City of light
Nuwara Eliya is a city, in the hill country of the Central Province, Sri Lanka. The city name meaning is “city on the plain” or “city of light”. The city is the administrative capital of Nuwara Eliya District, with a picturesque landscape and temperate climate. It is located at an altitude of 1,868 m (6,128 ft) and is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. The city is overlooked by idurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya is also known for the temperate, cool climate, the city is known for being the coolest area in Sri Lanka.
The city was founded by Samuel Baker, the discoverer of Lake Albert and the explorer of the Nile in 1846. Nuwara Eliya’s climate lent itself to becoming the prime sanctuary of the British civil servants and planters in Ceylon. Nuwara Eliya, called “Little England” then, was also a hill country retreat where the British colonialists could immerse in their pastimes such as fox hunting, deer hunting, elephant hunting, polo, golf and cricket.
Although the town was founded in the 19th century by the British, the whole district is today visited by native travelers, especially during the month of April, the season of flowers, pony races, go cart races and auto rally.
Many of the buildings retain features from the colonial period such as the Queen’s Cottage, General’s House, Grand Hotel, Hill Club, Town Post Office and even new hotels are often built and furnished in the colonial style. Anyone who visits the city can wallow in its nostalgia of bygone days by visiting these landmark buildings. Many private homes still maintain their old Englishstyle lawns and gardens.
Due to its highland location, Nuwara Eliya has a subtropical highland climate with a mean annual temperature of 16 °C (61 °F). In the winter months it is quite cold at night, and there can even be frost. However, it rapidly warms up as the tropical sun climbs higher during the day.
The town really comes alive in April for the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, and it is difficult to find accommodation as Sri Lankans holiday in the region during this period. The festive season starts on April 1 annually in a ceremonial manner. The ceremony consists mainly of a band show in which all the local school bands participate.
Main attractions during April season include the numerous motor racing and horse racing events. Motor racing comes alive with the Mahagasthota and Radella Hill Climbs, the former being run since 1934. The Nuwara Eliya Road Race and the 4×4 Lake Cross on edge of Lake Gregory attract a fair share of enthusiasts. Parties are held nightly in the hotels, and the season culminates in the nine furlong (1811 m) Governor’s Cup at the Nuwara Eliya Racecourse, Golf Tournaments at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club and the flower show at the end of the month.
The town’s attractions include the golf course, trout streams, Victoria Park, and boating on Lake Gregory. Victoria Park is an attractive and well-used oasis. It is popular with birdwatchers at quieter times because of the good opportunities it gives to see various species, particularly the Indian blue robin, pied thrush or thrush lurking in the denser undergrowth. The Kashmir flycatcher is another attractive bird species found in the park. Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary, close to Lake Gregory, is another wildlife site of 0.6 km2.
The city is a base for visits to Horton Plains National Park. This is a key wildlife area of open grassy woodland. Species found here include the leopard, sambar, and the endemic purple-faced langur. Endemic highland birds include the dull-blue flycatcher, Sri Lanka whiteeye, and yellow-eared bulbul. The plains also have a well visited tourist attraction at World’s End, a sheer precipice with a 1050 m drop. The return walk passes the scenic Baker’s fall. Early morning visits are best, both to see the wildlife and to view World’s End before mists close in during the later part of the morning.
One of the distinctive features of Nuwara Eliya’s countryside is the widespread growing of vegetables, fruit and flowers usually associated with temperate Europe. This “Little England” is covered with terraces growing potatoes, carrots, leeks, and roses, interspersed with tea bushes on the steeper slopes.
The slow-growing tea bushes of this highland region produce some of the world’s finest orange pekoe tea, and several tea factories around Nuwara Eliya offer guided tours and the opportunity to sample or purchase their products.
One is a grave stone of one British governor located in the very corner of the golf grounds. He was famous for elephant hunting and it says that he killed thousands of elephants. Folklore in Nuwara Eliya says that every year his gravestone is struck by lightning for the great sin that he did. At present this place is not open for the visitors.
Another place related to folklore is the Hindu Temple called Seetha Amman Kovil (Hanuman Kovil). It is found on the way to Badulla/Welimada from Nuwara Eliya before reaching the Hakgala Botanical Garden. The temple is located in the village called “Seetha Eliya”. The area is related to the Ramayana story in Hinduism. Folklore says that the mighty king Ravana kidnapped princess Seeta who was the queen of Rama and hid her in the place where the temple now is.
There is also a church called the Holy Trinity Church on Church Road, which accommodate an old graveyard and most of the grave stones have British names engraved on them.