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Cave Temple, Tea Plantations and a Gem of a Room

February 18, 2008

 Helen – After breakfast (cheese omelet and semi cooked bacon) at the hotel, we drove toward Ella.

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On the way we stopped at Dowa Temple which is another Buddhist Temple built into a rock.  It was quite quaint walking down the many stairs and as we got to the next level, a young monk dressed in a bright orange robe came forward to lead us the rest of the way to the temple.  Reaching the next level, he pointed to the sign which stated that no shoes were allowed beyond this point.  He was carrying a large heavy brass key which he used to unlock the temple door.  There was the usual main door with the three dimensional statues of elephants and gods projecting from the wall guarding the entrance.  Inside were two large reclining Buddha.  The temple had a river running along side of it and of course the huge Bo Tree nearby.  Tom took several good pictures here.

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 In Ella, we stopped to have tea at the Grand Ella Motel run by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation.  It had a breath taking view down Ella Gap from its terrace.  

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We then drove back to Bandarawela and on to Haputale.  We found the one lane road and drove through various tea estates to the huge Dambatenne tea plantation.  This was Sir Thomas Lipton’s original (1890) plantation.  “Lipton’s Seat” is located on a high ridge overlooking the plantation.  I thought we were going to see his bungalow (furnished living quarters) but it was just the highest point with wonderful views in four directions.  The drive was unbelievable; steep winding switchbacks on narrow asphalt and rock roads.  We prayed not to meet an on coming car!!  We had some awesome views into the gaps with lush tea bushes covering the mountain sides.  Finally got some up front and personal pictures of the tea pickers moving their thin long marker sticks as they quickly plucked the leaves.  They get paid about $3 a day based on the weight of their bags…they also get overtime to work on holidays.  We found one group of women sitting under a tree with prepared pots of food for their lunch break.  Most were happy to have their pictures taken and smiled.  The work is really hard, standing on steep inclines as they picked and throwing the leaves into the bags braced on their heads.  Can you imagine going home after a day at work to do your family chores as well??

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The plantation had its own living accommodations, school and temple

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Coming back down the mountain we met another large SUV coming up and there was no way we both could pass at the same time…much to our displeasure we had to go in reverse back uphill to an area where we could both pass. It was scary!!

We figured that we didn’t have to leave Haputale until 1:30 at the latest, so called Ylva and said that we were able to stop for a quick visit.  We really wanted to see the inside of a manager’s bungalow.  It was an old building, one level but quite spread out into several wings with lots of windows overlooking gardens (several acres with 5 gardeners to care for them) in all directions.  We sat on the terrace in old cane chairs with cold drinks as she explained that the managers were assigned a tea plantation for several years and then moved to another one.  Ken had been at this one 25 years ago when they met and married; then they moved to several other ones before returning to this one.  He plans to retire in another year or two so it seems that they have made a full circle.  Ylva has a daughter and granddaughter in Stockholm so she spends several months of each year in her apartment there to be with family.  They plan to retire here in Sri Lanka.

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After we finished our drinks, she took us on a tour of her gardens.  They were unbelievable and several gardens deep.  The way they were divided into different groups made it difficult to see through them.  When looking from the terrace, you thought they ended at one point, but when walking you went behind tall bushes/trees into another garden, and then a third one behind that.  No wonder she needed 5 gardeners!!

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Ratnapura – the Gem City – or so we thought!!!  Everyone has been telling us that this is the place to get gems.  This is where they are brought to be cut and polished after being mined in the nearby city of Balangoda.  I have been looking forward to shopping here so that I would know what I wanted to order from Ranjan in Colombo.  We decided to arrive today rather than tomorrow to be sure I would have enough time for that shopping and also to be closer to Colombo for the drive tomorrow.  It is about a 6 hr drive from Bandarawela to Colombo and Ratnapura is about half way. 

We planned to arrive about 5pm get a room at the Ratnapura Rest House and then go back into town to look around.   It took some maneuvering to find the rest house only to be told that they were full.  We asked for a recommendation for another inn and we also looked in our Lonely Planet guidebook.  We drove down the dirt road from the rest house and stopped at the first guest house.  People were eating at small plastic tables on a patio (?) and the room they showed us was not only pretty bad and smelly but off the reception area.  Tom asked him to show us another room and he took us upstairs to a small apartment unit.  It was also a NO GO.  We spent the next hour trying to find the next two choices from the guidebook.  According to Tom, the next one was worse than the last (could it be??) so we continued down the same road for another 3km but could not find the next choice.  We found ourselves on some very scary back roads with night falling.

Driving toward the main road we came across a pretty decent looking (exterior) guest house and decided to check it out.  It is beyond description.  Going up the stairs to the second floor we come to a small reception desk, then we go through curtains that are only half hanging into a lounge area which is dark with only a couple of chairs.  Off this area we open a door to a large room with light sockets hanging out of the stained walls, an iron bed with a cover on it, and a small TV (on which Tom is watching some Indian MTV and soaps) one chair, a table on one wall with another plastic chair.  I don’t want to drive any more so I say ok.  We bring up our suitcases and I go to check the sheets.  There are no sheets!!  The bed has a foam mattress with a cotton cover on it and two pillows with the stuffing coming out of one end.  I ask for sheets, he brings a new cover and two pillowcases but still no sheets.  He thinks I want clean bedding (which I do).  We are not on the same wavelength and I decide it is too hot to cover ourselves anyway and will not use the pillows (I am sitting on one as I type).  

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The table cloth is stained and we found a barrette under the bedcover when changing it.  The attached bathroom has a toilet, sink (with drain that empties onto the floor) and a shower head attached by rope to the ceiling that comes out into the room with no curtain or stall.  Since they only gave us one towel, we decide not to shower and will wait until Colombo and Ruki’s to get cleaned up.  

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Tom ordered some vegetable fried rice and cokes which they ordered in and then set up in the lounge area.  Food wasn’t bad but my coke fizzed out of the bottle when I unscrewed the cap and went all over the table cloth which I think was a baby sheet.  I think that I will sleep in my clothes on top of the cover with no pillow and pray for morning so we can leave.  But sleep didn’t come easily and we didn’t even use the netting because it was gross.  Finally, at 5:30am we decide that we are out of there and gather our things to go.  We can’t find the light for the lounge area which we must go through and agree that the main gate will likely be locked anyway.  As we stumble in the dark in the lounge, the young man who was sleeping on the couch wakes up and puts the light on for us and then goes outside to unlock the gate.  It was still dark when we left!  We left town without looking back or waiting for any gem stores to open.

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