End of Day 6, into Day 7 with World Expeditions: You can’t visit Sri Lanka without getting on a train. We traveled to Narnu Oya by train and it was certainly an experience for the group. But I believe that you can’t really understand a place until you’ve traveled with its people, so that’s what we did and arrived at Langdale Bungalows in time for some cooking.
Day 7: There’s nothing quite like a tropical downpour and on Day 7 we found it raining elephants, hippos and all sorts of other heavy creatures. The rain had definitely set in but in a way it suits the area and we all felt comfortable, a bit damp but comfortable. We decided to walk from the Langdale Bungalows to the Somerset Tea Factory.
Nearly all of the initial culture shock has worn off and everyone loves the kind nature of the Sri Lankan people. Members of the group have also noticed the change in the language and appearance of the locals now as they’re predominantly Tamil.
The weather turned for the worse and the factory went into production early but we were still able to take our time on a tour of the place and explain each step in the production of tea.
Many people are under the assumption that tea is the ‘sweepings’ and therefore lesser in quality as it has been on the floor. In fact that is the opposite, the tea is fermented on the tiles and dust is essential in a good, strong tea.
We headed upstairs afterwards and learned how to taste tea. Artisanal coffee has long been a phenomenon in Western countries with hole-in-the-wall shops offering a range of ‘single origin’, ‘blends’, brewing methods and serving options but tea has yet to properly see its day in the gourmet spotlight.
I won’t go right back to the beginning of tea since that would span quite a few countries and thousands, upon thousands of years. The first record of tea was from the 3rd century AD in China. Since then it’s traveled the globe and has been adopted into most cultures.
The tea we know today first came to Sri Lanka with the British in 1867 and produced only assam (black) tea up until recently.
I believe that an appreciation for tea is a truly wonderful thing and if you haven’t had that much experience with it, get out and try it, not just “black with milk and sugar”, explore the world of teas – there are over 3000 different types after all. Bet you didn’t know that.
All of the tea in the last photo is from one plant – Camillia Senesis. ‘Pekoe’ actually comes from the word for ‘particle’ in Dutch and Portugese. The best tea is broken in the lead, then turns orange on the fermentation table. Every sample is graded and separated into its quality. Here’s a bit more about tea grading: CLICK HERE.
We stopped at the Somerset Tea Boutique and picked up some teas in the unique packaging. I also treated myself to some local strawberries with ice cream.
It was time to travel to Nuwara Eliya and on the way we stopped to meet some tea pickers and some tried on the traditional tea baskets on their heads.
As fun as it may be for a few minutes to try this type of work could you imagine going it in 3 shifts, all day, collecting over 30kg of product and taking home the equivalent of $4.50 per day. Gives sitting in a coffee shop paying $4.00 for a pot of boring black tea a different perspective doesn’t it.
Nuwara Eliya is central to the tea growing industry of Sri Lanka and sits quite high up at 1,868 metres above sea level in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Its name translates to “city of light” and it’s been nicknamed “Little England” and “Switzerland of the East”, it is a beautiful town and should be a definite stop on any trip to Sri Lanka.
Arriving at the Grand Hotel you can see why National Geographic listed it as one of the 6 places you must see when you’re in Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful manor house established in 1891 and every bit lives up to it’s name.
I was feeling a bit scruffy so I headed to town and got a hair cut and the excellent accompanying head massage.
Not long after our tailor arrived from Kandy and everyone got to try on their new clothes.
We headed into town for some shopping, the Bazaar was busy and our group was surprised to find good quality Colombia clothing alongside the silks an cloth. People don’t realise that many designer labels have factories in Sri Lanka and the tailors here are excellent. I bought some sarongs for my sons and had to have one altered for my youngest. The in-house tailor was amazing, he cut snipped and sewed and in 10minutes had perfectly reduced the size of the sarong.
We tuk tuk-ed back to the Grand Hotel in an attempt to stay dry and went our separate ways until dinner in the grand ballroom. Strict dress codes applied so I wore my new suit.
Day 8: Unfortunately heavy rain and fog got in our way, prompting some to stay in bed while the intrepid ones woke up at 5am with me to visit a place called ‘World’s End’. The bush track in Horton Plains National Park is the only track where tourists are allowed to venture alone, provided they stay on the marked paths. It’s 4km to World’s End but the track loops through Baker’s Falls then around and back to the entrance, the total walk is 9.5km and is not easy.
We drove up the winding roads in heavy fog and I told the group of the leopards, black bears and bird life that call Horton Plains their home as well as the steep climbs, descents and incredibly beautiful scenery. Everyone decided to give it a try but when we finally arrived it was bitterly cold (even for Sri Lanka!) and the visibility was awful. The rain had set in quite heavily so the tracks would have been muddy and slippery and I didn’t want to risk anyone having an accident.
The next few hours we all relaxed in the colonial comfort of our beautiful hotel.
Day 9: With an early start we bid the high country farewell and drove on through the stunning scenery and steep cliffs. We passed Ella Falls and headed down to the plains. As we drove past the boundary of Uda Walawe National Park we were met with a sad sight of wild elephants loitering by the fences being fed by tourists and locals. Although the majesty of an elephant up close is something I believe everyone should experience this is not the way to do it – often the wild elephants get excited and ingest a plastic bag along with the treats from tourists, there have been several accounts of this sort of thing ultimately resulting in elephant’s death.
We stopped and met baby elephants at the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home, this has to be one of the highlights for me so far. The Transit Home was established in 2003 with a funding grant from the UK, here they rear and care for baby elephants until they are at an age where they can be released back into the wild. It is a beautiful, and very special place.
Still marveling at our time with these beautiful creatures we headed for a cooking class at the Mankada pottery center. I have been a long-time advocate of, the MJF Foundation and I have seen this organisation do so much good in the world. It is only through working together that we can create a change for the better.
To quote Mr Merrill J Fernando, “everything should have a ‘reason for being’ and business is no exception.” I wholeheartedly agree. Click HERE to learn more about the incredible work of the MJF Foundation.
Our time with the MJF Foundation in Mankada came with a cooking class, and a pottery lesson. We learned to make bitter gourd curry, bean curry, ladies finger curry and eggplant mouju.
Open Jeeps came by the Transit Home and picked us up for an incredible safari. We saw lots of elephants up very close, a beautiful watering hole with a crocodile on the bank, and two wild buffalo’s were playing about in the water, one with a stork on its back. The elephant entered the watering hole and bullied the crocodile into the water, another one swam up and we watched intensely – we could have been in a National Geographic documentary and for most of our group it was the first time they’d ever seen such a thing up close.
At one point elephants blocked our path while birds of prey soared through the sky as we drove and we spotted jackals in the bushes, it was an incredible trip.
Our night’s accommodation was a rustic bush camp, we arrived after dark and were all a bit concerned but the group are becoming real travellers and we all slept in luxury tents, dozing off to the crowing of peacocks and pea hens and the ticking of a million insects. It was good for one night.
Day 10: I blame Jeremy’s now-famous (I should probably say ‘infamous’) Aarak Cocktail for the state of our heads when we woke the next morning and headed for the coast. Everyone was looking forward to a bit of luxury at the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle.
As the stunning south coast of Sri Lanka opened up in front of us we all began to feel better and drove through the town of Mirissa, Thalpe and then on to Galle.
Galle is the fifth largest city in Sri Lanka and the capital of the Southern Province. Before the Portugese arrived in the 16th century it was the main port on the island and saw most of its development in the 18th century during the Dutch colonial period. The Portugese architecture actually lends itself beautifully to the native traditional structures and Galle Fort is a World Heritage Site.
Arriving in the beautiful old town we had lunch at the Serendipty Arts Cafe and I introduced everyone to Juliette Coombe, an Englishwoman who married a Sri Lankan local man and moved her entire life to this country. She now runs tours of Galle Fort and has become a true Sri Lankan local – her expertise, historical knowledge and information were excellent.
My food assistants Babbi or Shamil have made egg rolls famous during this trip and after we returned to the hotel we all gave it a try. It was a hilarious and tasty afternoon.
The rest of the night was up to us and I’m finding it sad to think that tomorrow is our last day together. It has been an adventure, a thrill and a pleasure showing this great group my Sri Lanka. We’ve all gelled so well and I will look back on this trip with a smile for years to come.