Drip-drip, the rain fell insistently outside my window. It was not a hard, drumming rain that bears down like dead weight and makes everything feel wet and musty. Rather, it was a soft misty spray that creates slim rivulets to drip down leaves and petals. The rainy air feels sweet, soft, and fresh and outside my window, the world seems to be wrapped cozily in cotton wool. A log fire burned cozily at the guesthouse living room, where I sat reading silently with just another visitor. The hostess’s fluffy cat and her kittens possessively occupy the rug in front of the hearth and the mother puss watches slyly as our host places platters of cookies and cups of Ceylon tea for us. We settle down for the evening chit-chat, tea, and cookie session and listen in rapt attention, as our master story-teller host regales us of tales of the Horton’s Plains of the olden days. Dinner is announced soon and after a luxurious meal of chicken, rice, and dal, we all retire for the night. I listen to the rain from the warm soft comfort of my bed and thank god that tomorrow is going to have the same routine. Such is the charm of Nuwara Eliya, the Sri Lankan Hill Country town, where I stayed for around 10 days.
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Nuwara Eliya is the “Little England”
I had first visited Nuwara Eliya on an impromptu day trip from Kandy and had fallen in love with it at first sight. Such was the attraction, that I returned the next day, with my bags and baggage and settled down in Nuwara Eliya as if it was my hometown. The attractions of this town are numerous and it is one place that does not bore you even when it rains and it showers a lot in Nuwara Eliya. But as mentioned, it is a soft, misty rain that seems to perpetually drape this hill town like a shawl and they are as inconsistent as the English weather. In fact, Nuwara Eliya is often referred to fondly as the “Little England” and one look at its Tudor style mansions, rolling tea gardens, lush parks, meadows, and cricket fields, it is not difficult to understand why.
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It started as a colonial hill station
In reality, Nuwara Eliya was once was the favourite hill station of the colonial rulers of Sri Lanka. When the homesick servants of the British crown got fed up with the tropical heat, they used to escape to the misty hills of Nuwara Eliya to get some R&R. They were an industrious lot of people; hard-working, hard-drinking, and entrepreneurial. The smartest ones started dabbling in long term projects to stay put on the island and it was through one of those experiments, that tea was found to be the most suitable crop to grow on those hills. Thus began the legacy of cash-rich Ceylon tea of Sri Lanka and Nuwara Eliya and its surrounding areas were bases of the English and Scottish tea pioneers. These sturdy men brought delicate English wives from the old country and they began building houses, clubs, and parks to create a mini England in and around Nuwara Eliya.
The high tea and curry mix of Nuwara Eliya
This legacy is still visible in Nuwara Eliya and the Hill Country town offers a refreshing, relaxing break from the hot plains of Sri Lanka. It is a perfect base for pretty train rides, hikes, waterfall treks, and general rambling around the surrounding tea gardens. There are also exotic fresh produce markets, Tamil tea plantation workers in colourful saris, the overbearing, nice smell of curry and rice, and buffaloes rambling on the banks of the artificial Gregory Lake. Public buses rumble through the congested lanes of the town market and puffs of petrol smoke get mingled with the sweet smell of the English tea roses. Flowers seem to grow everywhere in Nuwara Eliya and the meticulously kept English gardens along with red telephone boxes and pink Victorian post office create a slice of England in the middle of Sri Lanka. I was lucky to stay at the excellent Carnation Rest and this gem of a guesthouse made my stay get longer than planned.
Recommended Read: THE HILL COUNTRY OF SRI LANKA
Best Time To Visit Nuwara Eliya
- Nuwara Eliya is a year-round destination except during the monsoon season (June-end of August). It gets quite cold from November to February with below-freezing temperatures at night. April is the best and the busiest time to visit Nuwara Eliya. Prices shoot up during this time as domestic tourists throng there to spend the Sri Lankan New Year.
How to reach Nuwara Eliya
- Nuwara Eliya is located between Kandy and Ella and though it is on the famous train route named “The Worlds Most Beautiful Train Ride”, there is no train station in the center of Nuwara Eliya. The nearest train station is Nanu Oya and it is only a 15-min drive with taxi or tuk-tuk from Nuwara Eliya.
- The train ride from Kandy to Nanu Oya takes around 4 hours and one can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to reach Nuwara Eliya from the station. There are two to three trains per day.
- The other option is to take the train from Ella to Nanu Oya. This journey takes around three hours. There are five to six daily trains on this route.
- The last and most expensive option is to hire a car with a driver. Kandy to Nuwara Eliya by road takes around three hours and from Ella, it is a two hours road trip.
Things to do and see in Nuwara Eliya
- Boatride on the Gregory Lake – This is a huge man-made lake in the middle of Nuwara Eliya town. There is a calm park next to it and horse-rides are available along with speedboat trips.
- Spend some time at Victoria Park – This park was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s 60th Jubilee coronation. It stretches across 27 acres of land and is full of pretty trees and flowers. There is a playground inside this park. It is a great spot for walks and bird watching.
- Photograph the vintage Post Office – The Nuwara Eliya Post Office is in an antique Tudor Manor. The building was built in 1894 and its vintage interiors are like a blast from the past.
- Enjoy high tea service at the Grand Hotel – It is one of the most enjoyable tea experiences in Nuwara Eliya. Think of that perfect cup of Ceylon tea with a delicious platter of cakes and sandwiches, all served in the proper English style in a majestic hotel that dates from 1891.
- Tea gardens and waterfalls – The hills around Nuwara Eliya abound with tea gardens. It is a tea country and the best way to experience the beauty of Ceylon tea is to visit one of the surrounding tea estates. The visit comes with a guided tour of the tea factory and for the prettiest photo stop, go over to the St. Clair’s Falls.
- Guided half-day hike to the Horton Plains – Nature and adventure lovers would definitely enjoy this half-day hike to the Horton Plains and the World’s End. The national park is full of endemic flora and fauna and offers stunning views. Contact your accommodation for a guided hike. It usually comes with pick-up and drop facility along with light refreshment boxes.
- Hop on for one of the world’s most beautiful train rides – This is touted as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. It is a part of the Kandy to Ella journey and goes through lush tea gardens, forests, and hills.
- Other Activities – Hike in the fields and walking trails of the Moon Plains, enjoy the beauty of the Hakgala Botanical Gardens on the road to Badulla, and play golf at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club.
Follow the rest of the Sri Lanka series here
- WHAT I LOVED ABOUT SRI LANKA
- COLOMBO TRAVEL GUIDE
- COLOMBO VIBES
- KOLLUPITIYA MARKET IN COLOMBO PHOTO WALK
- MIRISSA DAYS
- THE STILT FISHERMEN AND CAVE TEMPLE OF KOGGALA
- MOONSTONE MINES AND MASKS FOR DEVIL DANCING: GALLE OFFBEAT THINGS
- A VERY RELAXING WEEK IN KANDY
- KANDY TRAVEL GUIDE FOR SLOW TRAVELING
- DAMBANA ADVENTURE
- THE ELUSIVE VEDDAS OF SRI LANKA
- THE STORY OF SIGIRIYA
- HOW TO VISIT SIGIRIYA
- THE HERITAGE SITE OF POLONNARUWA
- PAINTED CAVES OF DAMBULLA
NOTE: In view of the security situation in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of terror attacks on 21 April 2019, the updated travel advisory states that the security situation in Sri Lanka is gradually returning to normal with the lifting of curfew & restrictions on social media and the opening of schools. Foreign nationals travelling to Sri Lanka are advised to be careful and vigilant.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE