We're Not in Kandy Anymore: 19 March 2024

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

The morning began in Kandy before the dawn as Michael and Kyle headed downstairs to have an early breakfast.

The hotel we were staying at was situated in a beautiful garden with the Sri Lankan mountains all around. The hotel owners also kept a home on the property, and breakfast was to be served at their dining room table.

As we ate our eggs on toast and drank our orange juice and coffee, the hotel owner Mr. Upul sat down with us for a chat. It turns out that his daughter is currently studying her PhD at Harvard, so he and Kyle (who also lives in Boston) exchanged contact information with the promise that he would look Kyle up the next time he and his wife make their annual visit to Beantown.

Mr. Upul then asked us about our travel plans. We told him that we were on our way to Nuwara Eliya to meet our mother, and he very kindly took time to write us a list of must-see attractions between Kandy and there.

After breakfast we said goodbye with the genuine and very likely wishes to meet one another again.

Michael had done most of the driving yesterday, but Kyle was anxious to get behind the wheel as well. Michael helped push the little tuk-tuk up the steep hill out of the guesthouse, and Kyle managed to navigate through the stop-and-go traffic of Kandy Town without stalling out too many times.

Stalling out in gear is annoying. If the tuk-tuk stalls while not in neutral, the gears will get stuck, and the passenger will have to hop out of the tuk-tuk to give the car a push while the driver pulls the crankshaft and jiggles the handlebars until the gearbox slips back into neutral.

The first twenty minutes or so getting out of Kandy were rough, but Kyle was able to handle the stop and go traffic, busses, motorbikes, whistling traffic cops, and kids running across the road with reckless abandon with only a handful of mid-intersection stall outs. 

Soon, we were zipping through the verdant Sri Lankan countryside with a full tank of petrol, the wind in our hair, and an air of excitement filling our hearts. Driving the tuk-tuk is so much fun! It's super finicky and absurdly underpowered, but it keeps chugging away. Our little 'shaw hasn't let us down yet!

It's only our third day on the road, but we both agree that signing up for the Rickshaw Run has been one of the greatest decisions we've made. This is what it's all about - having an adventure with the freedom of the open road in a land so far away from home.

We cleared the city in decent time, although by the time we had gotten out of the morning rush, it was almost time to take a break to rest the tuk-tuk's engine. We are trying to be very gentle with our little rickshaw, and we have been doing our best to stick to the 45-minute rule as much as possible.

After some time, we pulled over in front of a small, quiet Buddhist temple far out in rural Sri Lanka.

Kyle, who had drunk far too many cups of hot Ceylon tea with breakfast, was desperate for a bathroom break. He managed to track down a young monk and ask if we could please use their washroom (in Sri Lanka, the word "washroom" is preferred to "toilet" or "restroom").

Even though we worked to learn some basic Sinhala words before arriving, we've had absolutely no issue communicating in English. Even in the most rural and remote parts of the country, everyone we've met has been able to converse fluently in English - most likely due to the 157-year British rule over the island.

The washroom was very small and far from luxurious, but it served its purpose. Kyle was especially fascinated to note the many spiders who had made a home there. 

As Buddhism preaches non-violence and the sanctity of all life, we figure that the monks must have a sort of live-and-let-live relationship with their washroom spider friends.

Back on the road, we fired up the tuk-tuk, and rattled and sputtered onward.

It was a hot, humid day, and the hot tropical sun beat down on us as we slowly made our way up the narrow, winding mountain roads, steadily climbing higher and higher. As the hours passed, the tropics gave way to a hilly Alpine landscape which really took us by surprise. This wasn't at all what we thought Sri Lanka would look like.

We kept driving higher and higher into the mountains. As we gained altitude, the landscape kept changing. At one point, we even drove through a pine forest!

We took a stop for a cup of tea at a small roadside teahouse. A cup of tea out here in rural Sri Lanka costs around 100 rupees (about $0.30).

Tea is the most important cash crop in all of Sri Lanka, but more than that, it's seen as a pillar of Sri Lankan culture, heritage, and identity. Despite the country's diminutive size, Sri Lanka is the world's 4th largest tea exporter, and Ceylon tea - with its iconic sword and lion logo - can be found in most countries around the world.

We had truly entered "tea country" now. Tea grows best in cooler, dryer climates at higher elevation, which is why tea plantations are usually found on steep hills in the highlands of tea-producing countries.

After driving on for a while, Kyle and Michael pulled in for a rest at the Rothschild Tea Estate in Pussellawa.

We parked our tuk-tuk and sat down at the on-site cafe for a cup of tea and a slice of delicious tea cake. The air had gotten cooler and dryer as we drove higher and higher into the mountains, and the day, which had begun sweltering and humid, had now become almost chilly.

The Rothschild Tea Estate - one of the oldest in the country - was established in 1839 by brothers Gabriel and Moritz de Worms, two sons of a branch of the wealthy Rothschild Family. They named the estate in honor of their grandfather, Mayer Amschel Rothschild.

Originally a coffee plantation, the brothers (nephews of the famous Baron Nathaniel Rothschild of Tring) were forced to switch to growing tea after the great Ceylon Coffee Blight of 1869, an event that quite possibly change British culture forever.

If Ceylon hadn't become the Empire's major tea-producing territory, it's quite possible that Britain may well have become a coffee-drinking culture.

Later, as we were getting hungry and the tuk-tuk needed a rest, we spontaneously pulled over at a small roadside restaurant overlooking the mountains.

The afternoon was cool, dry, and dusty. We sat down to order and the owner excitedly came out to meet us. He and his wife had recently opened this small restaurant and guesthouse, and he was very glad that we had stopped by. 

He recommended that we try the deviled pork - a Sri Lankan specialty and his favorite dish. Who are we to argue against such a strong recommendation?

A Sri Lankan deviled dish is a sweet, sour, and spicy dish where the meat is cooked with a little caramelization. The deviled pork was cooked with onion, tomato, banana leaves, and spices, and served with a plate of stir-fried noodles.

After lunch, the restaurant owner introduced us to his wife, an English woman who had moved to Sri Lanka to escape the cold Lancashire winters.

The road got steeper and steeper, and the tuk-tuk began struggling up the mountain roads and hairpin turns. We found ourselves stopping more frequently to prevent the tuk-tuk's little 4-stroke engine from overheating.

Every so often we would pull off to the side of the road to drink Coca-Cola, snack on rice crackers, and take a rest while the engine rested and cooled down.

We drove into Nuwara Eliya in midafternoon.

Called "The Little England of Sri Lanka", Nuwara Eliya was established as a British hill station retreat in the heart of old Ceylon. The country's highest town is famous for its cool, misty weather, Victorian-style gardens, and, of course, its tea.

A wrong turn in town found us parked outside of Holy Trinity Church while we checked our map. We knew that we most likely would never come by this way again, so we stopped the engine and took a walk through the churchyard to have a look at the beautiful old Anglican church.

The old English-style church was consecrated in 1852, and some of the memorials in the churchyard date back centuries.

A large stained-glass window in the church memorializes the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1954, when they attended a Sunday morning service at the church.

As we were leaving, we had a brief chat with an older Sri Lankan couple who were at the church. One of their sons also lives in Boston, so Kyle exchanged contact information with them as well. It turns out that there is quite a large Sri Lankan community in Massachusetts!

We were getting close to our destination, and we turned up a steep, winding, dusty road out of Nuwara Eliya and towards our hotel. 

The town disappeared behind us, and we found that we were well and truly up in the mountains now. Driving was rough, and we often had to pull over scarily close to the cliff edge as busses, vans, and cars crept around our tuk-tuk as they made their way down the mountain in the opposite direction to us.

We got more than a few sideways glances as we sputtered and coughed up the final stretch of mountain road to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, a beautiful hotel in the Sri Lankan highlands located a scenic - yet extraordinarily difficult-to-access - 2 kilometers (more than a mile) above sea-level in the mountains of Nuwara Eliya.

As we shlepped our backpacks into the lobby of the grand hotel, staff hurried out to help us. Though they remained professional, they couldn't help but crack a smile at the ridiculous method of transportation we had shown up in. We may well have been the first guests to arrive at such a nice hotel driving our own tuk-tuk. Sweaty, dusty, and exhausted, we certainly made an impression!

The staff greeted us with a traditional Sri Lankan welcoming ceremony. One of the staff scooped a small serving of jaggery (Indian palm sugar), cardamom, salt, and other spices into our hand, which we ate in one delicious, sweet bite. He then placed a small dot of fragrant sandalwood paste on our foreheads with his finger.

Kim, who had been staying at the hotel for several days as she recovered from a bad sinus infection, came downstairs to join Michael and Kyle for a very welcome cup of hot tea as the front desk managed the check-in. She is finally feeling much better and is excited to continue the adventure!

After checking in, we took a walk around the beautiful hotel grounds. It's cold and windy up in the mountains, and Michael - who only carried one small backpack to Sri Lanka - was beginning to wish that he had packed a light jacket. 

The hotel's gardener came out to see us as we were exploring and offered to show us around the beautifully manicured English-style garden.

The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel is built inside an old tea factory surrounded by hills of rolling tea plantations. The hotel still maintains its own tea fields and on-site mini tea factory and produces its own tea exclusively to serve at the hotel.

After a much-needed shower to wash all of the dust off, Michael and Kyle enjoyed a cup of afternoon tea in their hotel room.

The hotel rooms don't have air conditioning... they really don't need it! They do, however, have a radiator which is certainly nice to have in the cold winter months! We really had no idea that Sri Lanka, located just a few hundred miles north of the equator, could ever get this cold!

As it's quite a nice hotel, the restaurant has a dress code. Since Michael and Kyle packed light, they didn't have long pants to wear. If guests don't have trousers, they are asked to wear sarongs. Luckily, Michael and Kyle have their own sarongs which they bought in Kandy. They don't know how to tie them properly, but the concierge very kindly helped them with that.

We will be staying one full day in Nuwara Eliya and driving on together towards Ella the day after tomorrow. Team Mama's Boys is together again, and we are ready to face whatever adventures Sri Lanka has in store for us! 

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