Before tea was introduced to the island Pearl fishing was the mainstay of the islands economy. Georges Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers, first performed in Paris in 1863 is set in Ceylon.
In 1863 Sri Lanka then referred to as Ceylon was famous for Pearls. Tea came later. Before Tea the British tried Coffee. The entrepreneur James Taylor imported the first tea plants from Cathay in 1863. It was in 1863 that the Opera “the Pearl Fishers” by Georges Bizet set in Sri Lanka was first performed in Paris.
An “opera seria” was being enacted in the hill country of the British colony. The central hills were then being cleared for tea plantations.
Despite the rapacious advance of colonial commercial exploitation, the largest and the least disturbed remaining areas of the montane rain forests of Sri Lanka are a treasure trove of nature. It is regarded as a global super hot spot for conservation.
The carpets of thick emerald green tea bushes that cover the mountain slopes are the reason for the paved roads that wind their way up to Nuwaraeliya, the convenient base for your discovery of the hill country. The Nile explorer Samuel Baker who trekked through this pristine forests long before these paved roads writes “ – One fact I wish to impress upon all–that the colouring of every description is diminished and not exaggerated, the real scene being in all cases a picture, of which the narration is but a feeble copy.”
The exquisite perfection of nature that blended high peaks reaching to the clouds with Verdant Mountain slopes, cascading water falls and glittering streams was an irresistible lure to the British.
Discovered and developed as a hill sort for its collection of forests and meadows and the salubrious climate Nuwaraeliya became a quaintly cloned English village. The red roofed Post Office, the granite edifice of the Hill Club, an 18 hole Golf Course, A picturesque lake and a Race Course made it a surreal Surrey village with many famous attractions and hidden treasures which are away from the tourist beaten track. They await your discovery.
Nuwaraeliya is conveniently covered under the shadows of the tallest mountains of the island with all attractions of scenic beauty, adventure and curious conundrums of nature are within easy reach.. Hiking and Trekking are not possibilities. They are opportunities not to be missed. Nuwaraeliya is the convenient base to explore the curious conundrums of nature found in the central hills of Sri Lanka. It has a unique arrangement of plateaus, ridges intermontane basins and valleys. Its four montain ranges are Pidurutalagala2, 524-metre (8,281 ft) Krigalpoththa (2,388 m (7,835 ft) Thotupola Kanda 2357m 7,737ft) Adams peak (2,243 metres7,359 ft) Namunukula (2016-metres 6617ft) the Haputale ridge and Horton plains.
Horton plains are a plateau with a unique and fragile eco system located 2,150m above sea level. These tranquil grassy woodlands endlessly swept by crisp ,sharp , biting winds is home to endemic highland birds, leopards and Sāmbhar deer. Horton Plains covers a land area of 3,160 hectares (12.2 sq mi) . It contains the most extensive part of cloud forest in Sri Lanka. Considered the most prized watershed of the country it holds the headwaters of three major Sri Lankan rivers, the Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe. The plateau drops abruptly by 1650 meters at the “Worlds End” the only plausible description that fits the frightening abyss below, often covered by a mystic mist. On a clear day it offers a spectacular view that extends up to the distant Indian Ocean.
Ella is a small sedentary town. 50 kms from Nuwaraeliya. With its single street bazaar it is more than a village and less than a Town if not for its mesmerizing location. Its famous attraction is the Ella gap. It is best that you learn of it from one of its earliest admirers. Sit James Emerson Tennant Colonial Secretary 1845-1850. “Perhaps there is not a scene in the world which combines sublimity and beauty in a more extraordinary degree than that which is presented at the Pass of Ella, where, through an opening in the chain of mountains, the road descends rapidly to the lowlands, over which it is carried for upwards of seventy miles, to the south coast of the island“
The topography that he describes is a magnificent view that you will enjoy no end from the Ella Gap. You will gaze down on a vast amphitheatre that opens to the costal plains in the south while to the north you will see ridge after ridge and peak after peak. Ella has some of the most beautiful views, you could find in Sri Lanka. The places you could see in Ella are the Ella Gap, Ravana Ella Falls, Little Adam’s Peak and Bambaragala Peak. It offers great possibilities of Hiking, Trekking and Cycling with Crisp, cool and dry winds keeping you active and alert. You may be pleasantly surprised by an abrupt fog that may descend on you. It will leave as abruptly with the same disdain to, civility. The view from the Ella gap will have a lingering effect on you. You will know what it to see below with the wisdom of an eagle
Haputale is 44 Kms from Nuwaraeliya. The tiny town precariously perched on a Mountain ridge at an elevation of 1579 metres is ensconced in the southern end of the Central Highlands. It has justifiable repute for a climate that is both invigorating and restful. Its great attraction is that it offers an unimpeded view of the plains that extend to the coastal plains of the south and the east and the mountains to its north.It is hemmed in by the mountains of Horton plains, Hakgala and, Namunukula among several other peaks. Turn again and you have another breathtaking view of the foothills that extend to the Southern parts of the island right down to the sea. Under the cloud less sky of a bright day you may devour the sight of a pale blue border of the ocean. The terrain of Haputale tempts you to do many things – walking, hiking and trekking the in the surrounding hills.
Liptons seat is the high light of your wanderings with its magnificent view that was once the delight of Sir Thomas Lipton. It is the highest point of the mountain range, where the famous Tea planter of Ceylon, Sir Thomas Lipton used to admire & enjoy the panoramic view from the Fiefdom he built for himself at Haputale. Do not dally too long. You will miss your Tea and Tiffin if the mist sets in. Elle is a picturesque little town that you must visit that is only.
The base of this famous triangular shaped mountain could be reached from Nuwaraeliya in a leisurely drive in one and half hours. The sinuous trail to Adams peak sacred to four religions Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian is a journey past the 80m St.Clair falls, and 98m Devon falls and some of the best tea growing plantations. Buddhists believe that the large foot imprint in the shrine atop Adams peak was left by the Buddha. The Hindus worship it as that of Lord Shiva. The Moslems consider it to be that of Adam. The Christians think the foot print is that of St.Thomas the Apostle who prayed on top of this summit. To the physically fir it is an immensely gratifying experience best undertaken during the pilgrim season December to May. The ascent is best undertaken around 2 am to reach the summit before Sun Rise. The endless steps do end when you climb the 7260 feet with tired feet. You stand in solemn silence while watching the muted magnificence of the giant triangular shadow of the Peak falling on the dull dense forests of peaks, valleys and plains that extend to the shores of the island.
The sudden rush of rapture will quietly be replaced with the awesome realization of the mysteries of nature that attempts to replicate celestial eclipses here on earth. The shadow of the Mountain will gradually recede with the rising son in to its bosom. The Mountain Bell will toll signaling that another day has dawned while you were in communion with the heavens.
Nuwareliya gives you the best access to the nature trails to the Cloud Forests of Sri Lanka.
The easiest approach to Pidurutalagala the highest peak in Sri Lanka (2524m) in a foot path from Nuwaraeliya.
The path has been in use since the 19th century. Ernest Haeckel reached the peak on 16th February 1882 and Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper repeated the feat on 19TH September 1986. Although the mountain range extends north west up to Kandy, you have to be content with the forest reserve that is left on the slopes of Pidurutalagala up to Le Vallon tea plantation in Galaha. From the top of the rock Dotelagala you will have another fabulous view that will include the Victoria Reservoir past Kandy and Knuckles range beyond while closer to you lays Loolecondera plantation where Tea was first planted by James Taylor in 1863.
Namunukula at 2036m is a peak that stands in Isolation almost always taking refuge in clouds in the eastern part of the Uva basin that you say in eagle eye view earlier from atop Lipton’s seat at Haputale.
The recommended approach to this seemingly reluctant and elusive mountain terrain is through Spring Valley tea plantation. You have already seen the Namunukula mountain range from the Elle gap that is 19kms away. Before you reach the foot hills of the Mountain range with its nine peaks as its name implies you have a pleasant trek of 6kms through a maze of Rhododendrons and giant trees. Some extremely good primeval forest cover has been preserved on this range. As you climb the giant trees become stunted at about 3-5m forming a dense canopy. The peak it self is covered with shrub jungle allowing a panoramic view of the eastern and southern coasts of the island.
The other two trails to the Second highest peak Kirigalpoththa and the third highest Thotupola kanda begin from Horton plains.
The trek to Kirigalpoththa peak 2388m is undoubtedly the most attractive nature trail for both the curious armature and the disciplined naturalist. It takes about 4 hours and is not easy but absolutely possible. The trail leads to wet grass land, cloud forest and shrub jungle at its summit. A bewildering array of wild flowers will thrill you during the best months from February to April, for this tryst with true tropical nature that oozes out from natural springs of water that is the source of the Belihuloya and the Walawe River.
Thotupola kande 2.357m the third highest peak of Sri Lanka is easily reached by a foot path from Horton plains during February to April and from July to September. This trail allows you to in to the deepest recesses of a cloud forest with the least resistance. Although it the third highest peak the elevation gain is so gradual that the height you reach is only felt by the equally gradual sharpening of the bite of the winds that buffet you. The stunning view of the surrounding savannas and patches of dense forests is by all accounts is a rapturous rendezvous with mother earth. The primitive man worshiped mountain peaks for a good reason.