Elephant Hunting before Breakfast – Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is a charming city in the hill country of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Situated 1,868 (6,129 ft) above sea level, its names fittingly translates to “City of the Plains” (or “City of Lights”). Its vantage point over the picturesque landscape also lends itself to a cooler climate than the rest of the country.
Once known as Little England, the city was a prime place for the British to indulge in their pastimes like horse riding, hunting (fox, dear, elephant… yes elephant hunting..) polo, golf and cricket. As such, the 13 km2 town boasts landmarks that are not common sightings in other parts of Sri Lanka such as a large horse racing track in the middle of town, English styled sprawling lawns and gardens and of course one colonial styled building after the other.
When one travels from the sticky humidity of Colombo to somewhere like this, one of the most striking characteristics aside from the cooler climate, is this reverence to its colonial heritage, not just in the buildings and surrounds but also in the people. Even as a child, traveling there on holidays was like going to a whole new world. The weather was delightfully freezing, it had old world charm, it had fresh air, it grew STRAWBERRIES (yayy…) and the buildings and people had this dignified presence that always made you feel like a marveling peasant. I LOVED IT !!
Over the years, undoubtedly things change. But I was truly happy to have visited a place that still aligned with my childhood memories of what this part of the country was like.
This place was Called Cheltenham Holiday Bungalow and was over 165 years old. It was the residence to Ceylon’s British Governor, Mr Noble Barnes, between 1830-1850. Amongst other things (like starting Tea plantations in the area) he was famous for elephant hunting. The story goes, he killed an elephant before breakfast each day. He reached his tally of 999 elephants and the hunt for his 1000th elephant proved to be his last as the elephant attacked and killed him first. Locals still say that when a storm rolls in, lighting strikes his grave stone for the great sins that he has committed.
Inside this unassuming exterior, was old world grandeur. The entrance opened up into a beautiful atrium, the bedrooms had solid four poster beds, the windows were beautifully draped, there were brick fireplaces and, true to the area, it had proud and stately caretakers who had so many stories to tell. The completely down to earth cook Sampath cooked us the most d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. food (types Chamilka salivating..) which was served in the most delightful dining room. The Manager Bandula (pictured below in red), an ex-Navy officer, was hilariously typical of upcountry poise. And if you are ever lucky enough to meet the stately gentleman who owns the place, also a high ranking ex-Navy Commander, your life would be richer for the experience.