Wet, Wet, Wet

Today I had booked a tour to the Horton Plains, a national park located on a high plateau, where there is a famous view called World’s End – a sheer cliff, with all of western Sri Lanka stretching away into the distance.  My guide advised leaving very early, since the view is usually covered with mist from the mid-morning.

The weather forecast for the day was bad, but suggested it might not rain early in the morning. When we left at half past five there was only a light drizzle, which soon stopped. At around six, it got light, and I could watch the passing tea plantations and small villages. At half past six we reached the park, and I started my walk. The landscape and plants at this relatively high altitude were completely different to anything I had seen before in Sri Lanka – or anywhere else for that matter.

Landscapes in the Horton Plains

The path first arrived at “Little World’s End” – a smaller cliff, also with a view. I was relieved that it was still not raining and that despite the clouds the famous view was partially visible.

“Little World’s End”
Another helpful Sri Lankan warning sign – the end of the world is nigh!

I hurried on, but after a few more minutes the inevitable happened – it started to rain heavily. I pulled on a waterproof top, but had to accept my legs and paws getting soaking wet. The path turned into a small stream.

Path or stream?

Arriving at World’s End, all there was to see was a big bank of thick cloud.

The name feels appropriate…

I carried on along the path, and the rain continued to fall steadily. Although it was unpleasant to have wet fur all down my legs, after a while I got used to it. The rain was even pleasantly cool, and the scenery was interesting.

The land is green for a good reason!

The next highlight of the walk was Baker’s Falls, a powerful waterfall swollen by the recent rains.

Baker’s Falls

After the falls, the path became easier and less like a small river. There were more lonely, windswept landscapes to admire until suddenly I was back at the park entrance.

Another lonely landscape in the rain

Back at the van, I changed my trousers and took off my soaking shoes. The one-hour trip back felt very long – I hadn’t had enough sleep, my fur was still wet, and the windows of the van steamed up to obscure any interesting views.  I reached the Hill Club at around noon, with a sense of relief. It was now raining heavily, so I went straight to bed for a well-needed nap.  I awoke an hour later to the find water streaming down from the ceiling of my room – the strong winds must have damaged the roof, creating a big leak.  I changed rooms and set out about hanging up my wet things in the hope that they might dry.

There was nothing to do but simply enjoy the old colonial Hill Club. I wandered around, taking more photos…….

Hunting trophies at the club. No bears happily, but even so Trouspinet does not approve!

……and then treated myself to high tea, a wonderful club tradition where you stuff yourself with cakes, savoury snacks and tea in the mid-afternoon.

The solution to a rainy afternoon – High Tea!

After such a huge tea, I sat and wrote my blog in the reading room. In the early evening I tried a game of snooker in one of the club’s two billiard rooms – although the table was so big it was hard work for a small teddy bear.

I dined late and chose Indian Ocean Kingfish, which was a bit like tuna in texture and taste, washed down with a bottle of wine (my first wine since I had arrived in Sri Lanka). It had been a difficult day, but sometimes the life of a traveller is like that. The walk had been very interesting, if wet, and the comforts of the Hill Club more than made up for spending half the day with wet fur.

The Tea Train and the Well-Travelled Trousers

Today, I took the train from Ella back to Nuwara Eliya – a route renowned as one of the most scenic in the world. The train arrived on time – something not guaranteed in Sri Lanka – and I got on to find my reserved seat in second class (someone had told me that second class was better than the air conditioned first class, since you could open the windows). Usually, the reserved seats sell out long in advance to tourists, but with Sri Lanka’s current problems my compartment wasn’t even full.

The train arrives
Reserved Second Class

My guide also got on, but his ticket was for unreserved second class, meaning that he had no guarantee of a seat.  I could see through the rear door of my compartment that this was a completely different travel experience. I hoped he had got a place in the melee of people boarding at Ella. Our driver headed off in the van to be able to meet us at the other end of our trip.

Unreserved Second Class

We set off in bright sunshine, and the views lived up to my expectations. In the area around Ella, the scenery was wild and mountainous.

Scenery near Ella

It was very pleasant leaning out of my window and either watching the scenery go by or observing the frenetic activity at each station as passengers with unreserved tickets fought to get on the train first in the rush for a possible free seat. The train doors are left open for the whole trip, and more adventurous passengers held on to the hand rails and leaned out of the open door for an even better view.

Enjoying the view

As the train progressed, the mountains and forest gave way to nice orderly rows of tea plants and rolling, green hills. It also started to get cloudy – it seems that we had already received our ration of precious blue sky for the day.

Rolling hills covered with tea plantations
The clouds arrive

The train arrived at Nanu Oya, a small town close to the popular tourist destination of Nuwara Eliya.  On arrival, I got a big surprise when my guide informed me that my parcel had arrived. Initially I was puzzled, but then I remembered that I had left some trousers in the hotel at Polonnaruwa. I’d asked the hotel to send them to Kandy, but they had arrived after we had left and I assumed I would never see them again. It turned out that my guide had been in touch with the Kandy hotel to get them redirected here and that they had arrived in the morning. My guide took me to the station master’s office – a wonderful old-fashioned office room – to meet the station manager and collect my well-travelled trousers.

The station master….and my vagabond trousers!

Sure enough, our driver was also there to meet us at the station, and we drove to my lodgings for the night – the Hill Club.

The Hill Club

This wonderful institution is a relic of British Colonial rule, when British men (not women) could join a private club in the hills to get away from the heat of the coast. The club has now been enthusiastically embraced by a new generation of Sri Lankan club members, who have kept most of the old traditions, which include a jacket and tie dress code after 6pm, providing hotel water bottles for the beds, and a daily ceremony raising and saluting the Sri Lankan flag whilst listening to the national anthem.  One less good tradition – a side door for lady guests, who were not allowed to use the main door – had thankfully been scrapped.

The club is popular with its members at weekends but rents out spare rooms to travellers when it is less busy. I arrived on a Sunday and it turned out that I was the only guest. I had the whole of the huge building to myself, including the comfortable reading room……..

The reading room

……bar, two snooker rooms and dining room……..

The dining room

There was even a gym. The manager looked surprised when I said that I wanted to use it and I soon found out why. It had a musty smell, like it had not been used in a long time, and after a few km on the treadmill I was soaking in sweat from the near 100% humidity.  I decided that visiting the bar and ordering a cocktail was a much better idea, and I enjoyed drinking it siting by an open fire in the club’s dining room.

Better than the gym!

I then had a hearty western-style dinner of fish and chips (the menu had many traditional British offerings as well as Sri Lankan food) before retiring for the night and the company of my hot water bottle in my bed.

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