My next stop after Kandy was Nuwara Eliya, a little mountain town in Central Sri Lanka that is known for its tea plantations.
I found a hostel called Mountain Stream Courtyard, and upon arriving found that it was known in the area as the “Chinese place.” Apparently a Chinese couple moved to Nuwara Eliya with their young (around 3-year-old?) son less than a year ago and opened this hostel. Major props, that takes a lot of guts! I found it solely because it had good reviews on booking.com, so I had no idea. In retrospect though, I guess I should have known from the pictures.
Anyway, Chinese tourism is huge in Sri Lanka, so I’d say they’re very well positioned. The Chinese tourists appreciate being able to communicate in Chinese and also miss the familiar taste of home (the other day I overheard two Chinese guests commiserating with the hostel owners that Sri Lankan rice just wasn’t as good). Best of luck to them and their fledgling business!
Horton Plains – World’s End
About 30km from Nuwara Eliya is World’s End, so-named because a sheer cliff drops off to the valley and village below at that spot. The hike to World’s End at Horton’s Plains is a 7km circular loop, and it is most often done at dawn before the fog rolls in and obscures the view. After about 10am, the world ends in a wall of white, which is not nearly as exciting.
As with Sigiriya, the best way to get there it by hiring a car or tuk tuk, and it is cheapest to split the cost with as many people as possible. Luckily there was another couple at the hostel that also wanted to go to World’s End, so Lisa (my wonderful traveling companion from Kandy) and I tagged along.
The car came to pick us up at 5am, my earliest morning in Sri Lanka by about 4 hours. World’s End is clearly fairly popular, because the entire hostel seemed to be up at that time and the hostel owners had packed us all breakfast to eat on the way.
We left in the darkness and arrived at the entrance to Horton’s Plains just as the sun was rising, around 6am. There was chaos, with long lines of cars, vans, and tuk tuks. Drivers and tourists walked in between them, presumably to investigate or pay. The driver and the couple that we were with abandoned the van to pay the entrance fee. But Lisa and I, figuring we wouldn’t add to the chaos, stayed and enjoyed our packed breakfasts. There’s some complicated formula that dictates how much you need to pay based on your vehicle type and the number of people in it. I have no idea what it is, but it came out to about 3000 LKR ($20) for each of the four of us.
As soon as we parked, we had our first encounter with wildlife! Wild animals are all throughout the park, but this was unfortunately the only one we saw.
Before going into the park, there is a security checkpoint where they rummage through your bag to remove any plastic. All water bottles are stripped of their labels, and plastic bags are replaced with paper ones. That’s certainly one way to keep the environment clean. I wonder how effective it is overall, though I did note that there wasn’t much litter at all throughout the park.
The morning was gorgeous, in sunrise golden hour.
The hike itself was not overly difficult. It was fairly flat except for a small stretch, so it was more of a delightful little stroll in the wilderness. With the fresh crisp air, I couldn’t believe that I was actually in Sri Lanka. As soon as the sun came up and the temperature rose, though, I was more convinced.
As the hike is a loop, it doesn’t matter much whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise. However, most of the tourists turned right, so we turned left. It was significantly less crowded, and we got to World’s End marginally earlier (though fog had already set in, so it didn’t really matter).
Pedro’s tea plantation & Lovers Leap Falls
The number one thing to do while in Nuwara Eliya is to visit the surrounding tea plantations, so on the second day Lisa and I rented bikes from the hostel and decided to ride to the nearby Pedro’s tea plantation.
Let me start out by saying that Sri Lankan roads are scary, especially in the mountainous regions. Cars, tuk tucks, vans, and trucks are constantly passing each other, regardless of whether the road is straight or if it bends. I’m pretty sure a large number of drivers spend at least 25% of the time in the opposite lane. So biking amongst all this craziness is just slightly stressful.
Thankfully we made it through the day without any accidents, but we did have an almost comical amount of bad luck with finding places. Google maps led us on a hilly dirt road through rows and rows of tea plants to Pedro’s, which we enjoyed at first.
But after 45 minutes of struggle without another person in sight, we started to wonder whether we had taken the wrong path. Was Pedro’s not open? And how did tourist vehicles navigate this skinny dirt road?
Eventually in the distance, we saw a tourist walking among a row of tea plants. Salvation! About 30 minutes later, we finally arrived at Pedro’s – through the back door. All the other tourists there were well-kempt and relaxed, and the two of us arrived sweaty and disheveled. It felt like we had just found our way out of the desert into civilization.
Pedro’s was a great place to cool down, as it had a cafe with outdoor seating overlooking the tea plants.
We paid 200 LKR ($1.33) each for a tour of the factory, which unfortunately was closed because there was a full moon. Every full moon is a public holiday – that’s automatically 12 holidays, plus all the other big ones! Meanwhile at my last company, we only got 6 public holidays total. I’m thinking Sri Lanka’s doing something right!
Some tea facts:
- The tea plants are picked once a week
- A tea plant’s lifespan is 100 years, and it is pruned every 5 years
- The tea processing includes drying, rolling, cutting, drying again, and filtering
- The tea is dried to 97%, never 100%, because it could burn
- Filtering separates out the bigger particles from the smaller ones. The smaller the tea particles, the stronger the tea.
- All the tea is sold at auction in Colombo. The bigger brands (e.g. Lipton) might buy tea from multiple factories and mix them together, or mix the tea from the factories with their own ingredients.
The tour also came with a free cup of tea, which we enjoyed out on the terrace.
Once we had sufficiently recovered, we decided to bike to lovers leap falls, which was on the way back. Again, google maps said it would be an easy 20min ride. Again, google maps lied. The route ended abruptly about a quarter mile downhill from the falls, and we had to stumble through a village to reach it, pushing our bikes up a path with a 30 degree incline. Once again, we emerged haggard amongst other tourists who were just taking a nice stroll to the falls from their tuk tuks.
We really did seem to have a knack for finding the most difficult possible way to get to places! It was a more strenuous day than either of us predicted, but also one with great memories and stories. Who knew that a relaxing day at a tea plantation could wear us out more than an early morning hike?
Well that’s a wrap for Nuwara Eliya. Next stop, Adam’s Peak!