The Great Sri Lankan Adventure – Day 7

That restful night that we were hoping for on Day 6 didn’t quite materialize. The dogs barked for the longest time and when they finally stopped we managed some shut-eye till something set them off again. Dogs aside, it was so cold that we kept waking up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. It was only in retrospect, after we woke up, that we realized there had been extra blankets in the cupboard. In any case, the alarm went off at 5.45am and we pretended we heard nothing till 6am when I overcame my sleepiness and washed up. It was so cold that even the shawl seemed useless and taking a shower was the furthest thing from my mind. We headed for a buffet breakfast at 7am, but it didn’t match up to St. Andrew’s in Kandy, so we just nibbled a bit. My brother, at least, was happy to try different sauces with his freshly made pancakes – chocolate, berry, maple and what not.

Right after breakfast we headed for the hotel souvenir shop called “Memories”. The plan was to get some postcards, some to send to my friends and one to send to ourselves back home! In the same shop, we found some nice jewellery but alas nothing quite appealed to mum and after much browsing we gave up. Halfway through though, I had to make a mad dash to the restroom and when I got back to the store mum was missing. After roaming around, I finally found her and we made our way back to the store, bought the postcards, browsed around some more, then went to relax in the lobby where I filled out the postcards before mailing them at the reception.


Even the view from the toilet is lovely


Postcard Time!

We were thinking of checking out at 11am but my brother was keen on going horse-riding and our driver/guide was keen on showing us some lovely sites so we left the hotel by 8.30am. We stopped at Gregory Lake where you could see the typical swan pedal boats moored to shore. The lake was like a glittering jewel in the surrounding green mountains. All around were colonial period cottages that have now been converted to hotels, inns, travelodges and restaurants. Our guide promised us that if we visited again, he’d show us some good cottages to stay in. As per our guide, this area had never been occupied till the British arrived and started making the tea plantation and their homes up in the mountains. Among the settlers was a British governor with a penchant for killing the elephants native to the region. He hunted hundreds if not thousands of elephants for sport and to collect their ivory tusks. One day, he was struck down dead by a bolt of lightning which the locals say was nature’s way of punishing him for his transgressions. Even after his death, his tombstone has been the site of repeated lightning strikes.


Passing the Post Office on the way to Gregory Lake


A glimpse of Gregory Lake

Before stopping at the racecourse for some horse-riding, our guide took us to The Grand Hotel which had once been the residence of British governor in the 1800s. The gardens were beautifully manicured, the flower arrangements tasteful and the overall landscaping just perfect. We took our time strolling through the gardens, stopping at the children’s play area to swing on the swings (despite the sign explicitly saying 8 years and younger… I’m young at heart and I think that should count) before finally leaving for the race-course.


Grand Hotel


Grand Hotel

We were a bit late to arrive at Nuwara Eliyas when we did because the race season had just finished so we weren’t able to see the race course in all its splendour. Instead, we came across the race course, post races so the hoardings were being removed and general cleaning being done. In fact, it was the only place we’d seen in Sri Lanka that I would call having been in a state of disarray (with good reason). We started looking for a horse to ride and though our driver/guide warned us we would need to bargain, being no good at haggling we paid far too much. I would advise anyone planning to go to stop at LKRs 1000 and not more. As we walked in, we saw a horse with her foal snuggled next to her .We were told she had just been born the day before (feel free to go awwwww).


Mummy with her newborn foal ❤

At first, I was really eager to ride a horse, but changed my mind when I saw that the horses were so tiny. The family convinced me otherwise and I finally relented rode a tiny but strong little fellow around. It was getting late so we packed up, got back into the van ready to head to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The way down was far more dizzying than the way up. We had to make a pit-stop at another tea factory so we could all use the restroom and also so I could steady my nerves which couldn’t handle the spiralling drive down the mountain. I managed to calm the nausea a bit with the fresh air and my brother took the opportunity to sample a local drink, Necto (Verdict: Yummy, like a strong version of Vimto). Back on the road, we stopped to get some sour green oranges, for lack of a better word. They weren’t oranges and they weren’t quite grapefruits either. Round, green and citrus about sums it up. It helped to suppress the bouts of nausea, if only for short spells.


View from the next Tea Factory

Before we knew it, we had left the  beautiful mountainous landscape behind and were back in the hot, humid weather on the way to Pinnawala. Near the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, there are plans to start a zoo as well, and we could see the first phases of development. We reached the orphanage spot on time at 1.15pm, just in time for feeding the elephants. Again, the tickets were discounted and my brother and I got tickets to feed the baby elephants milk. Tickets for feeding fruit can be bought once inside. Once in, we rushed to the baby elephant milk feeding enclosure where we fed the sweetheart elephant milk from an oversized baby bottle which it drained down in a matter of seconds.


Baby elephant asking for milk at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage


Milk feeding time at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Close by is the area for feeding fruits to much larger elephants. The elephant had a big appetite to match his big stature and gobbled up two entire baskets of fruits in a few minutes, skin and all. We fed her bananas, pineapple and watermelon. I’ve always loved elephants so it was great being up close watching their ever smiling faces. I didn’t imagine I would ever get up close to an elephant let along have my hand in their mouth but it was a brilliant experience.


Looking at us asking for some more fruit

The orphanage also houses elephants who need to be taken care of because of serious injury, in some cases caused by stepping on landmines. After feeding and wiping off the elephant saliva, we stopped to watch a herd of elephants spray themselves with mud to cool down in the simmering summer heat. At around 2 pm we headed off for lunch at the same time as the elephants started off to the river. We headed to a restaurant overlooking the river so we could catch sight of the elephants bathing. The restaurant is a quick walk away from the orphanage and the way there is lined with souvenir shops that leave you itching to go inside. Because the weather had suddenly turned to an unbearable degree of hot and humid, even by Sri Lankan standards, we went straight for lunch. The restaurant was unfortunately not air conditioned so the heat dulled our appetites. Lunch was less than agreeable and the toilets apparently sourcing water straight from the river, but the view was splendid. We caught the elephants coming straight down the path and into the river  while we attempted the buffet. We ended up eating more of the fruits and lapping up the water much as the elephants were in the river next to us. We decided to make a quick escape from the restaurant and even forego the souvenir shops which we had promised ourselves we’d browse through after lunch.


Waiting around before bath time


Elephants cooling down in the river

Back in the air-conditioned car, after grabbing a bottle of water and some Pringles, we spent the longest time trying to cool down with wet wipes and magic tissues soaked with cold water. Because it was unnaturally hot, nature decided to right itself  and before the clock hit 3 pm, it started to rain. The massive downpour continued till we reached Colombo a few hours later. Having lived in a desert, I don’t think I’ve seen this much rain in all my life than I did in those hours driving down to Colombo. The scale of the thunder and lightning were such that I’ve never seen before, but must be commonplace to people living through monsoon season. The trip back to Colombo was nerve-wracking as we drove through blinding rain on narrow roads. As the rain thinned, we found ourselves passing the familiar cashew and pineapple salesman and knew we were almost back to where we had started – Cinnamon Lakeside. By the time we reached, we were exhausted and hungry. Luckily,we got great rooms and room service was yummy as usual. Nothing like pasta and french fries to get you back to your senses after a long drive. We flopped onto our beds, lazed around until dinner when we opted for Chinese at Long Feng. I was already full so I just nibbled on the spring rolls while the rest of the family had our usual Chinese menu of vegetable fried rice and sweet and sour chicken. It’s amazing how the same food can taste different from country to country, adapting to suit the local tastes. Dinner wasn’t as relaxing as we had hoped since the restaurant was packed. What with the sound of rumbling thunder outside and the raucous group seated close by, dinner was a noisy affair but we relaxed nonetheless and left near closing time. By the time we reached our rooms, the thunder had subsided and we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep in preparation for the flight on the evening of Day 8.

The Great Sri Lankan Adventure – Day 6

After a fitful night’s sleep on Day 5 (not for lack of a comfortable bed, but more because we’re not used to changing beds almost every day), we headed from for a yummy buffet breakfast and got ready to head out of Kandy and on to the tea plantations.

Since we didn’t get much souvenir shopping done, our guide was nice enough to take us to several placed in Kandy before we checked out in the afternoon. First off, we were taken to a woodcraft factory and store, Rajanima Craft, where they showed us the different types of wood from which crafts were made by hand and how they were dyed. We learnt that ebony is the only wood that sinks and heard for the first time about rainbow wood. Rainbow wood is shaved and the shavings dropped in boiling water which causes the water to change colour. By adding things to this solution, such as lemon juice or chalk powder or even dipping iron rods, changes the colour of the water to a variety of colours such as pink, purple, blacks etc. The dyes are natural and fast so colours will not fade once applied to the wooden carvings. The gallery was lovely, filled with statues ranging from elephants to tortoises, fish, traditional masks, statues of Buddha ad even living room furniture. We didn’t buy anything and moved next door to the Batik factory/shop where they make hand-made Batik designs. The lady there took us through the Batik process where designs are first sketched on pure cotton or silk and coated with wax where they don’t want to dye the design. The cloth is then dipped into dyes moving subsequently from the lightest to the darkest colour. The shop was cleverly designed in that you would finish browsing everything available, make your selection only to find out that the cashier is on the 3rd floor… which means you have two more floors of batik designs to browse through. I indulged in a cute black and yellow Batik shirt with elephants. We left shortly after and pulled over to see some more sights on the way. At one stop, mum bought the cutest elephant carved straight from a coconut.


Stopping to see the white statue of Buddha on a hilltop


Next stop was the gem museum. When we entered, they showed us a video of the gem mining process. I never knew mining gems was such a labour intensive process and so dangerous as well for the miners. The store had lots of jewellery with precious and semi-previous stones and after much consideration, we got a couple of things at a great price. The heat wore us down and we headed back to the hotel to do a quick check-out so we could escape the after-school rush in Kandy. We were lucky enough to avoid it and soon enough we had set off on another scenic journey, this time up the mountains to Nuwara Eliya. The winding road up the mountain is beautiful beyond words. No picture can adequately describe the beauty of our journey up the mountain.


Driving up the mountain to Nuwara Eliya

All the way up the narrow two way road were shops selling fresh produce. It was a bit dizzying going up the winding road, but the sight of the sprawling tea plantations makes you forget everything, nausea included. We took some shots next to a tea plantation, where we finally narrow room next to the road where the car could be parked. While admiring the scenery, we were suddenly accosted by some tea plantation workers who insisted on being in our photos and the insisted they be paid. The got pretty persistent even after being paid and followed us back to the car asking for all sorts of things from more money to change for Euros.


Tea picking in progress

We finally shook them off and went on our way further up the mountain and stopped at a gorgeous rest-house from where we could see the waterfalls from the veranda. It was lightly drizzling and while the guys opted for lunch upstairs, mum and I stayed downstairs for a light lunch of tea, cake and some attempts at a selfie.


River view from the rest-house


Waterfall view from the rest-house


Back on the wet road

We were then off to find the Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre. Mackwoods, we learnt, is one of the biggest tea plantations in Sri Lanka and they even auction their tea to big labels like Dilmah and Lipton, who then sell the tea under their own label. We went through the process of how tea is made and toured the factory which could use some serious Kaizen improvements. We couldn’t believe that only the first three leaves of the plant are used to make tea. After touring the factory and seeing their sensory room, we moved to the store which was jam packed. Interesting thing to note though… to become a tea taster you have to swear off alcohol because it dulls your taste buds. Back at the store we bought my favourite cinnamon tea, cherry tea for my brother who loves all things berry and some loose tea leaves before sitting down for a complementary cup of tea in the pouring rain. Now if only there had been a side of pakoray or samosas to go with that tea… The mountains surrounding the factory were stunning and the landscaping just outside the factory itself was lovely, being filled with flowers. Before the rain got too heavy, we decided to make a move lest we stuck on the way up.


Mackwoods Tea Plantation


Outside the Mackwoods Tea Factory

At last we reached the hotel, St. Andrew’s Jetwing Hotel. As we walked in, the weather had cooled down as we had been promised, so instead of the customary cool towels and juice at the hotel reception, we were greeted with warm towels and a really tasty vegetable soup. We headed to our rooms which opened out into a veranda on the ground floor from where you climb up to a small spice garden. The hotel staff explained that the hotel was not air-conditioned, for a second setting off alarm bells in my head, when I realized that I was actually feeling cold. In fact, the temperature gets so low that all rooms are equipped with heaters. Mum and I decided to enjoy the great weather and took a long stroll outside which the men chilled indoors. We went up the stairs opposite our rooms landing in the spice garden and then came back down and around the colonial block heading to the reception. The lawn was lush green and the flowers lining the sides of the lawn, the buildings and the footpaths were simply stunning. If I would have taken a picture of every flower I’d never seen before I think I would have reached my room only in time for checkout the next day.


View from our room at St. Andrews Jetwing… Up the stairs to the spice garden

We took our time sauntering along in the cool breeze, going wherever the path took us until we found ourselves in the rose garden filled with roses of all colours. In the face of so much beauty, we just sat down in the rose garden to take it all in. After a while we heard the sound of rumbling thunder and decided to make haste and head back to the room. By the time we got back in, it had started to rain. What is rain without a good cup of tea? We all head down to the hotel lobby where we took tea and coffee. We lazed around, mum and  I wrapping our shawls around us tightly and the men wearing their sweaters, and I found myself in the library. The library housed books ranging from ancient surgical and orthopaedic texts to the latest John Grisham. Also in the library were the hotel’s old accounts registers, dating as far back as the early 1900s, which we thumbed through. They were so detailed that it was really amazing. They included the names of guests, dates of their stay and all their expenses from billiards to drinks, all written in immaculate hand.


A rose in bloom at the rose garden

After a while, my brother headed to the snooker room, which boasts a 128 year old snooker table, and played a round with one of the hotel employees who obliged to be his opponent. He finally won and with that we moved to the dining area for dinner.


128 year old Snooker Table

Dinner was a set menu set to the sounds of the piano, but the staff was very accommodating even with a set menu, replacing egg dishes which we couldn’t eat with salads instead. Soup, just as the soup we had been served at check-in, was simply delicious. I’ve never been one for vegetable soup but this was a class apart. For the main course, I picked the creamy pasta and mum the tomato pasta which the men opted for for a mean with rice, chili chicken and some other things. Unfortunately for me, the creamy pasta sauce was not very well made, so I had to share mum’s yummy tomato pasta instead. The staff, on seeing that my plate was still full, offered to change the dish for me but I was already full and didn’t want to overstuff myself in light of tomorrow’s long drive to Colombo. Dessert was delicious fruits and an even more delicious cake with passionfruit sauce. After a drawn out dinner punctuated with my dad requesting songs from the piano player that he had never heard of, we head back to our rooms when we realized it was time for the restaurant to close. Mum and I rearranged our suitcases before hitting the sack and as soon as we had snuggled into bed and switched off the lights, someone switched on the dogs who wouldn’t stop barking. So much for a restful night before our long trip back to Colombo on Day 7.