Nuwara Eliya is a central highland city in Sri Lanka, with a picturesque setting and a temperate climate. Its Sinhalese name means “the city of light”. Sir Samuel Baker founded Nuwara Eliya. He was a colonial explorer who discovered Lake Albert in addition to exploring the Nile.
Soon after its finding, the city of Nuwara Eliya became a favourite of the British civil servants and colonial planters, mainly because of its cool temperate climate. In winter months, morning frost is common and the rains hammer down constantly. Noticing how similar the vegetation and climate was to some parts of England, they nicknamed it “Little England”. To add to the effect, fir trees were introduced to Nuwara Eliya’s rolling hills, which can be seen to this day. English, Scottish and Irish made up the bulk of its visitors and carried with them practices such as fox, deer and elephant hunting, polo, golf, horseracing and cricket. Except for hunting, all of these colonial pastimes are still continued by the local tenants at Nuwara Eliya. Many of the buildings such as Queen’s cottage, General post office, Grand hotel, General’s house, Hill club, St Andrew’s hotel and Farr inn retains their original British architecture and gardens. Many new additions also have taken care to mimic the colonial style to secure an effect. Many private houses still maintain English style lawns and gardens as well. The Nuwara Eliya golf course, Victoria park, Lake Gregory, Horton Plains national park, Hakgala botanical garden and Galway’s land national park are must visit places in and around Nuwara Eliya.
Another colonial remnant of Nuwara Eliya is Ceylon tea. To this day the tea plantations at Nuwara Eliya are one of the most important locations for the production of Ceylon tea. At an elevation of 1868 metres above sea level and an annual temperature of 160C, tea produced at Nuwara Eliya retains a distinctive taste. This is sometimes referred to as the highland taste. Many tea factories, dating back to colonial times dot the panoramic views of Nuwara Eliya tea plantations.
Set at an altitude of , Nuwara Eliya is the leading district of tea production in Sri Lanka. All of the different stages of black tea processing, from planting to a well brewed cuppa, can easily be observed at Nuwara Eliya. It is the land of Ceylon tea! As a brand, Ceylon tea has long been the leading tea product in the world for almost a century now. This is mostly because of the delicate taste burned into the leaves by the so called “old way”. Sri Lankan tea cultivators still maintain the orthodox method of black tea production. Despite the orthodox tea processing being slow and labour intensive, it paves way to a set of brews that can not be reached otherwise. The Nuwara Eliya tea planters are known to famously say that “Good tea can not be hurried!”. The main stages of black tea processing that can be seen at Nuwara Eliya are Plucking, Weighing, Withering, Rolling, Oxidation, Drying, Grading, and Packing. Nuwara Eliya tea will leave your taste buds refreshed.
Horton Plains national park
Horton Plains national park is the highest plateau in Sri Lanka. It marks the southern boundary of the central highlands. The landscape of Horton plains is very different from the preconceived image of a tropical highland. The park views are dominated by panoramic rolling grass plains, with occasional peaks topped by patches of montane forests, which are blanketed by mists. The weather is not warm at all and rain is frequent. Everything is dewy, moist and muddy. Every now and then, winds reach gale force, giving Horton plains a poetic beauty, usually seen only at bleak Scottish wildernesses. Nonetheless, it is very tropical. Most of its flora and fauna are endemic to Sri Lanka. Some of its forest cover receives relict status, which makes it a treasure trove of biological history. 199 out of 353 vascular plants found at the plains are endemic. The critically endangered “Horton plains red slender Loris” is only found in this park, as the name suggests. Even the commonly found langur monkeys are identified as a unique sub highland subspecies, commonly known as the “bear monkey”. Among many unique wildlife, Dusky stripped squirrel, giant squirrel, brown mongoose, rhino-horned lizard, pygmy lizard and the black cheeked lizard are a few. The park has a healthy population of sambar deers frequently spotted grazing. It is also one of the few national parks in Sri Lanka where no vehicles are allowed inside. Instead, the visitors walk along a set of foot trails that lead to various areas inside the parklands. The most popular and the easiest foot trail is called the world’s end – baker’s falls round trail. Along this trail are the popular world’s end escarpment (884 metres), Baker’s falls, small world’s end and chimney pool. The Horton plains national park hosts a unique eco-system and was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2010.
Galway’s land national park
Galway’s land national park is a small patch of forest near Nuwara Eliya town. It is a great place for bird watching and relaxing nature walks. Galway’s land is one of the main bird watching sites in Nuwara Eliya, along with Hakgala botanical garden and Victoria Park. This national park is an important micro site for bird watchers. Usually, it is an optional visit to maximize the chances of completing a Sri Lankan montane birds list. Galway’s land is criss-crossed with beautiful trails that weave around the park, which is only 27 hectares. Only a few visitors enter the park on a normal day and it is a very tranquil experience to walk around Galway’s land at your own pace. There are no jeep tracks inside the park for safaris.
Kande Ela Nature Trail
Kande Ela is a small nature trail managed by the forest department. It is 10 km away from Nuwara Eliya and is a good nature trail for amateur bird watchers. Other species seen frequently at Kande Ela are the Bear monkeys, Pigmy lizard and Rhino horned lizard. On another note, Kande Ela reservoir records the highest altitude of a manmade reservoir in Sri Lanka. Kande Ela forest lodge can be booked for a quiet little stay in the middle of nowhere as well.
Ambewela is a tiny hill station usually neglected en route to Horton plains national park. Its 17 km away from Nuwara Eliya town and is the site where the first milk powder factory of Sri Lanka was set up at. Pastures for cattle and other farm animals extend far along rolling plains around Ambewela, which are noted along the way to Horton plains. There are two animal husbandries, which have introduced high yielding European cattle breeds including Ayrshire cattle and Friesian cattle. Rabbits, cows, bulls, goats, pigs, vegetable patches, cheese processing units, are common scenery inside the “New Zealand farm” at Ambewela. The largest pastures of Sri Lanka belong to this farm.
Hakgala botanical garden is the second largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka. It is located 16 km away from Nuwara Eliya and is one of 5 such botanical gardens in Sri Lanka. Hakgala botanical garden continues as a wilderness into the adjoining Hakgala strict nature reserve. The garden was established in 1884. Before that the land was used as an experimental commercial crop plantation.
The area is popular in Hindu mythology as a Himalayan piece of rock fallen from the skies during the battle of Hanuman in Lanka.
Hakgala is 1645 metres above sea level and has a cool temperate climate, with the coolest season from December to February. The garden is famous for orchids and roses and April is known as the blooming season when the Hakgala becomes an explosion of colours. As of now, Hakgala botanical garden is home to more than 10000 plant species.