The past few weeks Kandy has been very hot, daytime temperatures in the nineties, and sticky evenings where it is hard to sleep. I recently learned how to say “It is hot today” in Sinhala, “Ada rasnei,” and have been using that phrase a lot. Because of the heat Brian and I decided to take a weekend trip up-country to Nuwara Eliya, a city in the mountains that sits at 6000 ft and is at the center of the tea industry in Sri Lanka.
Saturday morning we took the bumpy train ride up into the mountains. The train car was filled with families, many of them heading to Adam’s Peak for the pilgrimage to see the Buddha’s footprint. The trip took five hours, traveling through green hills covered with tea plants, but by the end of it we were ready to get out of the train and away from its smoke, and out into the fresh air. To save some money we decided to take the bus into town instead of a tuk-tuk. This was not the best idea. The bus was tiny, Brian and I couldn’t stand up all the way, and very very crowded. There weren’t any seats left by the time we got on, so we had to stand for the ride. This would have been fine, except that Brian got stuck next to an old man, who was nice, but sweaty and had trouble keeping his balance and kept pushing his butt into Brian for balance.
Our first afternoon in Nuwara Eliya we hiked up Single Tree Mountain, through the tea plants of part of the Pedro Tea Estate. Parts of the road up the mountain were steep, and we saw a tuk tuk being pushed up an especially difficult hill. We also spotted a young couple on a motorcycle heading up the hill, and later saw the motorcycle parked by a secluded make-out spot. The view from the top was amazing, tea plants, and Adam’s Peak.
The next day we got up early and adventured to Horton Plains National Park in a van over bumpy country roads. The park is a mix of cloudforest and grassland. At the entrance were two tame sambaru deer, one of them came right up to the window searching for a snack.
The hike through the park was 9 km and led to the World’s End, where the plains drop off for a kilometer.
After our hike the van driver took us to a strawberry farm. The road was so steep and so bad that he waited at the top while I bought strawberries because the van couldn’t manage the road. Nuwara Eliya and the towns around it are known for its produce and its the only place in Sri Lanka where strawberries are grown, so I was very happy to stop and buy some.
Monday morning we took a quick trip to the Pedro Tea Factory and learned about the many steps involved in making tea. Apparently there are 12, and although the factory was very clean and modern, it didn’t look like the process of turning fresh leaves into tea had changed much in the last hundred years. When the British introduced tea they brought over Tamil workers from South India who are still the backbone of the industry today. Tea has to be picked by hand, and it is still mostly Indian Tamil workers doing this.
The train back to Kandy was eventful. Brian and I were happily situated in our second class seats when an announcement came on saying something in Sinhala I could not understand. Everyone else in our car got out and moved into the third class compartments. I was able to talk to someone semi-official who explained there was a tree on the tracks and that we should get into third class and the train would leave soon. We waited for an hour before the train started moving. In the car next to us young men were singing, dancing and drumming, which sounded pretty good. At least until another group of young men started singing and banging against the wall of the traincar. They sang a Backstreet Boys song, and another one about “malu” which means fish in Sinhala. They were awful. The train went about 5 km before stopping for the tree. Everyone had to get off the train, no easy task without a platform. I helped a short, round woman by picking her up and placing her down on the ground.
After that little adventure, I made my way to the train waiting on the other side of the downed tree. We didn’t have to wait long before it got moving and we were on our way back through the tea fields to Kandy.