A two and a half hour journey from Kandy on an air conditioned privately run mini bus found us in Nuwara Eliya. The bus was still very much public transport but a little more costly and a lot less crowded. In the aisle, home made seats have been installed and are filled from the rear to maximise capacity. There was an unsaid order for the proper seats, the person who had been sitting in the aisle the longest got first dibs at the next vacant side seat. As the bus got higher and higher, tea plantations started to appear, the vastness of the estates took us by surprise. The largest by far was the Mackwoods estate that seemed to be all encompassing of the town.
The scenery was mostly obscured by heavy rain clouds but when they briefly parted, the views were amazing. The rolling hillsides were deep green with tea bushes and huge waterfalls, swollen by the recent rains, poured ferociously down the craggy outcrops.
As the incline gets steeper and the bends in the road get tighter, we all but grind to a halt before the minibus shudders down the gears and our slow ascent continues.
As the doors open to let passengers off, we first notice the dramatic change in temperature and we're not sure that we have the appropriate clothing to deal with the elements.
Tea and vegetables are the main produce of the region as the climate is perfect for their cultivation. Alongside many of the waterfalls, farmers have set up stalls displaying their harvest. They use the cascading fresh water to clean and shine their produce which now look irresistible. The veggies are so vibrant against the greyness of the conditions, beetroots, cabbages, potatoes, green beans and carrots glowed with radiance, our appetites were whetted.
The winding journey ended in the middle of town at the bus station. The rain was lashing down and the bitter wind made us question whether we were even Sri Lanka. The contrast from just a few days ago and within such a small area was startling. We jumped in a tuktuk and within 2 minutes we were at our hotel. We were greeted warmly and offered a hot drink before being shown to our cold room. Once again the clouds were in the room, the damp smelled strong and it looked like we were going to be in for a couple of uncomfortable nights.
There are two main reasons to come to Nuwara Eliya (little england) one for the tea plantations, as it is the most important area for growing tea in Sri Lanka and the other is to visit Horton plains, which is a national park and is home to leopards, sambar deer and purple faced langur monkeys. We decided that we'd mooch around town for the rest of the day and visit Horton plains early the next morning, followed on the way back for a visit to the tea plantation. We arranged with the hotel manager a rather expensive trip to the plains that would start at the ungodly hour of 5.30am (the prospect of seeing leopards and purple faced monkeys was too great to refuse for the sake of a few tens of pounds and a lack of sleep).
We wandered around town for a couple of hours and there's very little there, it really is just a hub for the day trips. The weather progressively worsened and as the rain fell and the temperature dropped we beat a retreat back to the hotel as darkness enveloped the mountainside.
We had decided as there was so little in the area that we would go to the Grand Hotel's restaurant for dinner, it was just around the corner and it was fairly reasonably priced. It was an Indian restaurant and the limited menu was cooked to the now expected mediocrity of a Sri Lankan establishment. We returned to our hotel and the power was out. The hotel didn't seem to have a back up generator unlike every other hotel in our immediate area and the power would remain off for the duration of our stay minus 2 hours. This meant no hot water and no lighting. With two small candles lit and extra blankets on the bed and in our fleeces and socks, we had a reasonable but short night's sleep.
At 4.30 our alarm went off and we bumbled around in the dark trying to get ready for our trek to Worlds end (a sheer drop of 1000 meters also located in Horton Plains national park). Our packed breakfast was handed to us and we were placed in the capable hands of Summerdee(?) our guide for the day. We got into the 4x4 and we even had seat belts, perhaps the high cost was justified? The hour long journey took us through the vast tea estates where the tea pickers were already picking the new green tea shoots, the sacks on their back were already over half full.
Up the winding hillside roads, which in numerous places we could see the effects of the recent bad weather. Swathes of red soil, crumbling in landslides half cover the road, trees either blown over or victim of soil erosion lay newly fallen but shoved mostly off to the verge. The tight turns lead to views of the sprawling landscape and as the sun rises behind the clouds, the colours slowly begin to show and we can see how lush and fertile the area is.
We arrive at the main gate of Horton and Summerdee instructs us to go and buy our entrance tickets. We were not expecting to pay for any extras, but ok, maybe a couple of hundred rupees each wasn't too much to get our knickers in a twist about. The tickets cost the equivalent of around 25 quid each, we weren't carrying anywhere near that amount, we were going for a trek, why would we need more than a couple of thousand rupees? We were also under the impression that our tour would include entry fees, or surely it would have been mentioned to us? Long story short, we headed back absolutely fuming, partly with the hotel manager but mostly with ourselves for making assumptions and not doing the research. We complained to the manager who was pretty dismissive and which also set the tone for the rest of our stay.
The weather worsened yet again and we were getting drenched each time we left the hotel. In a cold and damp room our clothes were never going to dry and we called off the trip to the tea plantation too.
We left early to get our bus to Tissa in the south, the hotel staff seemed bewildered that we didn't want to have our breakfast in the freezing cold and damp conditions. We just wanted to get out of this place as soon as we could.
Our journey to Nuwara Eliya was quite literally a wash out and an expensive one at that. We were going to miss seeing some of the most beautiful sites in the country, partly down to ourselves, partly due to the weather and in part due to being misinformed.
Let's go on safari...