The weather has been getting increasingly warmer as we head towards the Sri Lankan equivalent of summer (roughly the months between April, May, and June, when the sun is at its zenith). As the heat increases, and with it our restless desire to get out of the city and head towards cooler climes, the first option that pops into your mind is a holiday staple, Nuwara Eliya.
Meaning ‘city of lights’, referring no doubt to the way the homes light up the dark mountains in the dead of the night, Nuwara Eliya—also known as ‘Little England’—comes alive during the holiday month of April, when families upon families travel up the mountains to engage in the fun and activities that Nuwara Eliya is known for during that very warm month.
Just as crowds descend upon Colombo during the Vesak month of May to take in the sight of lanterns and pandols and partake in dansals, crowds traverse to Nuwara Eliya during the month of April to escape the heat, visit strawberry gardens, go horseback riding, visit the colorful carnivals and just relax and cool off in that beautiful little town, the coldest in Sri Lanka.
But Nuwara Eliya can get very crowded during the holiday season, with increased vehicular traffic blaring horns and emitting exhaust smoke, and pedestrians taking over the streets, leaving no room to breathe. And so, if you’re looking for a quiet holiday away from the hustle and bustle this April season, Nuwara Eliya, for all its scenic beauty, may not be the best holiday destination.
There are, however, other cool(er) places you can take off alone, or with your family, to escape the heat in the city and spend some time with nature, in mild to chilly, breathtakingly beautiful climes.
Haputale is a small town in the Badulla district of the Uva Province, situated at an elevation of 1,431 meters above sea level. The town holds no more than approximately 5,000 people and is located on top of a mountain range with scenic views on either side. There are plenty of places to stay, and the town is accessible by road and train. The Dambatenne Tea Factory, Lipton’s Seat and Adisham Monastery are all in vicinity and worth a visit with family or friends. The town is uncongested and misty and cool, and will make for a wonderful alternate holiday destination.
Ella is a small town in the Badulla district of the Uva Province that has seen increasing popularity over the last few years—especially with tourists. Situated at an elevation of 1,041 metres above sea level, the Ella town has flourished and has a relatively well established tourist economy, with plenty of guest houses and places to stay, as well as wi-fi and general amenities and services. Ella is accessible by road and train. The climate is cold and misty and the area is surrounded by valleys, tea plantations and forests. In the vicinity are the Ravana Falls, the Nine Arches Bridge and Demodara Loop Tunnel—where the train passes under itself in a spiral loop—that are worth visiting.
Pattipola is a small town on the border of the Nuwara Eliya district of the Central Province and is a good alternate holiday option this April season. Pattipola is accessible by road and train and is, in fact, the highest point to which trains operated by Sri Lanka Railways travel, at 1,897.5 metres above sea level. There are several inexpensive places to stay in Pattipola, and the surroundings are cold and beautiful. Pattipola is also one of the entrances to the Horton Plains, which gives visitors to this sleepy town the adventurous options of hiking the Kirigalpoththa and Thotupola mountains. Nearby is also the Ambewela Farm where you can find out how your daily dairy is made.
Badulla is the capital city of the Uva Province and is situated at an elevation of about 680 metres above sea level. The weather is cool and the area is surrounded by tea plantations. The city is almost completely encircled by the Badulu Oya River and overshadowed by the Namunukula range of mountains. There are plenty of places to stay while in Badulla, and a number of nearby attractions to visit. These include visiting the Dunhinda Falls, the Bogoda Wooden Bridge, built in the 16th century, the Dhowa Rock Temple, the Anglican St. Mark’s Church and the Wewessa Ella.
Deniyaya is a small town in Matara district of the Southern Province, close by the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This lowland wetland area is cool, especially during the night, and abounds with nature. Deniyaya is accessible by road and train and there are a number of lodges and places to stay. It is easy to relax in Deniyaya, enjoying the misty cold views. Nature walks through the Sinharaja Forest are a must, and many species of flora and fauna can be spotted there. There is also the Sathmahal Ella for bathing and the Dalu Tea Centre to visit.
Kotmale is a little village in the Central Province that lies alongside the Kotmale reservoir and dam. It is accessible by road and train and has plenty of small hotels and places to stay. There are a number of attractions in the vicinity, which include the Kotmale Mahaweli Maha Seya, built to commemorate the over 50 temples submerged when building the reservoir in the 1980s, the Dehadu Kadulla, or the Kotmale Kadadora, one of four main entrances (Kadadora, Watadora, Niyangandora and Galdora) used to enter Kotmale in ancient times, and the nearby Devon Falls in Talawakele. Depending on the weather, you can also a catch glimpse of the Kadadora Viharaya, partially submerged in the waters of the Kotmale reservoir.
Rakwana is a small town in the Ratnapura district of the Southern Province that serves as an entrance to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It is surrounded by looming mountains and tea estates and also the Rakwana River. There are a number of waterfalls—Galdola Ella, Handapan Ella, Dalveen Ella and Arambe Ella—for visiting and bathing, in addition to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve which is a ‘must-visit’, with its variety of flora and fauna. There are places to stay in Rakwana, and it is accessible by road and train. The lowland wetland area is cool and misty in the morning and will make a great alternative holiday destination.
While Nuwara Eliya is definitely the coldest of all these spots, each of these listed above can be cooler alternatives to the busy hill country towns of Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. With a little pre-planning and pre-booking, you can arrange an informative excursion with your family in parts hitherto unexplored on the island of Sri Lanka!
[Cover: Haputale, in the Uva Province, is picturesque and cold. Image courtesy bookings.com]