Feb 24-25, 2017
To add insult to injury, we showed up at Kandy’s train station at 7:50am in hopes of getting some last minute cancellation tickets to Nuwara Eliya in the hill country, but we had no such luck.
Not only were there no reserved tickets available, but this also coincided with a major Hindu Holiday, which much of the hill country’s population outside Kandy adhere to.
Tracy and I had our game plan in place: she would carry the lighter backpacks and try to find two seats next or near to each other and I would bring in the heavier bags after.
As the train pulled into the station, our hopes and dreams were instantly crushed. Not only were there no seats, but there was no standing room either.
We frantically tried to squeeze in on multiple cars, only to be rejected by the conductor or because we physically could not fit in any class.
Eventually, some kind Sri Lankans let us go ahead of them and we found place near the door of a third class car.
When I say place, I literally mean only room to stand. We stood for 2 straight hours, unable even to adjust our foot position, with numerous Sri Lankans well in our personal space, as we were loaded in like sardines, literally hanging out of the doors. I’m sure the Sri Lankans were thankful I had put on deodorant that morning. I wish I could say the same about my fellow passengers.
After around 2 hours of stationary, immobile standing on the train, locals started to return to their home villages and we had a little more wiggle room, in the most literal sense of the word.
We were lucky that we were close to the open door, because there were some people just as stuck, but in between the stuffy and sauna-esque entrapments between two cars.
When a considerable amount of locals finally filed out, we finally got an unobstructed view of the incredible countryside unfurling before our eyes.
While we didn’t have physical seats, we could squeeze to the door’s edge and see the amazing tea plantations and hills of the surrounding countryside.
The train between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya actually climbs 1400m throughout the journey, so you can imagine the change in scenery along this magnificent rail route.
For the final hour or so of our trip to Nanuoya (the nearest train station to Nuwara Eliya), we sat at the edge of the door and I even dangled my feet out of the train car.
Once at the train station, the temperature difference was staggering. At 1889m above sea level, Nuwara Eliya sits higher than Kathmandu! It was actually a welcomed treat to feel some cool air rather than the incessant heat and humidity from the low lands of Sri Lanka.
We were offered a cheap taxi ride to our guest house from a kind French couple and before we knew it, we were at our guest house, Blue Wings Hostel.
Since we had arrived relatively early, we decided to check out the town. Our guest house was close to Lake Gregory, which comprised a lake and water sports, Swan-shaped boats, food stalls, horseback riding and even orange-clad monks in on the action.
Nuwara Eliya is a popular spot for well-to-do Sri Lankans to come and escape the heat and enjoy the mountain air.
It was used for that same purpose by the British, who would use it to escape the sun while establishing the famed tea plantations Sri Lanka is known for.
From Gregory Lake, we continued down the main road and were quickly next to the city’s famed horse-racing track, although the horses grazing its central grassy-area/garbage dump seemed hardly thoroughbred.
Eventually we were in the centre of town and while some elements tried to be British and there were still colonial style guest houses and government buildings, the overall feel was still distinctly Sri Lankan, although here Sri Lankans were in big jackets and hats. You could also tell that the town was a little less well off than some of its counterparts.
When the British built up the tea industry in Sri Lanka, they initially offered the local Singhalese the plantation work, but since it didn’t really appeal to them, the British brought in Indian Tamils to do the work. So much of the tea plantation laden hill country has many Hindu temples and elements far removed from the Buddhist Singhalese.
Feeling as though we had already seen the main attractions in Nuwara Eliya, we took a walk back to our guest house, more than 3km uphill away.
What we were really excited about, was what lay beyond Nuwara Eliya: A famous and UNESCO World Heritage recognized national park – Horton’s Plains National Park.
We woke up the following day at 4:30am in order to meet our tuk tuk driver at 5:30am for our departure.
The tuk tuk ride to Horton’s plains was around an hour or so over serpent like roads and with the temperature hovering around 15 degrees Celsius or less, the driver’s flaps and our guesthouse blanket were really welcomed.
We arrived to the park just after sunrise and to our surprise, I had to wait in line for 30 minutes to get our entrance tickets.
The plains themselves are over 2000m in elevation and the yellow grasses make it look much like the African savannah with much friendlier wildlife (we saw a few deer on our way in).
The national park is an approximately 9km loop which culminates at the famous World’s End escarpment.
The first portion of the walk was nice and shady. We walked along beautiful rocky paths with lush greenery and protruding mountains.
Before long we reached mini World’s end, a cliff around 1/3 of the height of its great sibling.
We took some pics here and then followed an inadvertent route through the bush until we exited on the main path.
We continued to walk and suddenly we approached a wooden platform and I asked “is this World’s End?” in a less than impressed tone. A fellow traveller said yes it is.
Thankfully, from this platform, you can climb higher and the views you get over the 880m cliff of World’s End are much more impressive and enjoyable.
We continued the circuit and eventually passed Baker’s Falls, a beautiful waterfall that provided a nice break from the blistering sun on the elevated and shade-less plains.
After around 3 hours on the trail, we were already back to the entrance, where our only close animal encounter took place.
Our driver took us back through some really beautiful areas: tea plantations, farms and little villages that were a highlight in their own right.
We were back at around lunch time and decided to have a bite to eat at Victoria Park, one of Nuwara Eliya’s many parks.
Unfortunately it started to rain and this seemed be the continuing theme for the next few days, but more on that in the next post…