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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.