Being Very English in ‘Little England’
…By which we mean having a lovely cup of tea and a nice sit down, amidst some drizzle. Nuwara Eliya is often referred to as ‘Little England’ because it was the prime choice of retreat for British colonialists in need of a break from the hot climate of Sri Lanka. As soon as the English discovered that the cool hill country climate could be used to grow their favourite fruit and veggies from back home (including lettuce and strawberries!) alongside their tea plantations, they arrived en masse, building holiday homes and golf courses. The city is still a popular destination for British tourists, as well as visitors from all over the world. It’s certainly a city of contradictions – there’s something pleasingly odd about seeing a red English-style post box alongside a Sri Lankan tuk-tuk, a cow ambling alongside a beautiful landscaped Victorian era park, or Tamil tea pickers heading to work alongside an impeccably kept golf course!
After our Adam’s Peak trek, we were definitely walking funny – our guesthouse turned out to be up a small hill so we limped up and down it each time we went out, while our calves and thighs protested. For the first day we knew that we wanted to take it easy – after about 12 hours of completely dead-to-the-world sleep we wandered into town on a fairly urgent laundry quest and had a huge, delicious lunch of veggie curry and rice. In the afternoon we walked around the pretty Victoria Park, and spent some quality time lounging around under shady trees, admiring the lovely waterlily-filled ponds, and watching local families enjoying a day out.
A trip to Sri Lanka’s hill country would not be complete without a visit to one of the many tea plantations that dot the landscape. We’ve really been taken by how beautiful these plantations look – the young tea leaves are such a bright vibrant green that the hillsides almost glow. We hopped on a local bus to the Pedro Tea Estate, a few kilometers away from the city. For just 200 rupees each we had a short but informative tour of the factory – we certainly learned a lot more about tea that we imagined! The women who work out on the tea plantations, picking the leaves, are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s tea industry but it turns out they are shockingly underpaid for this backbreaking work. They get a basic wage of 800 rupees per day (about £4) if they pick eighteen kilos of tea, plus bonuses for exceeding this. Tea leaves are, of course, fairly light things – so you can imagine just how many sacks they have to fill in order to meet this quota. They work from 8am to 5pm everyday. Our tour guide told us that the tea company provides housing and basic medical and maternity facilities, so they don’t like to complain, but they feel that the wage is not a fair one when they have families to support. She was quick to say how lucky she felt to be able to work as a guide instead of a picker, because she speaks English – her mother was a tea picker and now she is able to support her with her guide’s wage plus tips from visitors. The experience gave us a new appreciation of the work that goes into making our daily cups of tea!
From Pedro’s Tea Estate we crossed the road and took the short walk through the plantations to Lover’s Leap waterfall. By this point the mist was rolling in and starting to hide the hills in a fluffy blanket, but the path was well-marked and we still had a good view of the waterfall once we got there. Apparently it is named after a local prince and village girl, who leapt to their deaths here after their love was forbidden by the prince’s father – very dramatic! After pausing to enjoy the view and the cool spray from the water, we headed back down and squeezed onto a packed bus back into town.
Yesterday we got to experience one of the things we’ve been looking forward to the most since we started planning a trip to Sri Lanka – the train to Ella. Competition for seats is fierce, and we weren’t able to reserve one in advance, so we got to the train station early and prepared ourselves for battle. When the train chugged into the station we launched ourselves, rucksacks and all, at the open door of the third class carriage, and dived into two free seats. Success! We then waited on an unmoving train for nearly an hour while a problem with the engine was rectified, but soon enough with many a toot of the horn, we were off. The train slowly wound around striped green hills, with vibrant tea plantations as far as the eye could see. On one side, the ground seemed to drop away every now and then, giving us a (slightly frightening) glimpse down into deep lush valleys, lined with forests. We also passed little houses with beautifully straight rows of vegetables. More and more people crammed onto the train at each station, and we found ourselves getting very cosy, making faces and smiling at the local kids and their families, trading biscuits and roasted peanuts. Some German tourists across the aisle from us were showing the Sri Lankan kids videos of snow on a phone, and they were fascinated! After four hours of very slow but very beautiful progress, we pulled slowly into quaint Ella station and almost the entire train disembarked together. Ella is a popular place it seems! As we walked through the village, shrugging off tuk-tuk drivers and hotel touts, we noticed many backpacker style cafes and bars. The scenery here is incredible – all dramatic hills and valleys and waterfalls, cloaked in lush greens.
Unfortunately our hotel is brand new and does not appear on Google maps – we knew which bus to get on but found it hard to explain to the conductor where we needed to get off! We ended up getting off the bus about 4km too soon, but luckily the driver of the next bus to go past knew where we were headed and after nearly a whole day on the move we finally arrived. Our place is lovely – our room looks out over an amazing view of the valley. We think we’re going to like it here!
Now that our legs have recovered, we are off to explore some of this beautiful countryside! C & D xx