Goodbye Buddhist historical sites in Kandy and Golden triangle area, I came to the highland of Nuwara Eliya. Thanks to its location at an elevation of 1890 meters above the sea level, Nuwara Eliya is the highest city in Sri Lanka. It is better known as the main tea supply of Sri Lanka for famous brands such as Dilman, Mlesma, Lipton, as well as to export to other countries, mainly Russia and East Europe. Its cooler climate and vintage English architectures, together with lush green tea plantations bring out the charming features of this area and make it differentiated from other villages in Sri Lanka.
How to get to Nuwara Eliya: the most economic way is by Train
Heard about the scenic train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, last minute I tried to catch the 2nd morning train at 8:47am (the first train at 3:30am was too early for me) by being at the train station 1 hour before the departure time. The queue was not too long and I got 2nd class ticket after 15 min waiting. It was 245 rupies (around 1.5$). Inside the station, it was pretty clean and not many people waiting. However, when the train came, i realized that it was already full. I had to run back and forth to a few doors in order to get on the train, and literally stood next to the door, in front of the toilet.
It was 4 hours ride and the experience was terrible. It was really not a sight-seeing train but people seeing as the train was filled with people, probably because I was traveling in the first day of the biggest festival of Sri Lanka. Like Tet in Vietnam, local people who work in big cities travelling back to their hometown for holiday, plus the tourists, the train not only ran out of seat, but also space to stand. I had to stand still for 3 out of 4 hours journey. I just wondered why they still sold the tickets, given they knew for sure that there was no more seats or space.
Lucky me, for the last 1 hour, I got a best view seat by the entrance, putting my legs out of the train (like these 2 guys in above picture), and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Until then, i could understood why many people recommended this train and called it as one of the most beautiful train routes in the world (for me, it’s still exaggerated). My view was filled with peaceful landscape of multi layers of mountains, lush green tea plantations, several waterfalls and curvy roads. It was really interesting when two trains passed by, the distance was so close that passengers from both sides said “hi” and waved each other.
The train arrived at Nanuoya train station at 12:45pm. With ~1500 rupies of taxi or tuk tuk, you can reach Nurawa Eliya town after 30 min ride. Along the way, the scenery appeared as a lively landscape painting with an endless green field of tea terraces and vegetable gardens, dotted with hard working tea pickers.
What to do in Nuwara Eliya:
Explore tea plantation and learn how to pick tea leaves
I wandered around the tea plantation and talked to tea pickers. All of them are females and their life is very tough. They have to work 8 hours everyday on the field regardless the weather, and have to collect 18-20 kgs of tea leaves so that they get paid at 5$ per day. Although it is not an easy job, it becomes a career for most of people in this area. They have been doing it for years, generations to generations and they love their jobs.
Visit tea factories and learn tea production process
Visiting a tea factory, understanding the entire process of tea production and enjoying a cup of hot and tea in a cold weather at a tea plantation was also a nice experience. After the tea leaves are collected from the field, they are ventilated in the warehouse for 12 hours, then filtered and dried at 93oC. The process is repeated a few rounds to classify tea leaves in many kinds of tea. Most of tea factories looked old with manual machines that have been using for years. However, they still can produce great tea tastes that make Sri Lanka proud of.
Visit downtown of Nuwara Eliya
The downtown of Nuwara Eliya was busy and crowded, particularly during the festival. A big wet market is surrounded by small streets where many restaurant and shops are located. The police office and the Post office still maintain a charming and vintage look influenced by English architecture since colonial time.
Chill out with book and tea
Thanks to its highland location, Nuwara Eliya has a wonderful climate, completely different from the heat of the delta cities. In the morning the fog is thick, a little chilly, while the afternoon is sunny but not too hot. It is worth the money to rest here for a few days, escape the busy life to enjoy a good cup of tea, read a good book in the fresh air of Nuwara Eliya. It was one of those memorable moments in my Sri Lanka trip.
Where to stay
My hotel was a boutique hotel named The Oliphant Bungalow, which was actually renovated from an old house of an English businessman. He was one of the first person to start tea plantation in this area.
Located on top of a hill, separate from the busy downtown of Nuwara Eliya, this hotel was truly an quiet relaxing place with vintage English architecture and beautiful garden, The room was spacious and well decorated. Food was delicious.
Traveled in Apr, 2018
Read my other articles about Sri Lanka
The itinerary of 18 days solo in Sri Lanka
Polonnaruwa – Top 5 impressive sights in ancient city
Sigiriya & Pidurangula – Climb the mountains in Golden triangle region