Nuwara Eliya and Nilambe

Last weekend we piled into the vans and made our way through the mountains to the “roof of Sri Lanka” : Nuwara Eliya. Known as “Little England,” this part of the country is virtually a different world compared to the other parts I’ve seen of Sri Lanka. The cooler climate and green, lush landscape really was like England, but the hills dotted with small colorful houses with clotheslines and sporadic tea pickers added the essential Sri Lankan element. This area is famous for its tea plantations, formerly owned by British companies during the colonial era, spanning over the vast, rolling landscape. Later in the day we visited the tea factory of Labookellie to see just how extensive the export of tea was in this area. It really is the heart and soul of the economy in Nuwara Eliya, as well as the society and culture.

Hills full of tea!

My favorite part was learning about the Indian Tamil community that works on the plantations as tea pickers. During the colonial era, their ancestors were actually brought from Southern India to work on the plantations because willingness to work as a tea picker was so scarce within the country. It was considered very low-status, and thus laborers were difficult to come across. The Indian Tamils continue to be the primary workers on the estates, not really associated with the Jaffna Tamils up north or the Sinhalese majority, which ethnically isolates them to a certain degree. Although the conditions they live in are largely regarded as “godak duppat” (very poor) the community was very welcoming during the brief period we had to visit them. If all goes according to plan, I will actually work with this community at a school to study the education on tea plantations for my independent study.

Some families who work on the tea plantations

The next day at Nuwara Eliya was devoted more to the environmental beauty and biodiversity of the area with a hike at Horton Plains. Even the drive there was breathtaking, with a quick detour due to a herd of cows taking up the entire road. I started off the day by actually being cold, despite the fleece I was wearing. It was really bizarre going from constantly sweating due to the heat and humidity to requesting an extra blanket at my hotel, but I loved it. On our hike we saw Baker’s Falls, a large waterfall, and World’s End which is supposed to be an amazing view of the area and the remnants of the colonial charm of Nuwara Eliya. Unfortunately for us, we were in the middle of a cloud and literally could only see white at World’s End. It actually was pretty hilarious, how anti-climactic it was. It is really stunning, though, how you can actually watch the clouds creep around a neighboring hill and literally engulf you. Lucky for us, the cloud vanished a bit for us to get a short glimpse of the view.

The “Cloud Forest” in Nuwara Eliya

On Sunday, after returning from Nuwara Eliya, we went to Nilambe Meditation Center for our Buddhism class. The actual center is literally on the top of a mountain, so it was a little frightening as our dilapidated van chugged its way up the narrow roads. When it finally made it to the top, the views were gorgeous! The actual meditation was limited, since most of us are beginners, and was led by a Buddhist monk originally from Holland. It was really interesting talking with someone who was so spiritually invested in Theravada Buddhism from Europe, since he was not brought up in that religious context. The perspective he gave on certain meditative values was very insightful and I appreciated the different angle he took to explaining things. Although I was pretty awful at the actual meditation and kept squirming around, I really enjoyed the experience. After we meditated, some of us went on a short hike. I did not come prepared with the proper footwear and had my fair share of leeches, which was disgusting, but otherwise thought the hike was awesome. One meal and one torrential downpour later, we made our way back to Kandy. Tomorrow we’re headed to Galle and the southern coast, and I can’t wait to see the ocean!

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