I have been on several world tours but never to Sri Lanka. The fact that it is a neighboring country, I never took this island country seriously. But all my preconceived notions about this gem of a tourist destination changed in a dramatic turn of events. Last year when I took a sabbatical and came home for my annual holidays at my native place in Bengal, my sister-in-law was desperate to go on a tea-holiday to the island country.
At first I was surprised by her choice. When it comes to tea-holidays, India comes first in the list of tea-holiday destinations – Assam, Darjeeling and pockets of South India for instance. But my sister-in-law had done all the hard work – collecting information on tea estates in Sri Lanka from one her colleague who went on one such holiday to the island country, just a few months back. She had collected reams of information from her friend and came armed with brochures, folders and leaflets related to the island country’s tourist sites, thereby making my task easy.
We checked in at Ella Resort after an exhilarating 5 hours drive from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. The resort comprises of chalets that are nicely tucked within the tea plantation area, thereby offering guests with breathtaking views of the tea estate. The chalets are so thoughtfully arranged that anyone craving for seclusion will find the resort set up to be absolutely at-par with his/her expectations. No wonder, Ella Resort has evolved as Sri Lanka’s numero uno honeymoon destination.
I personally have tea-history written on my shoulders – my grandparents, my mom and dad were all born in Tea Estates of Assam. So, out here in Sri Lanka, an unfamiliar place for me, but when it comes to appreciating the tea-culture, I am spot on. The manner in which Ella Resort has beautifully redefined the century’s old Tea-culture of Sri Lanka is nothing short of being termed as – outstanding. This is one sterling example of the spirit of tea being promoted at the discerning global travellers platform who are constantly on the lookout for niche holiday options.
My cab driver was spot on when he said:
Gone are the days of hotel-sightseeing & back-to-the-hotel stuff that tourists were so used to. Instead of being guests of centrally located star hotels, they are now being offered a chance to be guests of colonial tea garden bungalows in one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful regions.
And how right he was!
Here in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country - replete with undulating hills, Victorian tea garden bungalows, fairy tale scenes of women pluckers meticulously plucking the freshest leaves from the bushes and what have you! Being born and brought up in the Indian state of Assam, which is equally renowned for its tea, I was a touch emotional as I explored Sri Lanka’s tea country out here in Bandarawela region.
A paradise like setting replete with early morning mist, thrilling birdsongs and rolling verdant hills – premium products in today’s jet-set era is in abundance at Ella plantation resort. A leisurely trip to the tea estate – a walk that lasted for an hour and a half with the guide followed by a session of tea tasting at the factory was enough to rejuvenate my senses. Here in this part of the woods, it’s a fascinating story that begins at the bush and ends in your cup!
We decided to embark on a 4x4 drive that would take us outside of the Resort setup. No trip to Sri Lanka is ever complete without a visit to Nuwara Eliya, which in the quintessential touristy parlance is referred to as the “Queen of Hill Resorts”. This stunningly picturesque hill resort is a British discovery and is perched at 1900 meters above sea level. It is much like Ooty in South India. Here the nights are chilly, while in the daytime the weather remains pleasant.
Onward we moved, this time to Hakgala Botanical Gardens, renowned for its sub-tropical plants and an incredible variety of rose gardens. As the cab swiveled to the left and took an upward hill road leading all the way to the extreme Southwest of Nuwara Eliya, the breathtaking sight of the surrounding countryside from atop Adam’s Peak made for a truly ethereal spectacle.
We also made a trip to Victoria Park and it left me completely dazed… the sheer variety of flowers on full bloom made for a truly kaleidoscopic vignette.
On our drive back to Ella resort, we indulged in light snacks and a steaming cuppa “Ceylon Tea” at a roadside restaurant and began our journey back to the Hill Country and I must tell you, that the drive was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever encountered in my 48 years of existence.
As the cab glided past picturesque valleys, mountains and meadows, the cab driver started giving a running commentary in his heavily accented Sinhalese English about the history of the “Hill Country”. From whatever little I could understand from his conversation, Nuwara Eliya was discovered by a British officer by the name of Major John Davy way back in the year 1819 and it took another decade for Nuwara Eliya region to blossom as a commercial hub. With the commissioning of the hill road by the then British administration, this fabulous hill country served as the much preferred hill retreat for the colonial British rulers.
For a comprehensive body-mind-soul connect, a visit to Adisham Monastery is highly recommended. This monastery dates back all the way to 1931and in the days of yore used to serve as the country home of Sir Thomas Villiers. Most of the interiors are well preserved and since 1961, this peaceful abode is administered and run by the Benedectine monks.
The highpoint of the monastery is the quintessential Tudor style architecture, resembling a lot like the famed Leeds Castle (UK). Granite walls, signature turret windows and chimneys are the trademark of Adisham monastery. The roof is conspicuous by its Burma teak finish, so are the floors. The doors, windows, staircase and floors were also of Burma teak. The impeccably maintained lawns of Adisham Monastery is ideal to indulge in Ceylon tea and the bewildering variety of roses only adds up to a truly refreshing brush with the British tea planters. Make it a point to acquire the locally produced jams and fruit squashes.
Most visitors to Ella Resort prefer embarking on a wilderness trip to the outstanding Horton Plains National Park. The park’s dramatic plateau-like topography, which is all 20 km happens to be the habitat of leopards, wild boars, bears and a variety of monkey populations. Horton Plains is much preferred by trekkers, particularly the trail that leads to World’s End. The scenery is breath-taking and if you have adrenalin gushing through your veins – trek on a little further and you will come across another delightful sight - Baker’s Fall. The Park authorities offer the services of trained naturalists and that ensures not just safety but also a peek into the amazing bio-diversity that Horton Plains holds.
Five days had already passed us by and on the penultimate evening as I sat in the company of my sister-in-law at Lipton's Seat – easily one of the highest vantage points in Sri Lanka’s hill country, one thing that kept me marvelling was the sheer ingenuity of the British mind, their love for tea and their penchant for nature-friendly pursuits.
Traveller’s Fact File
Most visitors to Ella, arrive at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, which is located at Katunayake, 18 miles from Colombo city centre. Flights are available to most Asian destinations including Thailand, India, Malaysia and Singapore, from where transatlantic connections can be made, while there are also many flights offered to the Middle East and some to Europe. The resort authorities offer transportation to & from Colombo, which is located at a distance of 200 km. For high-end visitors, the option for helicopter rides is available (45 minutes).
As one of Sri Lanka’s most admired boutique hotels Ella offers a range of accommodation options - Grand Executive Suite, Greenland Suites and of course to pamper those love lorn couples – exquisitely designed Honeymoon Suites that come with custom-designed architecture offering uninterrupted views of the majestic Small Adam’s Peak mountain. Rooms are conspicuous by their timbre floors and tastefully done up furnishings.