First Tea, World’s End Later

My best-friend and partner in crime visited me for a short time, and it was my sole mission to give her a crash course on Sri Lanka’s iconic places. Our first mission was set. A 6-hour train ride through mountains that would take us to the Land of Tea. She, being a tea lover, bought 12 boxes of Vintage Tea (my favourite too) about 4 hours after she landed in Colombo. So, a trip to Nuwara Eliya on her first day was more than fitting.

With first class tickets on the 5:55 am train to Nanu Oya booked, we were on our way to the station in total darkness. For the train ride, we had drinks packed, a whole bag of delicious Garrett’s Popcorn and two shawarmas that travelled 2,000 miles to end up in my stomach.

The train left Colombo Fort station at exactly 5:55 am and we were already impressed – impressed enough to sleep and wake up only when we were closer to Kandy, surrounded by misty mountains. It was a welcoming view to wake up to. With 3ish hours longer, we grabbed our snack bag and headed out of our AC cabin to sit in the doorway to inhale some of that fresh, nippy air.

We reached Nanu Oya by noon, hopped into a tuk from the station for rs.500 and were on our way to the hotel. We got dropped off at The Oatlands by Jetwing and only much later realised, we had booked The Cottage by Jetwing. Ha ha, silly us – pretty sure we woke up the staff too! We were shown a shortcut through Jetwing St. Andrews hotel, to get to The Cottage. It was a short walk and the cold weather was a relief from Colombo’s humidity.

At The Cottage, we were served a small cup of warm cream of mushroom soup – and oh boy, it was the best, wish they served a bigger bowl though. After settling into our suite, we walked over to Jetwing St. Andrews for some high tea in the garden (something the bestie and I had always wanted to do since school!).

High Tea in Nuwara Eliya

After finding the perfect spot, it took a while for the high tea to be served, but once it did, our table was stacked with high tea trays and two pots of tea.

To digest a little after high tea, we walked to the iconic post office, sent some postcards to friends and family and to ourselves, took a few pictures and headed to Lake Gregory for the evening. After paying the entrance fees, we walked along the manicured lawns, took into the stunning views of mountain silhouettes and gloomy skies, passed a couple of dogs sitting completely motionless on the lawn, except for one who was shivering with the cold.

The entire evening was spent debating whether we should check out Horton Plains the next day and catch the 2:45 pm train or whether we should just relax and walk around town. After much confusion, we finally decided to visit Horton Plains. We booked train tickets via Dialog – did not have a great experience there! When we requested for an e-mail confirmation, after not getting our ticket reference codes initially for the ride to Nanu Oya, the rep just refused to send us the code via e-mail. Dialog even charges rs. 500 service fees just for this FYI! After a long call of arguing with them to send us the code via e-mail, they finally agreed.

We got back to town around 7 pm and got some local food for dinner and beers + apple juice for the night. After dining in the suite, the rest of the night was spent playing Scrabble (from the hotel) and Cards Against Humanity. We called it a night around 10 pm, determined to wake up at 4 am for our adventure the next day!

St. Andrews sent their driver to pick us at a cost of Rs. 5,000 for the day, which was quite inexpensive. The driver arrived at 5:30 am on the dot, with breakfast packed and ready to go. Chicken sandwiches, a box of milk, a banana and a muffin were packed in our cardboard boxes. An hour later, we were at the entrance gates buying tickets. Here’s the worst part. Local fees to enter the park are less than rs. 100, while foreigner fees are rs. 2000 – not including a ridiculous tax and service fee. We got 3 local tickets and then were told to get a separate ticket for the driver and the van – another separate tax and service fee were added as we had to buy the drivers ticket again.

Was it worth hiking to World’s End?

First off, we tried to get my bestie through the local ticket, which didn’t work… and we ended up paying for the foreigner fee + service and tax for the third time! It’s absolutely ridiculous that they charge such high foreigner fees that are incredibly higher than the local fees. I wonder what the park would do, if all foreigners decide to boycott places that do this. Best part is, you don’t even get a pretty ticket to keep as a souvenir; its just a printed receipt. If foreigners were given an additional service, such as brochures or booklets about Horton Plains, this fee can be justified, but it’s not.

Horton Plains is 2,100 metres above sea level and is home to the 2nd and 3rd highest peaks on the island, Kirigalpoththa and Totupolakanda. It’s approximately 32 kilometres from Nuwara Eliya town. Horton Plains National Park is a protected area, so be careful not to litter or take anything home with you from the park, except memories and your trash. The main trail will take you to Little World’s End, World’s End and Bakers Falls.  The time we went, the weather was decent, not as cold as we expected or wanted.

Back to the hike. There are two paths you can take – to the right or left, both looping around each other. Unsure of which, we took the left path, where we would first get to Little World’s End, World’s End and then Baker’s Falls. The path was through lots of trees and boulders and roots. I was half expecting to see plenty of Sambar deer on our path, but sadly, we didn’t see any. Less than an hour later we were at Mini World’s End. The view was nothing short of breath-taking, and at this point we were almost out of breath. We stopped for a short while and continued our hike in search of World’s End. Scrambling through the path with our hands and feet at certain points and stopping to rest every now and then, we got to World’s End perfectly on time, around 30 minutes later. Need I remind you, we had the 2 pm train to get on back to Colombo, and the hike was expected to last for 4-5 hours. So, we sort of had to rush through the entire hike.

World’s End, Sri Lanka – The trek

At World’s End, there’s an 844-metre drop to the bottom while a 274 metre drop from Little World’s End.

After World’s End, we found a nice place to stop, rest, have our breakfast and just take in the surroundings of Horton Plains. With the chicken sandwich inhaled, we were back up again, en route to the final stop before leaving – Bakers Fall. The trek to Bakers Fall was harder, possibly because we were quite tired, and our legs were just refusing to take us any further. But obviously, being the strong, determined women (and man) that we are, we eventually made it to Bakers Falls. Unfortunately, the only animals we saw was a chubby squirrel and blimps of two deer running down a distant hill.

The walk back to the entrance was long and endless. There were no more sign boards, and everyone basically followed each other. We stopped to rest, and collapse way more than we thought we would. But we finally made it to the entrance by 11am and were thankful to be sitting back in the van, heading back to the hotel. Did we honestly think it was worth paying that much money to trek to World’s End in Sri Lanka? We did have fun, but the cost was way too high. Sri Lanka has tons of beautiful places that you can see for free or 1/4 of that cost.

With two hours left to departure, we showered and packed and checked out of the hotel before 1 pm. A quick lunch later, we were at the train station by 2:30 waiting for the train. We booked seats at the observation deck, which is the last cabin on the train. What we didn’t expect was to be jolted up and down, right to left during the entire ride. It was incredibly hard to sleep due to this and the ride lasted a good 8 hours – and it was an express train! I certainly wouldn’t recommend the Observation Deck- it feels like sitting on the first/last cart of a rollercoaster, that lasts for 8 hours.  We reached Colombo after 9, glad that we finally got off the train and headed to Commons Coffee House for dinner.

Yours truly,

Imperfect Traveller

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