The land of Sri-Lanka is defined by the elephants, precious gems, a history and culture dated back several centuries. At the heart of the country lies a small town in the top of the hills, which goes by the name Nuwara Eliya. Apart from being the only hill-station of the country, this city is also the highest point of the small yet beautiful country, which was also known by the name ‘Ceylon’. The city was technically created in the hand of the British settlers, mostly as their summer retreat. Later, it had become a prime center for the tea-trade of the country.
" I was walking in the middle of a forest. I saw a beautiful white shining diamond watered waterfall falling. I came to the top of a mountain. The people who came with me said that it is the highest land of this country’’
-- the British Gentleman, Dr. John Davy had technically rediscovered this land in the year 1818. At that time, this land was full of Elephants and wild animals. Today, this city is a popular vacation spot, bejeweled by the heritages from the British rule and the main point for the production of the Ceylonese tea.
The City of Light
The entrance of this city is marked with the ascending zigzag paths of the Mountains, crossing one of the most important metro city, Kandy. As we started to ascend the path towards this town, the sun went down for that day. The First glimpse of the city of light was elusive, like millions of fireflies are sitting over a dark forest. At the first glance, we got to understand the significance of the name.
Stepping into the City of Nuwara Eliya
Entering this city was like going back one or two centuries in a time machine. The architectures of the city were mostly the creation of the British. We had arrived quite late, so we had to head towards our hotel. The legendary Grand hotel of Nuwara Eliya was our first choice of stay in this city. Unfortunately, the arrangement on Grand Hotel wasn’t possible at that time, so we stayed at the Winsor Hotel.
Located in a villa built like a small English castle, the Winsor hotel had fitted perfectly with the theme of this city. The red-décor lobby was grand and decorated with the glittering chandeliers, reviving the feel of the 19th Century. Upon arrival, we were served a hot drink, which was a local version of Ceylonese tea. The red-hot drink had some magical quality, apart from its unusual taste, it took away the stress of the long travel. The climate had also changed radically during our travel, with the sudden drop of temperature as soon as we had started to climb up the hill. The warm drink had helped our body to get adjusted. The taste of the drink represented the place itself, rich in history, mysterious in beauty.
The rest of the hotel also portrayed British architecture, impressive wooden furniture of that arena. There was a lavish arrangement of flowers which complimented the whole interior. Altogether, this place was all set to give us a taste of the glorious past of the city.
Early History of Nuwara Eliya
At the time the British gentlemen Dr. John Davy discovered the Nuwara Eliya, this place was full of wild animals like elements and Ashoka trees. The place was an ideal hunting ground for the variety of animals and its cool climate, which was similar Britain. Later, the British Governor Sir Edward Barnes had taken the initiative to build the city as a summer retreat. He had constructed roads and built his own vacation home. The home was called Barnes Hall, which is known as the Grand Hotel these days. For his initiative of creating this new city, he had earned the title ‘Father of Nuwara Eliya’. After Sir Edward Barnes, there were several British gentlemen who had taken an active part in the establishment of this city. A gentleman named Samuel Baker had established farming in the land. Sir William Gregory, the Governor of Nuwara Eliya in the year 1872, was responsible for the creation of the beautiful man-made lake of the city, which is known as Gregory lake today. He also tried to establish farming coffee, Tea and animals, and mining of gems at this land. The coffee plantations efforts in this land had failed, but the tea farming has been blooming in this land till date.
First Steps to Know the City
Although it was night, we wanted a taste of local life after the formalities of Check-in was over. We were warned not to go further, thus we had set out for the local shops. An entire pavement was full of fast food shops, with wide varieties of different snacks of various colors and sizes. We particularly stopped in front of a food joint, where the cook is chopping and mixing a wide range of ingredients. The steel chopper was creating a unique sound during the whole process. After chopping what seems like various vegetables, it got served with the pre-cooked chicken pieces. While enjoying the creation of this unique dish, we were feeling the further drop in temperature. So, we had to return to the hotel for that night. The dinner was served in the grand dining room adjacent to the lobby. Although the menu was continental, the touch of the spices of this land had created an unusual effect.
The Morning Expedition
Morning brought a whole range of surprises in the city of light. From the balcony of the hotel, we caught a glimpse of the Hill-police controlling the traffic on the horseback. The exploration of the city was not completed in the last night, so we set out to explore the city on foot. Just on the opposite of the hotel, another Grand British villa was serving as the Local Police Station of the city.
The local market of the town was also located nearby. The vegetable market was packed with known fruits and vegetables, apart from some of the unique local fruits. The area around the city was also known for farming of the fruits and vegetables, along with the variety of flowers. The flowers of this town also get exported. Adjacent to the vegetable market, there were other shops like bakeries, clothing and souvenir stores etc.
After visiting the local market, we proceeded towards another historic building of the town, the post-office. Built with red-brick in the classic British style, this post-office was still-functioning. On the entrance of the Post-office, the flower garden was casting an authentic beauty. The effects of the sunflowers were the most unique among them.
The fully functioning post office was selling postcards, stamps. There was also a small shop inside which was selling the pictures and other trinkets related to Sri-Lanka mostly to the travelers. There was some machinery showcased inside the Post-office, which was used at the time of the British rule. The atmosphere inside the post-office was more like a cheerful tourist attraction more than a fully-functional Government office. We all liked the charm of this place, where old heritages mixing with the modern-day life.
The Ramayana’s Trail
Sri Lanka is the land of King Ravana, who had played a major role in Indian Mythology. According to the tale of Ramayana, the epic of India, king Dasaratha sent his firstborn son, Rama to the forest according to the wish of his second wife, Kaikaye. Kaikaye wanted the throne of the kingdom for her own son, Bharata. Prince Rama went to the forest according to his step-mother’s wish, along with his wife princess Sita and younger brother, Prince Laxmana. In the forest, the brothers resisted the advances of a demon princess and cut her nose. The demon princess was the sister of King Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, presently known as Sri Lanka. To avenge his sister, King Ravana abducted princess Sita and brought her to the land of Sri Lanka. The place she was kept was known as Ashokban (The forest of Ashok Trees). The place where this Ashokeban was supposed to be located, lies very close to Nuwara Eliya. There is a temple, which is dedicated to Princess Sita, located just 5 kilometers away from the main city. Our next destination was this Sita Amman(Mother Sita) temple. On the way to this temple, we got a glimpse of the beautiful Gregory lake. The temple was located not very far, on the lap of a mountain.
The temple of Sita Amman is created following the structure of a typical South Indian temple. It is located beside a steam, where the Princess used to come for a bath. It was also supposed to be that place, where Hanuman, the commander-in-chief of Rama, had met Princess Sita. The temple also bore the footprints of Hanuman, just beside the steam. Hanuman had traveled to Lanka to bring the news of Princess Sita. He had set a fire in Lanka, and met and assured Princess Sita to arrange her freedom.
We were shown the Mountain beyond, where the Ashokban was supposed to be located. The route through which princess Sita used to travel to this temple was still not discovered. Although there might be a possibility that the route had been discovered by a well-known travel Publication group, the information was not for the public knowledge.
The call of the mystery of this unknown land was urging me to set for a journey to discover this land in detail. I was informed that there was indeed a trail, known as ‘Ravana’s Trail’. It followed the places related to various incidents of Ramayana. After promising myself that I would be back here someday to follow this trail, I got ready to travel back to the main city.
The Gregory Lake
Although I was ready to leave the mystery, the mystery was not ready to leave me. The realization flashed when we found our beloved car had broken down. So, a couple of local vehicles was arranged. The three-wheeler small auto-rickshaw which were called ‘Tuktuk’ by the locals. We were to go to the Gregory lake, enjoy the beauty of the lake and wait for our vehicle to arrive. The normal speed limit of Sri-Lanka was very low, so, we got leisurely time to enjoy the Tuktuk ride through the picturesque highlands.
The Gregory lake was a man-made lake, created in the time of British rule. There were various kinds of boats available to take a ride on this lake. Whereas, I preferred to take a walk in the bank of the lake, to enjoy the surrounding beauty of the hills. In one corner of the lake, there was a wooden houseboat, with a private jetty. It could have been a restaurant or a B & B for travelers. There were several other wooden cottages in the bank of the lake, creating a picture-perfect scenario. After enjoying the beauty of this lake for a while it was time to leave. Our vehicle had arrived, so we needed to make a move.
Tasting Original Ceylonese Tea of Nuwara Eliya
It would be a sin if we had left without exploring the Tea-gardens of Nuwara Eliya. So, our last stop in the city of light was the Blue Field Tea Garden. The tea gardens of Nuwara Eliya used to belong to the British Rulers. They have brought managers and workers from the Southern part of the India to work in these tea gardens. At the time of leaving, the British tea-Garden owners had gifted the ownership of these tea gardens in the hands of their loyal managers. So, today most of the owners of these tea gardens are South Indian people, mostly the decedents of these managers.
The most important part of the Blue Field Tea Garden was the tea-café where one can taste the authentic Ceylonese tea, produced in this garden. Sipping in the authentic Ceylonese tea in a café located in the lap of the hill surrounded by the garden was a splendid experience. We took our cup tea in one of the outdoor tables to enjoy the surrounding beauty alongside. The Ceylonese tea was light, and the smell and taste of it are different than any other tea I have tasted so far. So, I didn’t waste any time to pick-up some of this authentic tea to share with friends and family back home. With the taste of the authentic tea lingering in our breath, it was the time to bid adieu to the city of light and its mysterious beauty.