Friday, July 28, 2017

Nuwara Eliya - The Tea Capital of Sri Lanka Also Known As The Little England of This Island Nation

Dr. John Davy was a British Surgeon who along with his other mates was once on a hunting expedition in the forest ranges lying across Mt. Pedro (locally known as Pidurutalagala) which is also the tallest mountain of the island nation of the then Ceylon in 1818 which later on was renamed as Sri Lanka in 1972. They found an elephant in the forest area, they chased him and got lost in the jungle. In the absence of food, etc, the soothing and refreshing climate of the region supported them which helped them to identify the distinctness of the region and its unique biodiversity. Dr. John Davy’s own expression of his first sight of the space was - ‘I was walking in the middle of a forest. I saw beautiful white shining diamond watered waterfalls falling. I came to the top of a mountain. The people who came with me said that it is the highest land of this country.’ He informed the regional Governor Edward Barnes about it somewhere after 1824 and presented it as a place where soldiers after exhaustive fights could rejuvenate at a faster pace. The Governor was thrilled with the idea and decided to build his own holiday home for which he spent around 8,000 pounds for its construction which has now been converted into ‘The Grand Hotel’ which was formerly known as the Barnes Hall. The developments which took place after it in the region took shape in the form of a human settlement which is now known as Nuwara Eliya which literally means the city of light. 
The city has often been referred to as the capital city of Raavan - one of the prime characters of Ramayana - an Indian epic who is mentioned to have kept Sita, the wife of Rama - the protagonist, in one of the gardens of this gloriously mentioned city made of gold & the place where he kept Sita was termed to as ‘Ashoka Vatika’ (Sita Eliya in present times). Interestingly, Dr. Davy also quoted something in parallel with the identification with which it was presented as in the Ramayana - with the tree of ‘Ashoka’ & its abundance. Further elaborating upon his first sight discussed above he mentioned that the place had so many ‘Ashoka’ trees, elephants, wild animals and gemstones suggesting some common reference between the two.

Travelling through the history, William Horton then succeeded Edward Barnes in 1831 who also acted as the editor of Colombo Journal and he wrote a few articles about Nuwara Eliya in the same which brought this human settlement into a spotlight especially amongst the foreign tourists and visitors. Samuel Baker, a British explorer who is also attached with one of the first Europeans to discover River Nile and interior of Central Africa also arrived Nuwara Eliya during the same timeframe and built a house at Magasthota and developed a huge vegetable and animal farm space. He returned then to England and came back in 1848 along with his brothers John and Valentine. He also brought plants, animals and other equipments alongside experts in the field of farming on the ‘Pearl of Hard Week’, the name of the ship. While transporting the goods from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya on bullock carts, the vehicle fell down the valley due to the steep slope near Ramboda Pass and Baker lost his accompanying brothers in that accident. Following the incident, Baker made a hospital at Nuwara Eliya and dedicated it to his brothers alongside developing his farmland. 
William Gregory became the governor of the region in 1872 and he has some big plans about Nuwara Eliya - one of them was making it the capital city of  Sri Lanka. He drained out a swamp region and developed it into a lake which came to be known as the Gregory Lake following the legacy of the human who visualised it at first. Following such announcements and things accomplished by Gregory, Nuwara Eliya began seeing an increase in the number of foreign visitors visiting this human settlement. Railways was brought in by Robert London the successor of Gregory which thereafter made accessibility to the settlement much easier. Till 1918, it was dominatingly a foreign colony with only two Sri Lankans owning houses in Nuwara in 1910. Sri Lankans started migrating to Nuwara especially after end of the First World War and the land which costed Samuel Baker around Rupees 25 per Acre is suggested to have raised upto Rupees 50,000 per Acre when Sir Ponnambalam, a local resident brought a piece of land for himself. 

The population of Nuwara Eliya crossed 7,00,000 in 2013 & it has became one of the most important tourist attractions of Sri Lanka especially due to its geographical conditions & refreshing climatic conditions which though are just an outcome of the former one. It was often termed to as the Little England by its visitors due to the predominance of the foreigners especially the Europeans till most part of its initial developmental phases. Tea which was brought to Sri Lanka in 1867 by James Taylor on a 19 acre land Loolecondera Estate in Kandy eventually became an industry of over 1.5 billion US $ as per the figures of 2013 and Nuwara Eliya led it from the front in the nation’s transformation in terms of its major economic activities and transitioned itself from being a lush green forest into the tea capital of the country and one of the major sites of the world as far as tea plantation is concerned for which the relief of the settlement has proved decisive in deciding the character and nature of the local culture and economy besides the influence caused by its ‘modern founders’. 


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