The train ride between Kandy and Ella is notoriously known amongst travellers to be one of the most scenic train rides and obviously then a ‘must do’. I hadn’t seen so many travellers in Sri Lanka until I got to the station and they were all trying to either get to Ella or Colombo and bag a first class ticket. Sadly I missed out on this and had to stand most of the ride but I still got nice views and I was only doing a 3.5 hr portion of the total 7 hour ride, so good luck to the guys who had to endure the rest of the journey!
The train ride
Even though I didn’t get a seat I met a bunch of travellers who made it a little more adventurous. We bantered with the locals to fight for seats, chatted amongst ourselves and complained half heartedly about how much we were being squished between people moving about and vendors moving up and down carriages selling snacks and drinks. When we did get the chance to bag a seat we took turns and just tried to make the most of the train journey!
The trains were like 50-60 year old colonial tin carriages and since all the windows were open all of wind came through so it was actually pleasant and not humid/sweaty (thank goodness) We passed rolling hills, cute stations and villages and towns on the way, and spoke to locals on the train too.
Halfway into the trip ticket officers actually came through as well and unfortunately for some cheeky boys in our carriage they were fined 3000 rupees for having a 3rd class ticket but standing in 2nd class. Served them well since they were causing a bit of havoc moving around so much !! Like where did they keep walking? There’s literally no space but they kept walking up and down carriages annoying people.
After approximately 3 hours the train finally arrived at Nanu-Oya station. This was where people got off to see Nuwara Eliya which was about a 6.5 km ride from the station. I decided to actually stay close to the station in the hope that it’d be a quieter getaway from all the noise of trucks and traffic. I was surrounded by folding hills of tea plantations and valleys in the distance but STILL traffic was heard! I stayed at a little guest house called ‘Train View’ which was newly renovated. I discovered my private bathroom had no running water, my room door was still being painted, and there was hammering going on at 8.30pm on the roof when it was already dark so these kind of ruined my stay. On the flipside the owner was a mother and though her english wasn’t so great, I was able to talk to her son Bijan 🙂
Nuwara Eliya – Little England & High tea at the Grand Hotel
Nuwara Eliya has an English village town feel and is known as ‘Little England’ from its history of having English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea history. It kind of felt strange seeing horses around and a race track, golf turfs, town houses and English tea gardens, and then tuk tuks whizzing about and Sri lankan food stalls. I didn’t spend too much time in the afternoon discovering the city but I was advised by fellow travellers to try the high tea at the Grand Hotel. It cost 1000 rupees ($8-9AUD), which I thought was a good price considering the price of attractions in Sri Lanka. The Grand hotel is a luxury hotel of course, with a well maintained English garden at the front and impressive lawns. I think a lot of travellers wanting to try the high tea would feel somewhat underdressed, particularly backpackers like me wearing elephant pants and a scrummy white top. I made myself look as presentable as possible, but it wasn’t a huge deal. Just the glamour of the place makes you feel like you should be wearing something nicer!
High tea was pretty good and service was great. You get the typical 3-tier plate of sandwiches, savoury, and the sweets, and of course bottomless tea! They serve high tea from 3.30-6pm, bit of an odd time for me because I didn’t know whether to treat this as dinner or just a really large snack before having dinner later haha. Anyway, it was enjoyable. Nice to be in a nice place once in a while and when you do, you most definitely should make use of their luxury, clean bathrooms!
Blue Field Tea Factory
No trip to Nuwara Eliya is complete without a visit to a tea factory and a walk through at least one of the many tea plantations dotted through the vast valleys that is the hill country. The guys at my hostel tonight (Nuwara Eliya Hostel by Backpack Lanka) advised me that there were 3 main tea factories – Pedro Tea estate, Mackwoods, and Blue Fields, and that Blue Fields was the best one. I initially was going to go to Pedro’s because you can do the Lover’s Leap trek from there which has a waterfall. But apparently BlueField also has Ramoda waterfalls so I went with their recommendation.
The tea factory was a 45 min bus ride away through windy roads that went up and down and gave me a bit of a headache. It was lovely however to go past the valleys of tea plantations and there were lots of little stalls along the road selling fruits, vegetables, and even strawberries. There was also a couple of stalls selling bright colourful flowers and a man offering bouquets to cars driving pass. Nuwara Eliya is one of those road tripping towns that locals go through, like the Hunter Valley of Sydney if you like.
Bluefield tea factory was large and since much of the tea making happens at night (for whatever reason I didn’t educate myself on) you don’t see much action during the day. But it was still cool to walk through their processes and see the machines used. After you walk through the factory, you can then take a little walk through the tea plantation, absolutely free. I know other tea factories charge a couple hundred rupees for a tour but I was happy to just enjoy it on my own. I mean I love tea, but I’m not THAT enthused to learn about the tea-making process :D. Blue Field also has a cafe/restaurant that was filled with tourists enjoying their favourite tea and cake while families had their kids playing in the pen that was set up outside (how considerate). I didn’t feel like tea but for some reason I was feeling so exhausted in my legs, and my head just wasn’t 100% so I sat down for a good half hour before heading back into Nuwara Eliya.