The planter’s bungalow has been revived to its former glory, with seven themed suites based on personalities that shaped the history of the province of Uva, one of the foremost tea growing regions in Sri Lanka, the finest tea growing region in the world.
Thotalagala bungalow is surrounded by 20 acres of lawn and patana grass. From the edge of the lawn, a sweeping vista greets the eye. Behind the bungalow and covering the Haputale hills lies 4000 hectares of tea stretching unto Lipton’s seat, 1500 feet above, and over onto the Bandarawela side of the mountain. The seven suites represent the epitome of colonial luxury. The teak panelled smoking room is the ideal place to retreat to for an after-dinner cognac. The dining room itself is with its twenty seater table, a place to savour traditional hearty plantation fare. This is also a working estate, and guest will be able to immerse themselves into the traditional lifestyle of a tea planter.
Each of our seven suites has been dedicated to the memory of a gentleman who played an integral role in the development of the province. These suites celebrate the idiosyncrasies of their namesakes, while also serving as opulent tributes to the designs, hues, shapes and concepts that typified the British colonial era in Sri Lanka. Step back in time, and into the ultimate in comfort and luxury.
Filled with memorabilia from the British Colonial era, and paying respectful homage to the traditional lifestyle of those intrepid tea planters of yore, Thotalagala offers guests a completely immersive and utterly indulgent experience.
Leopard tracking in the misty highlands of Horton Plains
Horton plains are all that remains of the once vast expanse of the “Maya Rata” or the Maya Kingdom named by the ancient kings of old, a land filled with deep dense forests, misty highlands and respected and preserved as an important region as the headwaters of three of Sri Lanka’s major rivers the Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe. Over time, with the colonization of the island by the British, these once sacred and protected lands were cleared out to grow coffee and thereafter tea. The once pristine “cloud forests” were now covered in green tea fields. What remained of most of the wildlife from elephants, leopards, bears and much more either died out or moved down to the lowlands.
The expansion of man even post-independence has resulted in a small and fragmented habitat in the clouds. Of which one of the most well-known and often visited locations is Horton Plains, National Park.
A high elevation plateau located in the central highlands, these lands visited by the English explorers revealed a land lost in time. Of misty rolling plains, home to vast herds of Sambhur, Sri Lanka’s largest species of deer, and many other natural wonders.
Horton Plains is one of Sri Lanka’s most visited tourist sites and very popular with local visitors as well. Namely due to the scenic landscapes, as well as the walk to the “Worlds End View Point” a sheer cliff point at one corner of the park which showcases stunning views as far as the eyes can see, as well as Bakers Falls, named after the notorious English hunter Sir Samuel Baker.
With an average elevation of 2000-2300 meters above Sea Level, these lands were once home to large herds of elephants, but over time with constant hunting, the giants of the land were either wiped out completely or driven down to the lowlands.
And yet, what remains are truly wondrous. The plant life is unlike any other found on the island, with most of the trees, shrubs and plants found here being endemic to Sri Lanka. These highlands are home to a vast array of unique endemic, resident and migrating birdlife.
Many of the endemic birds of the island are found here, including the Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush, Dull Blue Fly Catcher, and Yellow Eared Bulbul. The two most sought after and equally highly elusive are the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and the legendary Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush also known as the “Arrenga”
The grasses on the open plains are vital grazing grounds for Sambhur the largest deer species in Sri Lanka. And among the grass and the dense forests lies a secret predator. The Sri Lankan Leopard is the undisputed king of these plains. And yet, many do not know of their existence.
The leopards of Horton Plains seem to be large and have broader facial structures compared to their lowland counterparts. The cold weather and abundance of high-quality protein in the form of Sambhur may have resulted in these physiological changes.
Despite their size, the tall grass easily conceals their presence as they can easily crouch and stalk through these tussocks without detection to man or Sambhur.
These mysterious predators venture down to the villages and towns lower down seeking easy livestock from time to time such as goats, chicken and even village dogs.
Research published by Webb et al in 2020 using a camera trap study in 2017 and 2018 showed density estimates of 10-15 leopards per 100 square KM.
Catching a glimpse of, let alone a good photograph of these elusive big cats is an almost impossible task. And yet for those with experience and a good pair of “eyes” luck can run in one’s favour from time to time.
Often seen on the fringes of the forest edge, these cats use these areas as good vantage points. Further, any unusual blobs or colour variations in the grass need to be kept a close eye on. The best evidence of their presence is with the alarm calls of the Sambhur and the Purple Faced Leaf Monkeys, who are all prey species of the leopard. Predicting their location based on these alarm call is a challenge altogether, as sometimes these animals give out the alarm if they get a smell of the leopards’ presence rather than a visual of them. Further Sambhur behaviours such as the tail being raised or foot stops are signs they are alarmed.
If one is truly lucky, the drives up and down between the Pattipola and Ohiya entrances can give chance to find a leopard crossing the road right in front of you. These are extremely rare and once in a lifetime encounters. Usually, they are so sudden one takes a few seconds to catch one’s bearings and mostly no time to take a photograph.
One of the last wilderness refuges in the mountains of the island, Horton Plains remains a fragile and sensitive ecosystem that requires stringent protection and conservation efforts to preserve it for future generations.
Located amidst rubber plantations, the ancient ruins require a short trek. At first sight, the caves would be hard to truly make out, as it magically appears as the trees part ways to bring to the fore two massive rectangular rocks which lean on each other. The eerie cacophony of bats who call these caves home welcomes the visitor who dares to enter these dark caves.
There are several ancient carvings on the walls of these rocks, and they have been numbered by the Department of Archeology. With a flashlight, it is easy to make them out. The markings range from ancient scribbles known in the local language as “kurutu gee” and also the carving of animals of which the most well-known is the carving of an elephant and its calf.
A major breakthrough for the country’s history and archaeology the discovery of these caves and subsequent excavations revealed the existence of ancient civilization during the Neolithic Period which is the transition period between the Stone Age and Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages which gradually arose with farming. The carvings on the rock seem to have been made with iron tools, and some further excavations revealed evidence of millet grains, fireplaces and even pottery that were unearthed in the caves. It is believed to have been home to two or three families.
An off the beaten track and yet an interesting site to visit to discover our ancient past, the Dorawaka Caves are one of many amazing Neolithic sites found in Sri Lanka.
Vaada Baila – Musical Lyrical Debate, A Lost Sri Lankan Folk Art
A traditional content would commence with a first-round where each of the contestants sings on their faith. The next round focuses on paying respect to parents, teachers and elders. After the show begins, the gloves come off as the contestants are pitted against each other in an unrelenting lyrical contest.
Some of the vaada baila singers popular at the time were Maradana W. A. Ruban Perera, Modara Justin, Ratmalana T. D. Gunathilake, Dematagoda B. Don Richard, Rajagiriya Marshall, Punchi Borella T. S.D. Siriwardena and Welikada Sunil Atapattu – who all followed the convention of taking as part of their names the localities they represented.
Sri Lanka’s version of a “Rap Battle”
Classic Sri Lanka in its tradition of showcasing the “real Sri Lanka” can bring this traditional art closer to you by organizing a unique Vaada Baila show with two of Sri Lanka’s foremost lyrical champions. An atmosphere and experience as authentic as it gets, mingle with local baila enthusiasts and witness this long lost tradition come to life and pick the winner. Even though the language of these verses may be unknown to you, the atmosphere and interaction with the local communities and their celebration of music and life are what makes this a truly authentic and immersive Sri Lankan experience.