EMAIL: Ayubovan from Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya Travel Blog

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Hi everyone

We're writing from the tea-growing hill country of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. So far we've passed through Singapore uneventfully and taken in some of the historical attractions of Sri Lanka.

As there are some of you who are pondering travelling through Singapore, let's clear the air about the SARS situation there. Life is definitely going on normally, with no one wearing masks, and business / foodcourts doing a roaring trade (as usual). For people who live in the suburbs of the city state (or overseas) it is easy to think, from watching international news clips that the city has been struck down by a disease which spreads like wildfire ... but in fact most instances have been caught by medical staff.

Mass quarantines of over a thousand people are just precautionary ... it is the Singapore government's style. Food-handling staff, government officers etc undergo temperature checks several times a day, and wear tags that say "I am fine today" to attest their safety! All in keeping with strict controls on the population, eg. getting fined for each mosquito larvae you harbour on your property (eg. gutters).

I suppose that all goes towards the building of a great nation, beyond the wildest dreams of the country's founder Sang Nila Utama (or as Anglophiles would claim, Sir Stamford Raffles).

Sri Lanka is quite different from India. Far clearner and greener ... we haven't seen litter stacked hip high yet. We started off exploring what's called the "Cultural Triangle" in the central north of the island. Highlight was Sigiriya, which is a rock fortress built some 1500 years ago on a monolith like Ayers Rock. Complete with swimming pools on the top.

Also in the Cultural Triangle is Polonnaruwa, a historic Buddhist city with many temples and monasteries. Somewhat like Angkor Wat in Cambodia but not to the same scale. The smaller scale is made up though, by its proximity to ginormous artificial lakes ... nearly 20 km long or bigger than Colombo Harbour itself. Remember, this was built over 1000 years ago!

From the Cultural Triangle, we moved south and ascended to Kandy where we visited the gold-roofed Temple of the Tooth Relic where one of Buddha's teeth is kept in a casket. Once a year, this is paraded around town on an elephant bejewelled with gold and gems, plus lots of gawdy flashing lights. Pity we couldn't plan to be here for that as it happens in August usually. The New Zealand cricket was in Kandy at the same time, as our cricket-mad driver was telling us. Apparently, their performance wasn't anything to be proud of.

Today, we drove through hours of tea plantations and learnt how tea is grown, plucked and processed. Contrary to the New Zealand fallacy, tea bags are not made from sweepings of the factory floor. It is indeed made from the finer younger leaves like other good teas, with the most flavour. The cheap stuff mainly consists of the veins of the leaves and stalks. And did you know that Japanese and Chinese teas are made from the same leaves, but only processed differently ... eg. sun-dried and unfermented.

We're very lucky to have a good driver and near-new car for the trip around the country. Distances between sights are large. Combined with the heat, humidity, crowds and grime, it seems to be right decision. Not sure how we handled it in India before.

Roads are hazardous. Within a few minutes of being picked up on our first day, the car was a metre from being demolished by a falling jackfruit (a hard fruit the size of a watermelon). Then there's wild elephants (with fresh dung as warning, in lumps too high to drive over) and the crazy traffic of course.

Sri Lanka has had its shares of problems in the recent past due to the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the government. Less than two years ago the international airport was bombed destroying much of the award-winning international airline's fleet. Where we are now, in Nuwara Eliya, is an area which comprises a mix of Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. Signs of the tension are not visible to our untrained eyes, but who knows ...

Some interesting snippets of the "relationship" with India ... our guide referred to the two varieties of elephants as African and (after a long pause), Asian ... whereas we'd generally call them Indian! Schweppes Indian Tonic Water is simply labelled as Tonic Water.

Muslims are a recognisable minority here. Today, we witnessed the most bizzare sight with a school band (completely with veiled girl students), marching on the streets playing "Oh when the saints go marching in".

The hotels here have been great, all provided on a "half-board" basis, meaning breakfast and dinner. We're overdoing the food a bit. The favourite hotel so far was in Giritale in the Cultural Triangle, overlooking one of the artificial lakes. If you didn't look at anything too closely, it could have been something from Conde Naste ... all very arty. In fact, I'm practicing using the camera to create photos that look that way. Maybe I'll do real estate shots for a living when I come home and am jobless!

Tomorrow, we'll head back to Colombo via the location where "Bridge on the River Kwai" was shot. Look forward to staying at the Galle Face Hotel there, which in picture shares the same colonial charm as Raffles in Singapore. One sleep there and we'll be off to Dubai to continue our adventures in the Middle East. Look forward to telling you about that next.

Alex Chan & Kimball Gaitely


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Nuwara Eliya
photo by: halilee