Most initial impressions of Sri Lanka are those of palm-lined beaches and azure seas. Nuwara Eliya stands as a mystic counterpoint to these primary notions. Stationed at a dizzying 6,000-odd feet above the Sri Lankan waters, Nuwara Eliya is simply the 'city on a plain'. This highland town was once a pleasure retreat for the English; their getaway during the scorching summers, amidst the lush green tea plantations. Indeed, Nuwara Eliya is called 'Little England' for good reason. First, the salubrious climate; second, the charm of the British-mimic structures; and three, the tea!
All along the winding road from Kandy, the drive to Nuwara Eliya offers rolling mists, cloud-swathed hills and gooseflesh inducing winds. One feels completely out of Asia, forget Sri Lanka, and transported into the European hinterlands. Nuwara Eliya is at once romantic, magical, peaceful and languorous. The tiny town's evenings drew me out of my cozy room for long strolls amidst conifer-lined walkways. The post office bears testimony to the charm of handwritten letters and postcards. Well, Nuwara Eliya is absolutely postcard perfect.
Here, it's hard to believe you're so close to home. Traipsing across a country that's three-and-a-half hours away, I actually felt transported to one that's enviably positioned in the temperate belt. From the scenic hill station of Kandy, I went higher up to Nuwara, post which I would head for the beaches of Galle. Sri Lanka sure gains points for a great holiday for us Indians, especially with the reign of peace there now.
The highlight of my trip to Nuwara was Horton Plains. Silent, un-worldly and even paranormal -- Horton Plains is an unimaginable and indelible experience. This is the highest plateau on the Lankan island. It's essentially a national park which consists of widespread grasslands, patches of densely wooded forests, streams and waterfalls.
Within this natural haven are housed some unusual wildlife (I spotted elk!), bird species like the Sri Lanka White-eye and rare high altitude vegetation. And amidst this natural abundance is a trekking trail that rewards those who submit to it with unforgettable treats. For ten kilometres, I walked on as if under a spell. The grasslands are an eternal playground for exhilarating winds, the narrow wooded trails draw you into nature's bosom and the streams along the way reveal the joy that rests within it.
The most stunning part of this trail is World's End, where the plains suddenly drop down to a good 1,000-odd metres. The precipice marks the end of the world, but it's just half the trek done. Do maintain some distance from the edge -- there's no fencing and the winds are rather robust! The rewards on the way continue with Baker's Falls, a scenic spot where a roaring waterfall provides cool, clear drinking water to trekkers, kids and a Buddhist monk. Indeed, paradise awaits one who spares a thought for Horton Plains.
All set to leave?
Getting there:Sri Lankan Airlines and Air India have regular flights to Colombo. Nuwara Eliya is about 180 km from Colombo and 76 km from Kandy. The Mumbai-Colombo- Mumbai airfare is Rs 16,000 (approx). Horton Plains can be reached by jeep from the main town of Nuwara Eliya.
Must dos:For those with a golfing passion, the 18-hole Nuwara Eliya golf course is a great experience. For a green fee of Rs 1,500 (Sri Lankan rupees), tee away amidst the clouds!
Bird-watching:The Victoria Park is a beautifully maintained space that is popular with bird-watchers in particular. Entry: 50 Sri Lankan rupees.