Column: Getting high – immersed in the beauty of the Hill Country

Column: Getting high – immersed in the beauty of the Hill Country

Column: Getting high – immersed in the beauty of the Hill Country

Written by Staff Writer

16 Apr, 2015 | 6:35 pm

This week we traveled to the Hills and took a walk to the ‘ends of the earth’ and stopped by our very own little England to stay cool and experience an environment that tourist have being enjoying for a very long time and is very much apart of our beautiful little island nation. The ‘hill country’ has an average annual temperature and in Nuwara Eliya it is a chilly 15.9°C and has nearly 2,000 mm of rain every year.

The April escape to the Hills is an annual pilgrimage now, by one and all, for racing, camping, flower shows and a flight from the heat of the coast. The hotels are all full including the quaint English style lodges and anyone with a spare room to let.

The city was founimagesded by Sir Samuel Baker, the discoverer of Lake Albert 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 back in the magnificent colonial era where Ceylon was the toast of Asia.

Nuwara Eliya or ‘Little England’ then was a country retreat where the British could immerse themselves in their pastimes like 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 local travelers, specially during April, the season of flowers, pony races, go cart races and the 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. His Worship the present Mayor, Mr. D.G. Mahinda Kumara the youngest elected mayor told us building regulations will be strictly adhered to and the old world charm protected. Not only a politician but also a knowledgeable, experienced hotelier, and an eco-tourism promoter Mr. Mahinda has lots of ideas to make the city a protected and leading travel destination in the country and hopes to have the full co operation of the government and supportive departments assist him achieve this through funding and planned eco organizing in this fertile region.

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“GO OUTDOORS”

I was much honored to meet the mayor at his picturesque hotel ‘The Alpine’ across the racetrack when the organizers of “GO OUTDOORS” the pioneering and innovative motorhome, caravan, camper trailer and camping hemaka watermark   gear outfit invited us to inspect their gear by the scenic shores of Lake Gregory.  Tapping into the travelling DNA of all Sri Lankans these young gentlemen led by  Mr. Hemaka de Alwis is planning to implement the provisioning of safe,  environmentally friendly, caravan and camping sites in key points around the  island.

Pointing out that families who travelled together in caravans are interact  with  nature unlike whilst staying in a hotel improving social interactions since kids  will  more often stay off the phones and a healthy appreciation for the environment  is  developed.

The travelling motorhome or caravan is a popular mobile alternative  for  families and friends choosing more independence in the very fast evolving  tourism  sector of post war, safe to travel environmentally diverse Sri Lanka.

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The Grand Hotel

To touch on more ancient history relevant to this region the ‘Ramayana’ the Indian mythical epic tells us how Ravana the King of Lanka robbed Rama of his wife Sita, who he was smitten by and brought her back to Lanka. The people of Sri Lanka believe that Ravana had his capital in Nuwara-Eliya or the “City by the glade”. He is believed to have kept GRAND HOTEL Nuwara Eliya2Sita captive in ‘Sita Eliya’. Today a Hindu temple is situated in  the same location and the famous and very beautiful Haggala Botanical Gardens is very close by. The story tells that the  monkey army of Rama came to save Sita. Ravana punished  Hanuman the leader of the monkey force by setting fire to his  tail. It is then said that Hanuman burnt all of Nuwara-Eliya with his burning tail. Legend has it that the black fertile soil, which forms the top layer here, consists of the ashes of the city of Ravana burnt to the ground by Hanuman.

The modern history of Nuwara-Eliya begins in 1818 when the British Surgeon Dr.John Davy relating thus said, “I was walking in the middle of a forest and I saw beautiful white shining, diamond shaped waterfalls. I came to the top of a6 mountain and the people who came with me said that it is the highest land of this country” Dr.John Davy goes on to say that Nuwara Eliya has many trees, elephants, wild animals  and Gemstones. Legend has it that the elephants were hunted for  sport in such huge numbers that the mausoleums of these  famous hunters are hit by lightening annually for the sin  committed by evidence of some of the cracked graves stones split  open by lighting.

Sir Edward Barnes the Governor of Ceylon from 1824-1831 constructed modern roads into Nuwara-Eliya and built his holiday home spending a princely 8000 Pounds at the time. He named it “Barnes Hall” and today it is known as the very luxurious ‘Grand Hotel’ with a 154 rooms, coffee shop with Thai and Indian dining.

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Jetwing St.Andrews 

The history of the St Andrews Hotel not far away, is as interesting as it follows the history of true pioneering hotelier families to date, in succession, beginning in 1875. Known as the ‘Scots club’ and the proximity to tandrew gemhe golf course may account for the naming of the club as the St Andrews. In 1918 the now ‘hotel’ was bought by a syndicate headed by Mr. Arthur Ephraums to include the two story wing in the west and behind the main block a large dining room, kitchen and servants quarters together with a bar and billiards rooms. In 1919 the now refurbished hotel opened for business with a young cousin of the owners a Mr. De Zilwa as manager.

The depression years of the 1925 to 1932 affected the hotel adversely and it was closed  with an appointed caretaker. In 1933 Julius & Creasy held the mortgage and the hotel was offered to Mr. and Mrs. De Zilwa. Excerpts of this early saga can be read in the interesting writings of Mr. David De Zilwa and Percy De Zilwa in much detail. The De Zilwa’s went on to create a very successful hotel occupancy in the 1930’s with all guests on an all inclusive rate with a ‘full on’ menu and by the 1950’s an attractive bed and breakfast tast. andrews cardriff were bringing in more and more clients to the hotel. The ‘Zilwan Jazz band’ comprised of the De Zilwa family was in great demand and many a celebrity is know to have stayed at the hotel. The startling political changes of post independence era saw the Tamil laborers originally recruited from India by the British, stateless. Their applications for citizenship were too numerous for the local ‘Kachcheri’ or government office so the government took over 16 rooms and more space at the hotel to attend to applications. It was said that the estate families became citizens of Ceylon at the St Andrews. The 1970’s saw a period of change for the De Zilwa family with the elderly De Zilwa’s deciding to follow their children to Australia as soon as buyer for the hotel could be found and in 1976 a buyer was found – Mr. ‘Gem’ Milhuisen a hotel owner and agent for Vingressor, a Swedish travel company to cater for tourists. During 1977 to 1978 St Andrews was substantially upgraded into its present form seen today. In 1986 ‘Gem’ Milhuisen went into partnership with Mr. Herbert Cooray also a hotel owner and director of the Jetwing group of hotels and St Andrews was added to the Jetwing group. The St Andrews today is a modern hotel in the hills with an average occupancy of 70% throughout the year with a 190-200USD average room rate.

 

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Next week we will continue our walk through the hills to ‘Horton plains’ and the very edge of the precipice to ‘Worlds end’ and beyond.


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