrapped up in a leaf that has a light coating of lime on it. As yet I haven’t tried it, and I’m not sure that I will. We’ll see.

The Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala

The bike ride took us in and out of Karnataka and Kerala as the border is very close to this part of Karnataka State. The Western Ghats run the length of the western side of India, a bit like the Andes in South America. In places we were in deep jungle and I’m still hoping for some wildlife. Tigers don’t exist here but there are cheetahs and elephants. To date I’ve only seen birds which move too quickly to get pictures. I’d need to sit still for a couple of hours. In other areas the scenery is open and rolling with mountains in the distance. The rivers are fairly dry at the moment but Madan tells me that they are huge and fast running in the monsoon season.

Hanuman in the Western Ghats
Hanuman paying devotion to Shiva at Hanumagiri
We climbed Ranipuram in Kerala and saw the vistas of the Western Ghats from on high. Some of those photos I put on Facebook. I went to Hanumagiri which is a huge temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god that helped Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana the king of Sri Lanka who was claimed to be a Rakshasa, a demon. There is a lot of information on the legends of Hanuman on the Wikipedia site. Here in India Hanuman is jokingly referred to as Superman’s big brother. Read the stories and find out why. The little squirrel I mentioned in this post is tied in with this legend. It helped Shiva to construct the land bridge to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita.

western ghats roadhouse
Madan waiting for his food
We stopped for lunch, it cost about 2 quid for the both of us. I had a pilau I don’t remember what the name of Madan’s dish but it was served on a banana leaf. Here in the south they eat with their fingers. They claim it tastes better that way. I don’t see how and I haven’t noticed. Nevertheless I’ve had to learn the technique as some of the eateries don’t supply cutlery. I’ve explained that in Europe one of the first things you teach children is NOT to eat with their fingers. Personally I find it pretty gross to have food all over my right hand, but that’s the culture here. Granted all the establishments have a hand basin or some sort of wash facility.


Journey south to Perlampady, Karnataka

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On my way to Perlampady, Karnataka

Areca nut tree - perlampady, kernataka
Areca nut tree
Well I’m down in Perlampady, Karnataka in the south west of India. Above Kerala and below Mumbai (Bombay). I’m staying with Madan’s family. His mum, sister and brother. This is jungle territory. Coconuts, rubber trees, bananas and areca nut trees.

perlampady, karnataka
Karnataka State
Madan and I flew out of Delhi to Bengaluru (Bangalore) on IndiGo airlines. The flight left at 17:05 but we had to suffer the 4 hour bus from Simbhaoli to Delhi with my case that’s as big as a coffin but at least my ukulele fits inside. The plane arrived in Bangaluru, the capital of Karnataka half an hour early at 19:20 which meant that we had plenty of time to get the 50km from the airport into the city and find the bus to Perlampady, near Mangaluru.

Bangalore buses

Bangalore bus station is… well let’s just say that I was glad to be with Madan. They don’t speak Hindi here but Kannada, not that I speak either. One thing I noticed almost straight away is that the roads are better maintained, the traffic obeys the rules of the road that I learned. The drivers don’t seem to feel the need to drive with one hand on the horn constantly as they do in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and the roads are clean.

The bus station has more of an organised European feel, rather than the pandemonium of Anand Vihar in Delhi. It is also considerably cleaner. I’m guessing that the presence of litter bins and rubbish bins and fines has something to do with it. Either way the people down here don’t just toss their waste onto the ground or out of the car window.

We found a bus. Apparently there are a number that we could have used to get to the area Perlampady, Karnataka. This bus went to Subramanya, a temple town near to Madan’s village. Near is a loose word here in India. We’ll still have 50km to cover when we arrive.

The bus is, what I’d call, a basic cross town bus and we’ve got 350km to do in it. Rigid seats, no room for my coffin case but clean. Yes there are other more salubrious buses, sleepers, semi-sleepers, air conditioned and more. This one cost us about 450/- rupees – for both of us! Ok, I can deal with 350km for less than 3 quid each.

At ten o’clock the bus pulled out on time and we drove through the streets of Bangaluru. Again I noticed how much cleaner the city seemed to be, compared to New Delhi. The air also seemed less polluted but that could be due to the time of day. I’m told that the Bangaluru traffic is horrendous. It wasn’t bad at this time of night on Christmas day. By eleven we’d exited the city and we’d stopped at a roadside eatery for supper.

Now back on the bus the internal lights were switched off and we rumbled off into the west and the night. It’s hard to sleep on seats that are hard and nearly 90° backs. Actually it’s nearly impossible (for me anyway). I drifted in an out of dozing until we reached the Western Ghats. Now the road has to descend the mountain roads. Hairpin bends and, in this area, poorly maintained and some serious water damage from the monsoon rains. Some of the holes would swallow a small economy car. Driving in India is done on the left, like the UK, but here – well just use the bit of the road with fewer holes. Overtake where you can (and where you wouldn’t in Europe).

We eventually arrived in Subramanya at about 05:30. The town/village was already awake. Apparently this is because the temple here is famous and has many visitors and pilgrims. The temple is dedicated to Shiva’s son Shanmukha. I was glad the public toilet had no light 🙂

Now for the last bit. We found the bus to Perlampady, Karnataka and hoisted the coffin aboard. Again, the fare for both of us wouldn’t have got one stop in the UK. The driver made use of the early hour to try out his rally skills. On a few occasions I was literally lifted from the seat when hitting a particularly nasty bump. The twists and turns and hairpin bends made sure that no more sleep was possible.

Madan’s home in Perlampady, Karnataka

perlampady, karnataka
Looking over some of the Perlampady houses
So we arrived in Perlampady. Madan’s younger brother Kiran was waiting at the bus stop to see his older brother and the strange white man of whom the family had heard. We walked about 150 metres to their house where I met Madan’s mum, Selvamani. His nearly eighteen year old sister Chandrika was still in bed. I guess teenagers throughout the world are more or less the same.

Chandrika and Kiran speak english, albeit shyly. Selvamani has a couple of words. Once the shyness started to disappear both Chandrika and Kiran started to speak to me. It’s hard with non native languages even when you do learn them at school. The only way to get better is to speak, speak, speak. I hope my stay here helps young Kiran with his school work. Chandrika is at college in Mangaluru and will return there on the 30th or 31st for the new term. India’s new year falls on the 14th of January so the Christian festivals aren’t that important to Hindus.

Rubber tapping in Perlampady
Rubber tapping
So here I am, in the middle of a south Indian jungle surrounded by banana trees, areca nut palms, coconuts and rubber trees. It seems that a lot of the labour here is involved in rubber tapping the huge acreage of rubber trees.

This is paradise to me. If I get to stay in India I think that it will definitely be in the south of India. The temperature is in the high twenties, low thirties. I’m going to dig my shorts out and then have a wee siesta.


At last a cobra

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Cobra under the house

cobra
Cobra found under the house
Well it happened at last. A cobra. I’ve been waiting for a snake for a while. I would have prefered the cobra living but unfortunately Bhagat Ji killed it before I could get some video or at least a couple of photos while it was alive. Some how it had let itself into the hardstanding to the rear of the house. The floor had be broken up to get to it.

Madan, my friend from the south was most put out at its killing. Bhagat Ji said “inside house – kill, outside house…” accompanied by a swishing movement of his hand to indicate that he’d have let the cobra go.

Snakes, and particularly the cobra are revered here in India. The cobra as the consort of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer. It seems that in the north the snake is worshiped as an icon, usually in the form of a painting or sculpture. Statues and depictions of Shiva most often include a snake. However in the south of India the living snake is also revered and allowed to make its way in life. “Poojas” or prayers are made and the snake is asked for its benediction. You can read a bit more about sacred hindu animals here

Snakes are worshipped for their power and protection. Apparently they bring fertility and are believed to help with protection against illness and disease. For this reason the southern Indians allow the snake its way and life. Snakes are believed to be benevolent if left to themselves and usually move on within a few days. If, on the other hand, the snake is improperly treated, it can become dangerous.

Poor Madan was in a state of disbelief – “He killed a god” he said to me in a semi-hushed voice.

cobra
cobra


Flora and fauna of Ladpur and Bharna area.

flora and fauna - snake gourd

Exploring for flora and fauna of Ladpur and Bharna area.

flora and fauna - snake gourd
Snake gourd farm
Mickey and I walk pretty much daily. He would jog but my heart and age don’t allow that 😀 so we take ourselves off for anywhere between 6 and 12 kilometres. I want to see the flora and fauna of this area and take photos. Granted we see a lot of sugarcane and green fodder. They are staples of this landscape. There is the cannabis and neem that I’ve mentioned but one of the most interesting are snake gourds. These look like courgettes or zucchini, but grow on vines. The wikipedia entry has them as having white flowers, but as you can see these ones have yellow flowers. The plant is trained up a wire mesh to about 1·5m that is suspended over the fields, a little like hops or kiwi fruit. The collection takes place underneath. At the moment the fields are quite spectacular.

flora and fauna - tumeric
Turmeric root from which the spice is extracted
flora and fauna - turmeric plant
Turmeric plants growing at the edge of a field
In our wanderings looking for flora and fauna we have also come across turmeric (or curcuma). Apparently the root, which you can see in the picture, is mashed and boiled up and then left to dry out yielding the orange/yellow spice that has numerous health benefits. Again, as with the entry about neem, the webmd.com site lists possible side effects, so I have linked that too. My view is that the benefits outweigh the “possible” side effects, but who am I to say? Just someone that prefers natural products where possible over BigPharma’s offerings.

flora and fauna
Guavas grow wild
This is a guava. They grow wild here. Help yourself to nature’s bountiful supply. Guavas come in a couple of colours, white and pink. It can be eaten raw but it is often used in cooking. Guavas are sometimes sweet and sometimes a bit bitter. This one was sweet even though it wasn’t quite ripe. The guava is said to have a number of health benefits which you can read about here. For those wanting more technical details, here is wikipedia’s entry.

flora and fauna and water
Ganges water in the fields
flora and fauna and water
Ganges water at the farm
I have also mentioned that I was warned not to drink anything but bottled water. Well there is no bottled water on Mickey’s Satya Dhaam Farm. I drink the water from the Ganges which is about 12km distant as the crow flies. It tastes way better than the water I had in southern Spain. It doesn’t smell or taste of chlorine. It is fast flowing and well oxygenated and I haven’t had a problem. I suspect that the water in Delhi would be more likely to cause problems. In these to photos you can see the water I drink on the farm and me having a drink along the way on one of out hikes.

flora and fauna
Red beaked parrot
I still haven’t seen snakes! Monkeys I have seen but not in interesting situations that warrant a photo. I had thought after the warnings about snakes that the lushness of this area would have produced one – but I’ll have to wait. There are plenty of birds though. The crows wake me in the morning with their strident call and there are green parrots with red beaks but they are hard to spot and easily scared.

borrowing electricity
“Borrowing” electricity
Out here in the sticks amongst the tropical flora and fauna, the electrical supply is, erratic! We lose power at least once a day. Mickey’s farm has 3 phase and a battery backup with inverter but that isn’t enough sometimes. Walking down these country roads it isn’t unusual to find people helping themselves to the supply as you can see here. It’s so far out in the wilderness that the chances of getting caught are virtually nil. On the other hand it wouldn’t be easy to tell if the connection was legal or not in the photo I posted of the electrical supply in Chandi Chowk on this post.

Flora and fauna
Shady rest stop on Neetu’s land
ox drawn transport
Neetu on the left
We’ve bumped into Neetu a couple of times. It is on his land that you can see Mickey and I having a rest under the trees. We were then taken back to the village on the ox cart and invited over to tea in the evening. Neetu’s family house is a lovely place. I didn’t take my camera because I wasn’t too sure of the formalities. Under the circumstances it would probably have been fine. The house is on a walled property of probably the best part of 8002 m with shade trees. Entering the house we were lead straight through to the rear courtyard with another shade tree (related to neem) and a cooking area. Neetu and his three brothers, father, mother and the wives and children live here. A large extended happy family. As usual I felt left out not speaking hindi and I know Mickey was getting tired of translating because I have felt exactly the same translating for British people on the Costa del Sol who don’t learn spanish.

Photos from the flora and fauna expedition