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


Kandy, central Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Arriving in Kandy

Kandy railwayI arrived in Kandy on Sunday the 14th January. It’s as pretty as a picture. It was also the capital when Sri Lanka was under a monarchy. Located in the Kandy plateau, it’s criss-crossed with tropical plantations, many of which are tea. If you want more info on the town go here) The train getting there wasn’t so pretty, it was over subscribed. We, an Aussie and a Somalian and I stood or sat on the floor in the open carriage doorway for I suppose 4 plus hours taking occasional photos. Again, and unlike British Rail, the ticket worked out at 150/- LK. In £ sterling, about 1. Euro slightly more. You don’t seem to mind a bit of discomfort when you haven’t shelled out a mortgage on British Rail prices, but not being able to get a decent view was annoying.

I had pre-booked “Bunk Planet” in Kandy. It looked good on Hostel World but in actual fact was the most disappointing hostel that I’ve stayed in to date. Situated in the basement of a block, the smell was a bit damp and occasionally the toilets took over. The idea was nice though, capsule bunk beds with plenty of space and charging points, fan and “mood” light. Unfortunately there was no common room area nor kitchen with the result that I didn’t get to interact with anyone really. Until the last day.

A stroll around Kandy lake

Water Monitor Lizard - Kandy lake
Water Monitor Lizard – Kandy lake
The lake seemed to be the thing to go see with half a day left. I walked round the lake slowly looking at the enormous trees and houses nestled into the hills. Half way round I quite literally nearly stumbled over a huge water Monitor Lizard. I reckon it was about 1·30m in length and its body the size of a springer spaniel’s body. That excitement over I continued the circuit of the lake during which noticed a huge white Buddha on the hill behind the city that I hadn’t spotted before.
Tomorrow’s walk.

Fruit bats - Kandy lake - Sri Lanka
Fruit bats – Kandy lake – Sri Lanka
As I was just about to complete the circuit of the lake an old man stopped me. He showed me a poisonous water snake in a clump of reeds that he assured me was most venomous. He also showed me all the waterbirds hiding from it. The snake was hard to see and therefore hard to try and identify to include here, and the name the man gave it was obviously local and fairly unpronounceable. We walked on a little and the old fellow pointed out some huge fruit bats, the size of pigeons. That’s when he told me about the performance of Sri Lankan dance, fire-walking and drumming that was going on that night. I think was related to some festival to do with the Temple of the Tooth. It seemed like a good idea, so I went. It was a shame that the light didn’t allow me to get good photos, slow shutter speeds, and I’d left the video behind in the hostel, damn it! It was entertaining, not brilliant, but fun and I do like dancing girls 🙂

Now some food. The street food in Sri Lanka doesn’t compete with Indian street food. And of the Indian food, I prefer the southern food with its coconut and rice. Here, mostly they are vegetable rotis, fish or chicken buns or things loaded with sugar. I did find one guy making lovely chicken fried rice though. But there really is a limit to how much chicken fried rice you can eat. Here it’s the same as southern India, eat with your hands of lose face and ask for a spoon.

The Big White Buddha of Kandy

By the next day I’d googled the huge white Buddha that I’d seen whilst walking round the lake. It wasn’t far. Back-pack and camera. With the aid of google maps I found the place easily. This Buddha is called Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue and there is a legend of the Buddha of Gnome Mountain which you can read about here. Kandy is built on hill sides around the lake. The Buddha sits atop one of the nearest hills looking over Kandy. I took my photos and moved on. Walking into Kandy from the Buddha you enter from the opposite side from the lake. I walked some of the streets in the direction of the lake. Eventually arriving at the Temple of the Tooth land that borders the side of the lake.

Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic - Kandy
Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic
I strolled in the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth taking photos. Its grounds are lovely and calming. And I haven’t seen as many caucasians in one place since leaving England. You really get the idea that Sri Lanka’s main industry is tourism. It reminds me of some time I spent in Costa Rica where the tourist industry is monetised to the hilt.


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.