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.