Plus trains tend to stall a lot and delay so a reserved seat is recommended. They cost about Rs.200 – Rs.250 more but it’s worth it especially if you are heading up to tea country during raining the weather! The train tends to go slower and delay a lot due to the weather.
“Hello. Where are you going?”
“To Nuwara Eliya.”
“This is my granddaughter. I’m here to send them (daughter & granddaughter) off on the same train you are in to Haputale. I used to work in Nuwara Eliya as a tourist guide. It’s a nice place”
Mr Ravi and his granddaughter walked past me a few times before he started a conversation with me. He briefly told me about Nuwara Eliya and wished me a good journey and told me to stay safe as I was traveling on my own. 30 minutes later, the dreary weather seem lift a little and so did my spirit as the sunrays flooded the train station.
Another 30 minutes went by and still no train but Ravi and his family uprooted from where they were sitting and joined me on my bench. Again, I think it’s the maternal instinct thing they seem to have to need to watch out for a lone woman traveller. I think it’s super sweet and wonderful (and thank you God for keeping an extra eye over me) that they kept me company.
Ravi has since given up his the job and now runs something similar locally from Kandy as he wants to spend more time with his family. Having said that he did admit he missed working as a tour guide, meeting people and taking them around. He also speaks French apart from Sinhala, English and Tamil.
Ravi is the only person I know who explained to me how difficult times were in Sri Lanka during the war and what it was like for the Tamil people who live here then, and what is going on now. It reminds me of Hitler, Cambodia and the Cold War, taken apart and reassembled. Anyways, Ravi told me that the Tamils who usually work the plantations hardly get help from the government, and only in recent years, that the government is urged to help them. Ravi and his wife often visit the tea plantations to help these people.
Almost a 5-hour wait later, the blue Chinese manufactured train arrives. The only one and the first one I’ve seen with a first class coach. The first class reserved cost Rs.1250, while my second-class fan-assisted-reserved seat cost Rs.600. Ravi’s daughter and granddaughter were in third-class reserved so I bid goodbye and got on my way. Again, other than the sign reserved on the outside of the coach, there is no indication on the inside of the train. So to make sure I asked the first person I saw in the train and was shown to my seat.
These blue trains are popular on this route as lots of tourist favourite places on this route. And trust me, there was a lot of tourist on this train. These trains are much more comfortable than the first train ride I took to Habarana and this one had a working loo in the train! Wow! (Hey, that’s an achievement okay! Try holding your bladder for 4 hours and then you tell me!) All these new trains have nice comfy seats with a compromise of legroom unfortunately.
Soon word got around I was not Sri Lankan and soon ever kid was taking pictures with me! Have to admit, felt a wee-bit special then! So comes one of the ‘uncles’ and so starts the questions and soon I was invited for dinner at their home in Colombo, they even extended the invitation to my friend in Colombo too. They we just so nice! It was a wonderful 5-hour ride to Nanu Oya with this lot. They were just wonderful as they shared everything with me and fed me to the brim. I felt temporarily adopted.
Honestly, they made my journey fun and just amazing. This family is one of the many people who ‘looked’ after me when I was traveling Sri Lanka.
The train ride was beautiful; the scenery was equally tranquil except for the gloomy weather. It rained all the way to Nanu Oya and by this time the temperature had dropped to 20-degree celsius. Rolling hills of tea plantation and waterfall adorn the train journey. If it was beautiful on a gloomy day, imagine what it must be like on a warm sunny day!
At the exit, you see these touts asking people to get into vans or tuk tuks as they are well aware that all of them want and need to get to Nuwara Eliya town.
“You, come, come, Nuwara Eliya”
“Huh? What? Me??”
“Yes, Nuwara Eliya. Its only RS.200”
“I’m waiting for my pick up, thanks”
Just like that, they assume you’ll get in and the best part was that I almost got in thinking he was my driver from King Fern Bungalow. So if anyone asked me again in that manner, its best to check how much or where they are from!
At the factory, you are given a guide for free but it is a custom to tip so keep your wallets prepared. You also get a pot of tea as compliment so I stayed around longer, taking in the view (despite the clouds as I was nice and toasty warm with a hot cup of tea). I purchased some tea and thought I got a bargain, only to discover later that it was cheaper getting it in Colombo!!! But having said that, their flavoured teas are not that common to come by, so purchasing that here at the factory is best.
Now I’m not a connoisseur of tea so my knowledge of it is rather limited. The guide explained that tea comes in various grades and the finer and darker the tealeaves, the stronger the taste. There is also the case of silver tips and gold tips. Silver tips are roasted in a slightly different method to the normal tea. And it’s not the young leaves but rather the fresh younger leaves, the ones barely even ‘bloomed’ that are picked. Since they are so rare, the prices of these silver and gold tips are high. For a mere 40g, silver tip tea, goes for about Rs.7000+. Gold tip is more than double! Good grief! But than again Mackwood’s are known for their tea and whatever it is, its still cheaper than what you’d buy outside of Sri Lanka for sure.
Anyways, the manager, Mr Wasantha was sweet enough to have an opening for me. They were not taking in an bookings as the place was closed for maintenance but managed a room for me after hearing the ordeal with the staff at their sister accommodation. The room was small but the people who ran the place are wonderful and for Rs.3300 a night, it was pretty good plus it came with breakfast. Warm blankets are a guarantee and I have to admit, they have one of the best hot showers, period!
I checked in and sat by the fireplace all evening, reading and updating my journal as usual. Enjoying the locally made biscuits and tea, I was pretty pleased as the weather outside was absolutely shit. It rained all day and throughout the night, and I hope the weather tomorrow is better as I’m looking forward to hike up World’s End. Mr Nimal (I found his contact details via Lonely Planet) called to pass me even bad news; the people he hoped me to share the journey up to World’s End had cancelled due to the weather. He didn’t recommend me to do it alone unless I dead-set wanted too.
At this point I was low on Sri Lanka Rupees and this place doesn’t accept credit card so cash was needed. My much anticipated trip got shot out the window so I settled for a morning hike around the Single Tree Hill hike. I later found out that the hike to World’s End is really beautiful but you don’t get to see much as the view from the top was cover with cloud and mist for days due to the weather.
Hike up Single Tree Hill was good. I just needed to get out and despite the rain and mist. It cost about Rs.3000 and Nimal was my guide, and mind you he is very knowledgeable of his flora and fauna that made the hike worth it.
To think England had crazy weather, this place is just absurd! It’s sunny one minute, 5 minutes later it rains, 10 minutes later the sun is out again and out of nowhere the mist rolls in. That was what my hike consisted of for 3 hours. Safe to say, Mr Wasantha’s kind gesture of loaning me a water repellent jacket and an umbrella, kept me dry waist up but waist down, I was soaked to the bone.
I couldn’t see much but from the occasional glimpse from the clouds, I can only tell you the views are amazing. Again, I got another lesson in reading poop! This time it was Leopard poop and it had deer for dinner by the looks of it. Leopards are common around these parts.
After more walking, the weather got worse. We took a short cut, cutting through some farmland and back to the city centre. We trekked along some tea plantation, which I believe is part of Labookellie estate. We passed some houses built within the tea plantation, as Mr Nimal explained, that housed the tea plantation workers.
A quick stop at the post office, by noon I was back at my accommodation all nice and soaking wet! I was well greeted by everyone smiling and laughing at my expense. The super hot shower was just a blessing plus being soaked and cold for 3 hours is just not a nice feeling and that hot shower warmed me up.
Wasantha’s staff cooks really good local cuisine and boy, can they eat chilli! They were wonderful and shared a meal with me, as always, asking me lots of questions about my travels and why I’m doing it alone. In return, I had train long questions to ask too.
I pretty much stayed in the rest of the day, as the weather just got worst as the day progressed. Mr Wasantha kept me company towards the evening where he taught me how to play Carom, a game I haven’t played since I was a child! Somewhere between lunch and the game, he explained the life of the tea plantation workers.
During the course of my hike, I came across a few shops and saw a few of these workers there and also on the plantation. Despite the weather they have to pick tea. I was fully covered; head to toe in 2 layers and these people were in sari’s or just a layer of clothes picking tea in the cold rain. And most of them didn’t wear any shoes either. It made me wonder if they were used to the weather or were they really that poor. I feared as much, the latter was true, they are indeed very poor. It was so sad to see and not be able to do much. Apparently their homes have no fireplaces. One is considered rich to own a fireplace, as warmth is a luxury in these parts. Their houses didn’t have any rooms, it was just one big square room, with a kitchen and that is it. Whatever little they earned went on alcohol, as it was their own means to keep warm.
Now I understand why Ravi comes he so often and help these people. They do need all the help they can get.
Ishant drove us and like a complete tourist, I made him stop at every waterfall and ever other turn for a picture. And these two were so accommodating and stopped every time I screamed in exciting for a picture stop. Typical!
Again I got fed along the way! Wasantha stopped a couple of times along the way to get some of his son’s favour food. He bought extras for me, with no extra cost other than a kind gesture. Honestly, I don’t know who I’ve helped in the past so much that karma was coming back full on! Universe I thank thee for sending kind people my way.
After a 3 hour ride, I was back in Kandy. One more night and walla! COLOMBO!
Next and final stop: Colombo!