We left Ella with promises to come back and stay another week. We also promised ourselves that we would walk into Ella, 6km, each day, for exercise. Thank goodness it’s downhill almost the whole way.
We hired a small van and driver to take us all the way to Kandy, but we had to retrace our steps to Bandarawela once again on the good road, where we would have to take a turn and pass through a rough section that was under construction this side of a large town called Nuwara Eliya (City of Light).
The town is often referred to as ‘Little England’ as in past times it served as a place to escape the tropical heat for the pioneers who came from England and Scotland to establish the tea industry high in Sri Lanka’s central mountains. The relatively cool climate still attracts people from abroad, however it can get downright cold at night and extra blankets are sometimes required for a comfortable night’s sleep during the months of November to February.
Some of the colonial hotels have survived and even thrived from the old days when colonists first planted coffee and then switched to tea when their crops were wiped out by disease. ‘English’ fruits and vegetables would grow here as well, and many of these were eventually incorporated into the Sri Lankan diet. Of course tea planters are not all work and no play, so leave it to them to build a golf course. Today, guests at the Hill Club must pay a nominal Rs. 100 ($1.00 CAD) for a day’s membership, in order to play golf, shoot a few frames of billiards or have a gin and tonic in the bar.
Instead of focusing on eating, we headed straight for the small bazaar in the center of town where we had read there are a series of stalls that sell name-brand outdoor clothing from Sri Lanka’s garment factories. These stalls used to sell quality items produced for companies like North Face, Columbia, Burton, Patagonia and even Mountain Equipment Co-op. Many of these factories have shut down due to stiff competition with China and other S.E. Asian nations.
Speaking of China, Anil has stocked up on Columbia clothing when we were in China in 2008, but here they had some things that fit me too. I purchased a couple of pairs of trousers and a light-weight, water-proof jacket, while Adia bought two Burton jackets for Geoff and Columbia jackets for herself and Geoff. We left the market with bags stuff full of warm outdoor wear only to find ourselves standing in the heat of the mid-day sun.
As we walked along the main street of town, I spotted a shop selling quality polo-shirts and we ducked in to buy some for Anil. We didn’t want him to feel left out of the shopping spree. All this shopping wouldn’t have made any sense if Adia wasn’t returning to Canada shortly, she had just enough room in her suitcase to take some of our overflow, thank goodness.
We were in need of a light lunch before pushing on towards Kandy, but the Hill Club was a little too stuffy for us, so we stopped at the Indian restaurant on the grounds of another colonial hotel, The Grand. For a little more that the cost of a day’s membership down the road, we were able to fill up on South Indian masala dosas. The restaurant was bright and cheerful, the service was quick and efficient and there wasn’t a billiard table in sight.
What we didn’t realize as we left Nuwara Eliya was that we were in store for one of the most beautiful descents we have ever experienced, as we drove down the narrow road through the tea gardens and vegetable farms. We were particularly lucky as the sun was shining brightly and the skies were a crystal blue. This is unusual at this time of year, the hills are usually blanketed in mist and rainy days are more common that clear ones. I know I write a great deal, but I can’t even begin to express how beautiful this drive is on a sunny day. Come see for yourself, you’d never regret it.
As I mentioned earlier, the road twists and turns as it drops down towards Kandy, dozens of hairpin turns slow the traffic and there is time to look around and admire the terraces on either side of the road, all bursting with one kind of vegetable or the other, and if not, the lush green of newly sprouted tea leaves is equally as pleasing. As we rounded one very tight corner, a young man jumped out from the side of the road with a large bouquet of flowers, shouting at us to buy them. We didn’t stop but I heard him call out loudly as we entered yet another tight turn. Suddenly, I saw him dropping down the steep hill and leaping to the side of the road once again, just as we passed. I said to myself, if he makes the effort to run down another terrace of tea to reach us as we make another turn, we’ll simply have to buy his flowers.
Through the open windows of the van, I could hear his Tarzan-like yell as he raced down another slope and appeared in front of our van once again. I called to Anil to stop the car and buy the flowers. From the smile on the teenager’s face, I could see that this had worked for him before. When we arrived at The Sharon Inn, our guesthouse in Kandy, the owner greeted us with a “I see you’ve arrived from Nuwara Eliya”, as he pointed to the flowers in my hand.