The Localist

Little England – home of the world’s finest tea

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About a year ago a friend of mine and I decided that we wanted to explore other cities and towns in Sri Lanka and check out a few of the sights and places that we as locals sometimes take for granted. The idea was to go on a few trips. However, as we are both busy with work, school etc., we decided to start off with a few day excursions to places close by. Despite our rather ambitious plans of covering one city per month, we have only managed to go on a grand total of one exploration thus far.

If you look at a map of Sri Lanka you’ll see that my hometown of Kandy –our starting point – is more or less at the center of the country. The cliché trip to the beach was therefore not really an option. That didn’t matter, as the idea was to get out and explore rather than sit on our bums all day. So we decided to go to Nuwara Eliya.

Nestled in the hills at an altitude of 1,868m (6,128ft), the contrast between Nuwara Eliya and the coastal capital of Colombo couldn’t be any starker. The weather in Nuwara Eliya is a lot cooler and often cloudy, rainy or misty in the mornings before clearing in the afternoon to reveal breathtaking views. During their colonial rule, the British referred to it as “Little England” and established many tea plantations in the surrounding areas that have since been churning out the world’s finest tea.

The first decision that we had to make was on our mode of transport. Being a huge fan of the automobile, I was all for taking my car, while my friend preferred the idea of catching the train. He won the debate, but I had the last laugh as we missed the train by a few minutes and had no choice but to set off by car.

The winding roads and steep inclines make the 60 or so kilometer drive up to Nuwara Eliya incredibly scenic. Just over half way into our drive we arrived at Labookelle, an old tea estate, just in time for tea. As far as I’m concerned if you are passing through you have to stop for a cup of tea at Labookelle and also have a few slices of their chocolate cake, which is by far the best that I have ever tasted.

As we had come without much of a plan we stopped by the side of Lake Gregory to weigh up our options. Lake Gregory and its surrounds were built under the patronage of British Governor Sir William Gregory in 1873. Over the years it has been developed into a recreational park of sorts. There is plenty on offer, including boat rides, pony rides, walkways and jet skis. If you get your timing right you may also be lucky enough to catch a sea plane landing or taking off, as it also acts as the domestic airport.

Nuwara Eliya has way too many attractions to be explored in one day, and so having considered all of our options we decided to go into the market. The Nuwara Eliya market, sometimes referred to as the ‘Winter Market’, is a collection of shops and stalls that sell everything from fresh fruits to winter clothing at amazingly low prices. Many Sri Lankan students preparing to go to universities outside the country tend to stop here to buy their winter clothing at a fraction of the price they would pay in the UK, the US or Australia.

It had been awhile since my last visit to the market, and I had forgotten how busy it can be. We had to weave our way past the many customers animatedly trying to strike a bargain with the vendors while blocking the thin strip of pavement between stalls that we had to walk along. We didn’t buy any warm clothing, but we did buy some delicious strawberries at a bargain price.

By the time we walked out of the market it was almost 3PM and we hadn’t eaten anything since our stop at Labookelle. We had the choice of either going for lunch or tea before heading home. As we were visiting the point of origin of the best tea in the world, we felt obliged to go with the latter.

We chose The Tea Factory Hotel as our last stop for the day. It is an old tea factory that has been converted into a 4 star hotel. They have managed to retain the charm of the old tea factory while still providing all the luxuries you might expect in a 4 star hotel. Although prices are high by local standards, we found that their high tea and tea themed menu ,which is served on the terrace, quite affordable.

So we sat on the terrace, sipping tea as the sun slowly set, drawing a curtain over the picturesque scenery.

MEET THE LOCAL: THILINA WEERASEKERA

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