Summer frocks and fancy hats at Nuwara Eliya’s version of Ascot.
At first glance, Nuwara Eliya seems seems a typical Sri Lankan town. Pineapple, jackfruit, mango, avocado and plantain spill from roadside stalls. The call to prayer wails out. Buzzing tuk-tuks and the roar of the mighty TATA lorries and buses scatter the crowds, horns blaring, then choke them with noxious clouds of black smoke. Perched on a grassy hummock with a bright red pillarbox gleaming by its entrance, Nuwara Eliya’s post office rises impressively above the bustling exoticism of the town. Its clock tower, spires and turrets, cottagey windows and unfeasibly red brickwork and beams make the post office, which was built in 1894, look as if it would be more at home in a model village on the Isle of Wight. Further down the road, outside Cargill’s Stores, varnished wooden signs list the commodities long ago available within: waterproofs, ladies drapery, sporting goods, gramophones, travelling requisites. These are relics of the British era in Sri Lanka. Settlers developed Nuwara Eliya as a hill station in the heart of their tea estates. It became a place where planters, businessmen, diplomats and soldiers could escape the steamy heat of the lowlands and enjoy some home comforts. Here they built elegant villas and bungalows, with white fretwork and green corrugated iron roofs. They grew English flowers and vegetables. They established a golf course, a park, a club, several half-timbered hotels and guest houses and the race course. When the British left Ceylon in 1948, these oh-so-English institutions and traditions, far from slipping into neglect and decay, were taken over, tended to and nurtured by the Sri Lankans. In Nuwara Eliya you can find the ex-pat way of life carrying on just as it did in the early part of the last century. Once the domain of English ladies and gents, today you see Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian families strolling, posing for photographs by the flowers and playing cricket. Notices in the park exhort the strollers to “refrain from plucking the blooms” and to “behave decently”. Although Nuwara Eliya is not anywhere near the area affected by the tsunami, it has felt the impact of dwindling tourist numbers. The tourist season is regarded as particularly important this year, as the means of reviving the town’s fortunes. The season’s programme reads: “Aftermath of tsunami brings a lot of sorrow and pain in mind. Whilst you enjoy the fun and frolic please bear in mind that we have a national duty to bring back the glories of our nation which we have lost by nature, fulfilling our goal to preserve our town as the Little England of the past.”
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Watching the gee-gees. Maybe later retiring to The Grand Hotel for gin and tonics.
Sipping a cuppa next to the mayor.
A horse called Amazon Bronze won the IDC Gold Cup. The owners scored only 40,000 rupees, just over £200.
Olde English architecture, 1,889 metres above sea level in the heart of Sri Lanka.
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Ringing the bells at The Hill Golf Club.
One of Nuwara Eliya’s many English-style clubhouses.
Ladies go glam for a perfect English day out.