Sri Lanka Day 8 – Tea, Grandeur & A Norwegian Cat

Kandy was a busy and noisy place: there were no regrets about our leaving and We started a long slow climb south. The roads outside Colombo were motorway standard for a short distance before becoming single lane. Despite being single lane they got progressively easier as the traffic lightened until we got to Kandy. After Kandy we had a long series of hairpins for 50 miles and 1,300 metres of climbing to Nuwara Eliya. At 1,860 metres high we climbed well into the mountains and into the rain!

The scenery has always been green but we went from sub tropical to alpine. Waterfalls, tall trees, steep roads and tea plantations. It was beautiful.

Our ascent behind the ever present tuk-tuks was slow but steady and we were invited to pile out for regular photo opportunities.

At Blue Field Tea we had a quick factory tour. The factory wasn’t working as it was a national holiday to celebrate independence. It was fascinating to say the least. The factory itself dates back to 1921 and was set up by the British. In fact Prabash ran through the British ‘abuse’ of the Chinese during the years we ‘lured’ the Chinese onto opium in order to extract their tea and silver. We Brits by then had a great taste for the little leaf and even went as far as to take the leaf from the now spaced out Chinese and plant it elsewhere in the Empire. We brought it to Ceylon. From here a great industry grew up and still flourishes today. Many of the producers have British names for their plantations such as ‘Edinburgh’. (Sadly not the Duke of Edinburgh).

(Despite abolishing slavery in 1833) Prabash advised that we brought Tamils from Southern India to work the tea plantations as ‘slaves’ in the 1860s. I think there was the imposition of indenture and considerable restriction. However, It comes to mind that a guarantee of regular paid work (and accommodation) and an aptitude for working hard made the recruitment attractive to employer and employee.

The factory made about eight types of tea from the leaves they grew on the steep slopes around. The most popular was the Broken Orange Pekoe which is more commonly known as English Breakfast Tea. The factory kept about 20% of their production for their own sales but the balance went to Colombo to the auctions. Apparently the big drinkers are the Poles, Brits and Russians. We sampled a few variants and had a spot of lunch.

Continuing to the top we came to rest at Nuwara Eliya. This town was established by the British as an administrative centre for the Civil Service in the 19th Century. Not least because the expats could escape the heat below. British pursuits of horse racing, boating, golf, cricket, hunting on horse back etc took hold for the gentry and many of the buildings acquired a British look. It sounds like period drama.

‘British’ buildings can be seen including the Post Office below:

The centre of town is down at heal but there are hotels that host the tourists who come to experience some of the colonial grandeur. We stayed at The Grand Hotel, which felt like a country hotel back in Blighty.

Prabash spoke highly of it and I have to say the service was sublime and all things worked! After checking into the room the present Mrs Ives complained to the management about the mattress being too soft. Staff found an alternative mattress for Her Ladyship.

We then strolled into town for a quick look and for the third of our commercial ventures of the day. Anna who isn’t an enthusiastic holiday shopper started the day as she meant to go on. Firstly at a silk printing shop where she tried on a selection of garments before buying two gifts for ‘Cost Centre 1’ and ‘Cost Centre 2’, namely our daughters. I don’t want to ruin their surprise by saying what was bought but it’s not often you can find lime green silk sequinned balaclavas. They say you can always tell that a person is a Sri Lankan if they automatically smile at you. My salesman lost this national gift as we started in US dollars and went to Rupees. Along the way we came to two prices of which I sought a third lower one. I must have got it right because he looked downright miserable when he took the cash*.

The second deal involved two small ornamental elephants (yes, I know I think she’s losing her mind) where Prabash took over the haggle to Anna’s satisfaction. The last was me again and this time the shop owner who parted with a fleece cum top for Anna looked distinctly too happy about our transaction. I strolled away knowing that it was probably a win, draw and loss overall.

We dined in the hotel and retired early. One dish caught the eye!

We’re all on a WhatsApp group called ‘So Lost’. This is the name agreed for our group. Photos are being circulated and this is how I got the leopard photo from Helena of Toronto.

We set the alarm for 4.40am. This lunacy facilitated a one hour drive to The Horton Plains National Reserve. In the dark a fleet of mini vans raced up the winding road in the dark. It was like being at the back of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Vans overtook where the narrow road did or didn’t allow and we were thrown around. On rail crossings, on pieces of road with sheer drops or where they could wind up their tired old trucks to sufficient speed to race past each other. Needless to say the hotel’s pack up breakfast could be eaten or worn as we ascended. At the top we joined 20 or 30 other vans in a undisciplined line to get into the park. This madness meant an inexplicable traffic jam for 40 minutes wondering what was going on and watching dawn break.

Eventually we were disgorged and embarked on a hike to two wonderful view points: The Greater World’s End and the Mini World’s End. They were amazing. The hike was a walk of 6 miles with many other tourists – Japanese, Chinese, French and Brits. We’d been advised to wear hiking boots. I wore trainers but other tourists wore mainly sensible footwear but flip flops and Crocs were spotted. The park rule was that you were not allowed to take polythene and our bags were checked. Despite this there was a little litter on the trail despite signs advising not to. This really frustrates me.

Back at the bus I discussed bikes, including his Brompton, with Ching and we soon arrived back at the hotel. We cleaned up, had lunch and then started a four drive down from the Highlands to Udawalawe. Anna discussed Norway with Louise toward the back of the bus. Louise was regaling her with some long detailed story about ‘house sitting’ in Oslo. Part of the discussion involved Louise’s difficulty in persuading the house cat to come into the property. Anna was volunteering a suitable ‘call’ in Norwegian. Those around them in the bus put in their headphones to shut out this nonsense.

The scenery was never short of staggering and we saw ladies working in the fields.

We passed through Ella. This is an up and coming spot with younger back packing tourists. We stopped for a ‘biological break’ and bought some coffee in this trendy spot. On the long drive we passed through many settlements. I’m aware that these locals are not wealthy and their lives don’t prioritise making their villages pretty. However, a few coats of emulsion paint, a bit of gloss and some renewed signage would have lifted everything dramatically.

You could get well away buying your booze from here!

I wasn’t the only grumpy person complaining about being back under canvas for two nights. This isn’t like my cycle camping at all. Just somehow less space, no hot water, terrible wi-fi, poor lighting (to sort your luggage), insects, frogs, lizards and a bit noisy first thing in the morning. It was turning dark as we stumbled around our tents and again under a starlit sky we dined outside, which was lovely. After our dining we returned to the tent to enable the mosquitos to dine.

*Kandy was the last time I saw my Debit Card. I didn’t realise my loss until two days later when I needed it again. I think I lost it at this shop: sweet revenge for my maligned shopkeeper. At the time of cancelling it then there had been no fraudulent use of the card.

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