On Thursday, October 2nd, Uncle Steve, Auntie Susan, Rebecca, and I checked out of the Arika Hotel in Dambulla and started our journey to Kandy. Our first stop was breakfast at the famous Heritance Kandalama Hotel which is built into a natural rocky outcrop overlooking the Kandalama Reservoir. After breaky, we drove to the ancient Hindu ruins of Nalanda Gedige, stopped at the Spice Gardens, and then the Aluvihare Rock Temple, a picturesque cave temple with a beautiful view from the rocky stupa above. We were quite taken by the depictions of the nasty afterlife that awaits those sinners out there. Our last stop of the day was in the city of Matale, where we visited one of the island’s largest Hindu Temples, Sri Muthumariamman Thevasthanam. We arrived in Kandy before dusk and found the historic Queen’s Hotel where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. This Colonial era hotel is located in the very centre of Kandy across from the Temple of the Tooth and is over 160 years old. Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and was where the last king of Sri Lanka surrendered to the British in 1815.
The next morning, we spent a few hours exploring the Royal Botanical Gardens, which has over 4000 species covering 147 acres. For lunch, we tried Lamprais, a Dutch influenced rice and curry which is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. From there, we visited a batik clothing shop and a large handicraft market. We went to bed early that evening to get some rest for our early morning wake-up call.
On Saturday, we rose very early to attend the 5:30 am puja (offerings or prayers) at the Temple of the Tooth. The temple houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of The Buddha. We lined up prior to the gates opening and then queued again inside. Most people were wearing all white and carrying food and flowers for offerings. We quickly passed the guarded room where the tooth is housed however it is protected under a golden casket shaped like a stupa. There was traditional music from the horanawa and drums and chanting throughout the temple. We spent a couple hours wandering around the rest of the impressive temple grounds. It was a magical experience for all of us.
After breakfast, Uncle Steve and Auntie Susan went shopping around the hotel, Rebecca relaxed by the pool and I walked around Kandy Lake and up to a view point overlooking the Lake. That afternoon, Jagath took us to his home just outside Kandy to meet his family. His wife prepared a wonderful meal and we stayed a while to visit. That evening, we attended a traditional dance performance at the Kandyan Arts and Crafts Association. It was raining when we left the theatre so we found a pub to duck into and watch the rain from the balcony.
The next morning, we started our uphill drive to Nuwara Eliya in Hill Country. Nuwara Eliya is 1868 m above sea level and is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. As we drove into the hilly countryside, we soon found ourselves surrounded by row after row of tea bushes and dramatic waterfalls. We stopped at the very scenic Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Plantation, toured the working factory, and then sampled some tea and cake.
We passed through Nuwara Eliya and continued to Kandapola until we arrived at the Heritance Tea Factory on the Heathersett Estate. This hotel was converted from a run-down 60 year old tea factory and sits 2070 metres above sea level in prime tea country. Upon check-in, we were offered an upgrade to a shared suite on the top floor. After seeing the view from the room we were sold!
On Monday, we went on a guided nature tour of the nearby village, surrounding natural jungle, and through the tea fields. Along the way, we spotted a herd of wild buffalo in the forest. That afternoon, the ladies dressed in saris and the men in sarongs and we set out to pluck our own tea which was followed by a tea tasting. We only plucked for about 30 minutes but it gives you an appreciation of the hard work those ladies do each day. That evening, we had a tea inspired cocktail before boarding the Railway Carriage Restaurant, or TCK 6685. This third-class carriage of the Udapussellawa narrow-gauge railway line that used to transport tea but closed down in 1950, has been converted to a fine-dining restaurant.
On Tuesday, we would start our journey back to Abu Dhabi. We saw a few sights in Nuwara Eliya before getting dropped off at the Nanu Oya train station. The 3 hour ride through tea country to Kandy was very scenic and fun. We got picked up from Kandy and drove to the seaside city of Negombo to enjoy our last Lion Lager and seafood dinner on the beach. There were many locals out enjoying the beach to celebrate the holiday of Eid al Adha. Jagath took us to the airport where we said our goodbyes and turned tail for Abu Dhabi. It was a true travel day with trains, planes, and automobiles.
Back in Abu Dhabi, Rebecca and I had to report in for duty on Wednesday and Thursday, so Uncle Steve and Auntie Sue took the opportunity to relax and unwind from their 5 week foray in Sri Lanka. They also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and did a little shopping at Marina Mall. On Friday, we made a detour on our way to Dubai to get out into the desert. We saw a camel farm and took some time to traipse across a sand dune or two. In Dubai, we visited the Dubai Mall and saw the Burj Khailfa from below. We also saw the Old Souk on Dubai Creek, drove on the Palm Jumeirah Island, and passed through Dubai Marina before heading home. That night, we had a nice dinner at home and celebrated Uncle Steve’s birthday.
On Saturday morning, we went the airport to see Uncle Steve and Auntie Susan off. We really enjoyed traveling with Uncle Steve and Auntie Susan and having them in our home. It means a lot to us that they’ve come to visit us both in Albania and Abu Dhabi. “Everything was awesome!”