Lanka’s Hill Country

It was due to time to escape the heat, so we all headed to the hill country in the central province. On the way we took a pit stop in Pinnewala at the well known elephant sanctuary, where they charge you 100 rupees if you are a local and 2000 rupees if you are a foreigner!! Luckily my Canadian passport says born in Lanka, which was good enough to pass on the local bill.


The elephant sanctuary was a let down; loads of elephants were chained up which defeats the purpose of sanctuary, doesn’t it? There were also heaps roaming around and you can get right up near them, although I wouldn’t recommend getting too close. A couple were injured and most of the elephants here are rescued from various parts of the country. The usual bathing time was cancelled due to low water levels in the nearby river, but that is usually the grand spectacle.
 
Kandy reminded me of Kodaikanal (in India) because the town is centered around a lake and it is a multicultural environment with a cool climate. Next to the lake is the main attraction of the city – Palada Magaligawa where a tooth of the Buddha rests. This shrine is very old and very sacred to Buddhist so of course there is heavy security in place due to fear of bomb threats. Kandy is filled with botanical gardens which Sri Lankans seem to love.
the Magaligawa

The ride to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy is long; you basically wind up through the hills towards 1800 meters above sea level. You feel the chill of the air instantly and it’s quite refreshing after all the Colombo heat. The drive is filled with heaps and heaps of tea fields and waterfalls. We stopped at Mackwoods tea estate for a free tour of how tea is made and of course, tea time. It’s quite cheap to buy tea from the estates and Mackwoods is one of the oldest estates in the country.

Once at the top which is where Nuwara Eliya is located, there are a lot of gardens and hotels. This place caters to tourists and thrives on it with horse riding, boat rides and sweaters for sale. There also many farms nearby which are worth a visit, to check out the cows and rabbits all caged up and to buy fresh milk.

The scenery up here is like no other; miles and miles of green pastures with black and white cows grazing, it feels like Switzerland yet you are in a tropical island in South Asia!
tea house at Mackwood’s tea estate

Due to the cool climate the vegetation is also different with loads of leeks and cabbage farms. A hat and sweater is definitely needed, especially at night where I couldn’t sleep a wink because of how cold it was in our hotel room. Only 5 star hotels have heaters.

The population in Nuwara Eliya consists mainly of Indian Tamils who immigrated to Sri Lanka to work on the tea estates many years ago, but these workers aren’t treated the best even though tea is the heart of the country. The locals are simple and mainly poor, living in basic dwellings and roaming the hills with no shoes. It’s a hard life, climbing up and down but away from all the chaos. 

picking tea in the fields

On our way back from hill county the locals were celebrating Poiya, a Buddhist holiday commemorating the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The celebration includes stopping cars on the road and giving the people meals, snacks and drinks for good karma. Our entire ride back to Colombo we were stopped more than 10 times, and it was nice to see how the people of Lanka respect each others religion and participate kindly with strangers.

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