January 11, 2018

The city of lights

 

It’s the first day of the year, Friday. I am sipping thambili, the juice of king coconut, a yellow native variety of coconut, in an old English style lawn at an altitude of 1868 meters. Arranged around my table is a grand breakfast consisting of string hoppers, appa, coconut sambol and a sumptuous potato curry.

The air is intoxicatingly fresh laden with scents of wild mint and eucalyptus and hence, more than food I am trying to suck it in as much of it as possible. The majestic Pidurutalagala range, the highest in the Island I am in, from where the golden sun emerged a few minutes ago greets me with a wisdom smile. There is a nip in the air and the sky is pure blue in color.

No, I am not dreaming. I am actually savoring a perfect new year morning that I always longed for but seldom achieved. Every new year morning so far has seen me waking up puffy eyes and almost by noon, after a maddening and monotonous new year eve party at a loud disc. But this time I made it a point to bring a change and believe me, this has been my best so far. After a sober little party, last night followed by a sumptuous dinner, I woke up fresh in this hilly retreat to welcome the new year with new hope and a happy heart. And all thanks to this heavenly place Nuwara Eliya, fondly known as “Little England”, an old colonial hill station, in Srilanka.

 

I have a little list in front of me, but I am in no hurry. I have left the racer in me back at home and relaxation is my prime motto now. So, I pick my lens, take some shots and then start off towards my first destination of the day, that is Sita Temple. I am not a devout religious person, but being an Indian Hindu, starting my new year day, visiting a temple seemed a nice spiritualistic idea.

The chanting of the priest in Tamil made me feel I am back in India. Behind the ornately carved temple of Sita ran a clear stream from where I was shown a rock where Sita, wife of king Rama sat and prayed while she was in captive by Ravana, king of Srilanka. There were also footprints of Hanuman, who came to rescue mother Sita. Standing there as I recollected the chapters of the epic Ramayana once narrated to me by my grandfather, I felt goosebumps all over me. But a bunch of naughty but cute monkeys there made sure that I return to this era soon.

After such an enchanting morning, I decided to spend the rest of the day walking around the emerald valley. I got myself dropped at the Holy Trinity church, at church road as I felt browsing through the town on foot to be the best option.

The white single storey church, that once catered to the spiritual needs of British planters and the colonial establishment in the remote hill-station at the heart of Ceylon, stood silently opposite some gravestones of its parishioners in a tidy graveyard adorned by tall cypress trees. Each mossed and lichened headstone had a story of them etched deep. It’s interesting to walk through the graveyard and see the names of the people buried there, looking at where they were born and thinking of the lives they had that led them to Nuwara Eliya. A local person told me a story of the ghost of a duke whose grave is larger than others, and how he used to whistle & try to seduce any single ladies in the evening. I looked at him, gave a wide green and rushed to the church, taking a never to return vow.

As I stepped inside the oak roofed Anglican church, a melodious sound took me by surprise. I looked around the typical colonial Anglican church with wooden pews and elaborately carved wooden pulpit to find the music coming from an array of steel pipes above a piano played by a clergyman.

“This a century-old pipe organ. There is only three such in Sri Lanka” The generous and friendly Vicar of the church who later gave me a tour around, told me proudly. I was amazed to see it in perfect working condition. This is one of the three churches that has a pipe organ in Sri Lanka. The other two being St. Paul’s Church, Kandy & the Scots Kirk Church, Colombo. But the two most precious possession of the church were the two paintings. One is done to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the church and another one is done for the visit of Queen Elizabeth.

My next stop was a Tudor revival architectural building, the post office of Nuwara Eliya. The red brick building with conical clock tower and central dormer is so very English and gives the hill city an old world, English village charm. I realized that in an era where many Britons had to settle here forever, this place gave them a home away from home feeling. Developed to be the sanatorium for convalescing British soldiers and civilians, “Nuwara Eliya” that means the city of lights, soon become a premier refuge for the Britons away from the tropical heat of Colombo.

I walked down to the Racecourse ground clicking pictures like a freak. Each frame had the true essence of this hillside paradise. The 117-year-old, 18-hole golf course is no doubt a fabulous experience in itself to play at. While playing at the course that is surrounded by the city from all sides and carpeted with Blue and Buffalo grass, you sometimes might need to cross the road on more than one occasion to reach the next bunch of holes. But, it’s worth it, said a regular Srilanka golfer. The fir lined course situated at 1890 meters above sea level starts from one corner of the town and is surrounded by the forested hill. The course is one of the most naturally scenic in the world.

Picnic tables, a small restaurant, and swan-shaped pedal boats bobbing up and down the Gregory lake is quite a welcoming scene after a long walk. The man-made lake, originally created to generate the electricity for the rapidly growing city from the stream of Thalgala from Piduruthalagala Mountain Ranges, is a great place to be in. Enjoying the mountain fresh hair with gleaming warm sun across the clear blue waters, the lush green mountains in the background you can sip Ceylon tea and relax and plan your next trip here once again.

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