Our love affair with travel may lie low for a bit for “practical reasons in this hopelessly practical world,” but it can’t stay for long that way, the swaggerer that it is. “Holiday, holiday,” it had started to whisper wickedly in my ears and I slyly passed on the germ to my husband, Aditya. As we began checking a few nice and sprawling beach resorts, they conjured up images — hassled fathers keeping pace with their babies checking out every bit of trash on the way, brats screaming murder from the swimming pool, tourists displaying their hairy beer bellies on the sun beds and teenagers hunched over their mobile phones making you wonder what happened to the restlessness of youth. A far cry from the Rumi-esque vacation we were longing for.
It was then we came across two colonial bungalows snuggled up in the central hills of Sri Lanka: one deep amidst the tea estates of the “Little England” of the island — Nuwara Eliya, and the other a little away from the last capital of the ancient kings — Kandy.
Ah, to be on the road again. We love the journey and are not intent on arriving, as they say, and sometimes, like this once, the journey loves us back. There was a prediction of storms on the island and dark, ominous clouds hung low and threatening. So low that they descended all around us. We drove through intermittent showers on winding roads of manicured tea estates and wild patches of forests crossing Devon Falls, one of the highest waterfalls of Sri Lanka on the way.
Nuwara Eliya has the vaguely English rose-tint countryside feel to it. Once a favourite of the tea-planter pioneers from Scotland and Britain, the town sports its old colonial past in every nook and cranny — the solid stone architecture, the foreign names of tea estates, the pretty little gardens and prim golf courses. There is a dusty, more mundane side to it, like all other towns of the island, but the genteel clouds flitting in the lanes shrouded it for us.
Google Maps started to fumble and get confused as we drove away from Nuwara Eliya and deeper into the hills to approach the Scottish Planters bungalow built sometime in the 1880s — a sign that you now had to step out of the present into the past. The butler greeted us with a bouquet of their garden-grown flowers and instantly we felt that this travel into a time warp was not going to be distracting but fulfilling.
The days didn’t spin away in a daze of activity but lingered and dawdled — a brisk morning with the birds of different feathers busy and looking important, even as they tried to steal some of our breakfast laid on the porch overlooking the gardens and plantations; a lazy, cool afternoon lumbering into the evening one moment at a time; a long reluctant dusk wrapping the hills carpeted with tea bushes in feathery mist. To end it all, a private dinner in the Scottish-style living room by the fire cackling in a century-old fireplace.
Nuwara Eliya to Kandy is a picturesque drive through the hills but we wanted to take the road less travelled — through Victoria Randenigala Rantembe Sanctuary. Crisscrossing streams, waterfalls, and butterflies passed our path instead of honking cars and burly trucks. The drive was as rewarding as the first look of Mountbatten Bungalow, despite a harrowing drive through 45 degree steep and narrow roads, thanks to Google’s good intentions for taking us through the shortest route.
Mountbatten and his wife are said to have lived in this bungalow hidden by forests in the central nowhere of Sri Lanka during World War II. Sipping on endless cups of tea in the sweeping lawns or by the pool overlooking the jungles, the delicate hill-country breeze stirring the mist as evenings gave way to nights lit by fireflies and glow worms, I tried to learn the art of doing nothing — now that I had stepped back in time.
And oh, the solitude. No connectivity is what you need to re-connect with yourself. No check-ins, no updates, no telling the world where you are. As Kahlil Gibran had advised, “Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one. People ruin beautiful things.”
Arefa Tehsin is an author and an environmentalist.