The tea pickers and the whale
Nuwara Eliya was noticed by the British as a place where the climate allowed them to grow some of the fruits and vegetables of home. Early experiments with coffee fell prey to disease, so tea was introduced. The success of ‘Ceylon Tea’ led to this area being labelled tea country, as it is still known. We were staying at the luxurious Stafford Bungalow which included a guided tour around their estate. We learnt about the intricacies of growing and harvesting tea and watched the ‘plantation Tamils’ (descendants of the workers brought in from southern India by the British) pick the tea leaves. On their feet for many hours a day plucking the new growth looked jolly hard work, so we appreciated our cuppa much more after seeing this.
Time to let the train take the strain and at Nuwara Eliya station we picked up our train to Ella. Before boarding I was privileged to be allowed into the signal box at the end of the platform. In UK terms a relic of a bygone era but here a well-maintained mechanical marvel. Smooth running levers operated the signals which still controlled the trains transiting through this stretch of rail. The train itself is no high speed dash to the next city, but a gentle trundle through some of the most beautiful scenery the tea country has to offer. The stuff of ‘Health and Safety’ nightmares, with open windows and doors in some carriages, allowing those who dare to lean our for ‘that shot’ that they’ve always wanted to take along the length of the train.
Ella is a place of stunning views, be that of Ella Rock, Ella Gap or Little Adam’s Peak from our hillside room at 98 Acres Resort and Spa, or from the top of one of the peaks itself. Whilst Ella Rock brags of views all the way to the coast on the clearest of days, the somewhat misty conditions didn’t make it worth a four hour round trip to make the summit. Much more sensible (and I still felt I’d earned my lunch) was the four and a half kilometre hike to Little Adam’s Peak. The delightful views from the top include Ella Rock, a couple of tea factories and the ethereal mist lifting from the tea plantations as it is burned off by the rising sun. For me though, the top mission of the day was to photograph a train crossing the Nine Arch Bridge. Built by the British in 1921 it has a similar photographic appeal to the Glenfinnan viaduct in west Scotland. A comfortable saunter along the tracks and over the bridge allowed us to get a close up look at the soaring arch ways, but I was dissatisfied with the normal vantage point that people use to view the train. Never to be outdone Priya (our guide) quickly scouted the area and we were soon scrambling up a narrow pathway on the bank to get the perfect vantage point to see the train’s transit. See video below.
Who can resist the childlike thrill you feel when you see a baby elephant. To see them come rushing into the feeding area and watch their carers pour a quantity of milk (that would drown a human baby) into their mouths via a funnel. is a pure joy. The Elephant Transit Home at Uda Walawe does a magnificent job of caring for the orphans and rehabilitating them back into the wild. Supported by the Born Free Foundation, to date they have managed to free 119 elephants back into the wild (many of them into Ude Walawe National Park). Sadly the fun of seeing these babies cavorting at feeding time cannot hide the stark reality that less pleasant interactions with humans has led to so many being here in the first place. Not all will make it back into the the wild and a cleverly designed prosthetic leg for one of the inhabitants at least means a decent quality of life for the foreseeable future.
As we set off from Kalu’s Hideaway Hotel for an afternoon game drive in Uda Walawe National Park, we were fairly quickly rewarded by a sighting of a reasonable sized elephant herd by the water. It was fascinating to see the herd continually shifting around, yet always keeping a protective cordon around the baby in its midst. Whilst the elephants are the main attraction here, we managed to also spot and enjoy a variety of other animals and birds.
We moved on to Galle for our final stop before a beach break in Ahungalla. The principal attraction at Galle was the old fort, which is not only an attraction in its own right but offers some great views over the old town, the international cricket ground and is a great place to watch the sun set. For us, much of Galle’s attraction was the seventeenth century Dutch architecture. It not only exudes charm in the day (like the Dutch Reformed Church) but also provides the surroundings for a lively street atmosphere at night.
The early bird catches the worm or in this case the whale, as we set off before dark to Marissa for a whale watching trip. We had a fabulous day on a luxurious catamaran being fed and watered whilst on the lookout for the elusive whales that frequent these waters. We were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the backs of several blue whales (or the same one several times…who can tell) but I have a sneaking suspicion that the whales were having the most fun. Spout some water and watch the humans charge in their boats towards that position, whilst you swim underneath them and appear close to the position the boats had just left. Blow some more water, flip your tail and off the boats charge again… repeat …what fun these humans are!
Selective Asia have yet again provided us with memories which will live long in our minds and hearts, so thanks to them. Thanks to Priya for being the most attentive guide, eager to please and knowledgeable but ever watchful for our wellbeing and safety. Thanks to the people of Sri Lanka, who invariably returned a smile with a smile and made us so welcome. Sri Lanka is truly a jewel in the Indian Ocean.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia.