Nuwara Eliya | The City of Lights
Blessed a with salubrious climate, breathtaking views of valleys, meadows, mountains and greenery; it’s hard to imagine that Nuwara Eliya is only 180 Km from the hot and humid Colombo.
Nuwara Eliya (City of Lights), also known as ‘Little’ England’, was the favourite hill station of the British who tried to create Nuwara Eliya into a typical English Village. The old brick Post office, country house like hill club, with its hunting pictures, mounted hunting trophies and fish, and it’s strict formal dinner attire; the 18 hole golf course, race course etc., all remind you of ‘England’.
Table of Contents
- 1 Points of interest in and around Nuwara Eliya
- 2 Activities in and around Nuwara Eliya
Points of interest in and around Nuwara Eliya
Lake Gregory is a picturesque, man-made Lake nestled at the bottom of small hills, bordering the town of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s mountainous, tea-growing region. A visit or tour of Nuwara Eliya would not be complete without a visit to this scenic lake, with perhaps a boat ride or a walk along its shores. Originally a swamp and bog that was described by early residents as an “eye sore”, Lake Gregory was created by diverting the waters of the Thalagala stream which flows from the nearby Piduruthalagala mountain range.
The nearby town of Nuwara Eliya was “founded” by explorer Samuel Baker in 1846 and became a popular holiday spot for British colonials who wanted to get away from the sweltering heat of coastal cities and into the cool climes of the mountains. As the small town grew and expanded, the Governor of the time, Sir William Gregory, decided that electricity had to be introduced to the town and the Lake was originally created to generate much-needed electricity for the rapidly developing town.
Lake Gregory was fashioned under orders of British Governor Sir William Gregory in 1873. The water from the lake is directed to a place named “Blackpool” in Nuwara Eliya using a tunnel, and is used to generate electricity for the town even today. Lake Gregory also serves as an important catchment area for rainwater and mountain stream runoff, preventing flooding of the Nuwara Eliya town suburbs.
One of the benefits of the lake that was not foreseen by Governor Gregory was the recreational space it provided for the colonial holiday makers. Soon, boat rides on the lake became a favoured afternoon activity, a prelude to a picnic tea on the shores of the lake. Horse riding and pony rides for small children also became a popular activity on the shores of the Lake. It became a society icon, with “lake parties” becoming a trendy activity, and a walk to the lake from the racecourse was considered an invigorating activity for the energetic young people of the day. Of course, the muddy shores of the lake ensured that its popularity reigned with the ladies only during the warm, dry months of the year. The die-hard fishing and horse riding males, however, continued to use the lake year-round.
Lake Gregory continues to be a popular place for water-based activities including boat rides, sculling, fishing and paddle boating. Pony rides are still available for children, continuing the tradition started decades ago. Recent developments in the area have resulted in paved walkways being built along the lake, ensuring a comfortable walk as well as seating areas in scenic sites along the shoreline. Lake Gregory is also the landing site for the Air Taxis which fly into Nuwara Eliya from Colombo and Kandy.
Hakgala Botanical Gardens
The Hakgala Botanical Gardens is the second largest botanic garden in Sri Lanka and is located in a scenic part of Nuwara Eliya along the Badulla Road. Steeped in legend, often cloaked in a soft mist and always filled with colour and fragrance is the Hakgala Botanical Gardens, located around 10kms southeast of Nuwara Eliya. Tours to the gardens are a popular activity if holidaying in Nuwara Eliya, and while the Gardens are open year-round, the best time to visit and enjoy the beautiful blooms are from April to August, during the relatively dry and warmer period of year.
The Botanic Garden lies under the Hakgala Peak, between 5000 – 6000 feet in elevation – the highest set Botanic Gardens in the world. Hakgala boasts 100-year-old Monetary Cypress trees from California, Japanese Cedars, Himalayan Pines and English Oak.
The Hakgala Botanical Garden span around 27 hectares and are built in a series of terraces, with natural streams flowing through it in several places. The Garden was originally created in 1861 by the British Colonial government under the curatorship of three British of the same name – William Nock, JK Nock and JJ Nock. to grow Cinchona – from which the anti-malaria medicine Quinine was extracted. Thereafter, as tea came to be a commercial crop in the mountainous region, the Gardens became an experimental tea growing area. In 1884 it began life as a Botanical Garden with a wide-ranging and systematic gathering of sub tropical and alpine plants from across the Commonwealth as well as experiments in acclimatising temperate-zone plants to a tropical climate.
Take a tour of the Gardens and be amazed at the variety of plants, estimated at over 10,000 different species. Here you will find a range of conifers and cedar trees from Australia, Bermuda and Japan; Cypress varieties from the Himalayas, China, Mexico and some pine trees from New Caledonia and the Canary Islands. Among the other famous trees in the Garden, there are a group of English Oak trees, introduced to the Garden in 1890 to commemorate the “Heart of Oak” official marching music of the Royal Navy. Among the successful adaptations of temperate trees to this sub tropical climate is a Camphor tree, which usually only grows at elevations of 12,000m.
Ancient mythology has a unique story as to its creation, from the epic tale the Ramayana. Hanuman, the monkey god, was sent to the Himalayas by Rama to bring back a specific medicinal herb. But he forgot what he was looking for, and decided to bring back a big chunk of the Himalayas, caught up in his jaw. The Gardens today rest at the foot of this huge rock called Hakgala (jaw-rock) which towers over the gardens and the surrounding Hakgala Nature Reserve.
Laxapana Falls (Lakshapana Falls)
Laxapana is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous waterfalls, and perhaps the one that has proven the most useful in terms of generating power to the country, the Lakshapana waterfall is located in Nuwara Eliya district in the country’s mountainous region.
The Laxapana Falls falls are 129m high and rise from the Laxapana estate and plunges into the Maskeliya Oya via Maoussakelle. The waters of this mountainous river are fast moving, rushing over huge boulders and rocks, gurgling across a multitude of small streams around the mountains before emerging as an awe-inspiring waterfall, especially during the monsoon season when the rivers are swollen and full.
Located along the pilgrim’s tour route to Adam’s Peak, Laxapana falls is a favourite stopping place for a rest, an open air meal or a quick bathe in the large natural pools formed in the valley below the falls. The pristine jungle that surrounds the waterfall, which falls across a sheer rock cliff face, adds to the picture-perfect quality of the environment. It’s considered Sri Lanka’s seventh highest waterfall and is part of the Laxapana reservoir, which generates hydropower from a number of power stations in the vicinity.
The name Laxapana is attributed with many origins: some versions take its literal meaning of “a thousand lamps” in sinhala, and the fact that this waterfall is part of a hydropower system that lights up many homes; others describe the name as meaning “a hundred thousand stones”, pointing to the rock and boulder strewn path that the water follows before it gushes out in a waterfall. One fact though can be agreed on – the old name for the waterfall was “veddah hiti ella” meaning, the waterfall where the Veddah lived. The Veddah, Sri Lanka’s indigenous people, perhaps had a small colony in this area and lived in the many caves and cliff dwellings in this mountainous area.
Lover’s Leap Waterfall, Nuwara Eliya
Most visitors to a country love to learn about local folk tales and nothing makes a good story like a love story. And so, as visitors on tour stop at one of Nuwara Eliya’s most famous landmarks, the stories of the sad end of an ill-fated romance begins. Lover’s Leap in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s popular holiday town in the mountains, is a massive rocky cliff with a waterfall of the same name.
Its name is derived from the fate of a young couple who decided to be bound together forever by jumping off the cliff to their demise. But the romantic tale of what brought them to this point, or the manner in which they met their end are woven into a myriad stories, each changing with the storyteller or perhaps even the day on which you hear it. Whatever the reasons behind the lovers plunge, the name has stuck and the entire cliff is now named Lover’s Leap.
The Lover’s Leap waterfall is a breathtaking sight, falling to a height of 30m in a long, cascading sheet of water. Located on a tea estate, the Lovers Leap waterfall is only 2km from Nuwara Eliya town, making it the closest waterfall to the bustling holiday town and resulting in its popularity with visitors and tour groups alike.
The waters that feed this waterfall are said to originate on the southern end of the Pidurutalagala mountain range, Sri Lanka’s highest. The waters are taken to brew the famous Nuwara Eliya Beer. Access to the Lover’s Leap waterfall is off the Nuwara Eliya – Kandapola Road.
The Devon waterfall, located in Talawakelle in the Nuwara Eliya district is one of Sri Lanka’s most distinctive waterfalls. The waterfall drops for a sheer 97m of cascading water, and thereafter flows in three continuous tiers, making it waterfall after waterfall. It’s a beautiful and amazing sight.
And its one of a pair of waterfalls – a few meters away is the St. Clair waterfall, which together provides one of the most breathtaking waterfall sights in Sri Lanka to any visitor. Tour groups invariably stop and gaze in rapture from the look out point in Talawakelle, across a deep tree-filled gorge into which the water from the two falls flow and disappear. This is perhaps the only place in Sri Lanka where you can view two magnificent waterfalls, each distinctly different, from the same vantage point.
The Devon falls are located on Devon Estate, originally a coffee plantation which was transformed into tea and continues to be a working tea plantation today. The estate takes its name from a pioneering coffee planter named Devon, who is also attributed with clearing trees and shrubs around the falls to showcase the amazing waterfall at its best.
Oliphant Estate – Nuwara Eliya
A visit to this estate, entrance from the road at the Ramboda end of Nuwara Eliya, is significant because it was here that the first thirty tea plants sent from China to Sri Lanka were planted by Mr. Laurence Oliphant, increasing his tea acreage to 100 acres.
The Ceylon Breweries – Nuwara Eliya
The brewing of beer was started in Nuwara Eliya by Sir Samuel Baker in 1881 at Lover’s Leap. It is an interesting visit, for the brewery is one of the finest in the island. It’s been in business since 1884.
Tea plantation and factory visit
Tea is one of the three major natural products in Sri Lanka. Tea is exported along with rubber and spices. Sri Lanka is popular in western and European countries because of our very pure tea leaves that are hand-plucked from the exuberant hills in the central region.
Get your shoes on to avoid the creepy crawlies; a hat to keep your ears out of the cold. Take the opportunity to stroll around a tea plantation and watch “Ceylon Tea” as it makes its way to that warm cup you can enjoy with the backdrop of glorious Sri Lankan hills.
With the tour of the factory you’ll be able to see how the leaves are withered, sorted, graded and packed into packs. Signed, sealed and delivered for you to take back home for friends…or to keep it yourself!
Activities in and around Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya City Tour
Nuwara Eliya is known as ‘Little England’ due to its climatic features and because the town has been designed and built to look like a typical English village. A tour of the city will take you past quaint buildings such as the red brick Post Office, the esteemed Hill Club, The Golf Club with its 18 hole course and the Race Course, where Horse Races are still conducted regularly. The flowers that bloom during the season add a splash of colour to the landscape and a boat ride on Lake Gregory is a fun activity. You will also visit the Hakgala Gardens and a picturesque tea plantations.
Visit Horton Plains
The Horton Plains area is considered one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in Sri Lanka and was declared a National Park in 1988. It was added to the World Heritage List in 2010 along with two other mountainous nature reserves in the Central Highlands of the country.
Horton Plains National Park at 200m, is the highest plateau in the island and is located at the foot of two of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountains, the Totapola (2359m) and Kirigalpotta (2395m). Situated about 32kms from Nuwara Eliya and 8kms from Ohiya, Horton Plains Park covers around 3,160 ha in total. The highland plateau is undulating and covered with grassland, patches of thick forest, waterfalls, streams and rocky outcrops. The Plains are a beautiful, silent, strange world with some excellent soft and hard trails.
Horton Plains is considered Sri Lanka’s most important watershed, being the place of origin for many of the country’s major rivers, including the Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe. It also contains the most extensive cloud forest that remains in the country, and is home to dozens of endemic species of fauna and flora.
The history books record that Lt. William Fisher and Lt. Albert Watson discovered the Plains in 1834, and they named it Horton Plains after the then Governor of Ceylon, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton. However, this area was known to locals as “Maha Eliya Thenna” or the great open plain, and archaeological artefacts such as stone tools from Sri Lanka’s pre-historic era have been found to indicate that this area was inhabited and even cultivated for many centuries before the British visitors first came here.
Horton Plains and the adjoining Peak Wilderness Sanctuary are home to some of Sri Lanka’s most endangered plants and animals. Nearly 750 species of plants have been so far identified here, and when walking through its rich forest areas you will find that the forest canopy reaches nearly 20 metres in some places. There are dozens of wild orchids here, and 16 of them are endemic to Sri Lanka.
Among the wildlife in this Plain, 24 species of mammals, 87 species of birds, nine species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians have been identified. Among the most commonly seen mammals are the Sambar Deer, wild boars, Langurs, Giant Squirrels and if you are lucky you may even see a Leopard. One of the world’s most endangered primates, the Horton Plains Slender Loris, also calls this area home.
Horton Plains is a bird watchers paradise and groups often visit on bird watching tours, hoping to catch a glimpse of one or more of the 21 species of birds which are endemic to Sri Lanka. A large number of migratory birds are also found here and in the adjacent Peak Wilderness Sanctuary.
Perhaps the most popular tour destination at Horton Plains is World’s End, a sheer cliff precipice at the Southern end of the park. The drop from World’s End is 870m and has a breathtaking view on clear days, although most times it is covered in a thick white mist. Another popular visitor attraction is Baker’s Fall, a magnificent 20m waterfall that is named after explorer Samuel Baker who is credited with having discovered and established the township of Nuwara Eliya.
Play Golf at Nuwara Eliya
Located in the town of Nuwara Eliya which sits high in the hills among the Tea plantations, is the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club with its splendid course, built by a Scottish soldier in 1889. The venue for many tournaments, this course is challenging and exciting, with many characteristics and distinctive natural elements that golfers should watch out for. The weather and scenic surroundings will make your entire sojourn peaceful and happy, more so since the Club offer accommodation and all modern amenities along with great service always accompanied by a smile.
Climb Adam’s Peak – The Pilgrim Path (via Gampola and Ginigathhena)
Adam’s Peak is popularly known among the locals as Samanala Kanda, or Butterfly Mountain in Sinhala. The mountain is 2,243 meters tall tapering at its peak and is the most esteemed site in the Sabaragamuwa Province. Why is it special? It is unique as it is a blessed site to the followers of the world’s four major religions; Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Buddhists believe that the mark of the footprint is the left foot of the Buddha. Hindus believe that it is the footprint of Shiva. Muslims attribute it to as where Adam, the first man, set foot when he was exiled from the Garden of Eden and Christians believe that the it is a footprint of St. Thomas who was the disciple Jesus. There are seasons in which the holy site is visited most by followers but the climb itself is a memorable journey.
The climb is through Gampola and Ginigathhena and you will find the story of this old path carved on two rocks off the 28th milestone on the Nawalapitiya – Ambagamuwa road. The spot is called Akuruketupana and the inscription dates to around 1100 AD. Today there are four other roads to the peak, the shortest being via Maskeliya and the most popular. Other roads are on the Sabaragamuwa side.
The Nissangala Lena on the road to Adam’s Peak (via Maskeliya, Hatton)
This is believed the cave in the mountainside, where King Keerthi Sri Nissanka buried a great treasure, including his regalia. It is only after one passes this cave and enters the forest that one comes to the Sita Gangula, a holy river of ice-cold water, where pilgrims bathe and put on white garments, before continuing their journey to the peak.