Sri Lanka III: Tea, Spices and Leeches

The Hill Country is definitely one of Sri Lanka’s highlights with its lush tea plantations, its misty mountains and impressive waterfalls. However, it is also one of the most visited areas of the country, with hotels and B&Bs sprouting everywhere in the main towns of Ella, Nuriwa Eliya, as well as in the countryside closer to the key summits of Ella’s rock and Adam’s peak.

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Leo and I were determined to get away from the tourist trail, and decided to go trekking in the knuckles for two days. Although still touristy, the knuckles region remains less frequented than the rest of the Hill Country, which allowed us to revel in nature without having to queue for a picture.

We contacted Sachi, from Kandy Green Tour, a few days before our arrival, to organise the trek. On the day, we parked our car at his in Kandy, and got driven to the start of our walk, with our guide, Ashuka. We started the walk at midday, under the blazing sun. I had read that the region was famous for leeches, but was reassured that there would be none on the day as the conditions were too dry.

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Ashuka took us across villages, rice and tea plantations, and into the forest, explaining to us on the way all about the flora and fauna of the region. He showed us different types of spices that grew in the area, got us to taste certain edible flowers, and described the different traditions.

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About halfway through the walk, I felt a little tingling sensation in my foot. I look down, and see a leech trying getting into my sock. I laugh nervously, and stop to ask Ashuka for help. Instead of pulling it out, he pours Dettol on it, which makes it fall off on its own, and explains to us that we should by no means pull out a leech that has already hatched onto the skin as it could cause an infection. We laugh about it, and carry on walking, only to find ourselves covered in leeches everywhere. They were crawling up to our feet, but by flicking them around, we ended up letting them get everywhere. It then suddenly started raining, and we rushed to an outpost of boulders, where we had to take off our clothes, and check ourselves for leeches. Ashuka then recommended jumping into the river to make sure they all fall off. I had by then 5 or 6 different bites. Although they are harmless, it wasn’t a pleasant feeling seeing little worms crawl over your legs to suck the blood!

After lunch, we carried on walking towards the campsite, stopping every few minutes to check for leeches. When we finally made it to camp, I was too shaken to appreciate the beauty of the spot. My mind was still on the leeches – but Ashuka and the camp guardian assured me there were none in that area. They then gave us one of two rooms available, as the campsite was empty. After changing and getting rid of the last leeches on our bags and clothes, we proceeded to have dinner, and went back to our room to sleep, whilst a storm was ranging outside.

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The next day, we woke up to the most delicious breakfast and a bright sunny day.

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Ashuka gave us leech socks (!) to ensure we can see them before they crawl up our legs, and we headed to Gombaniya, the highest peak of the Knuckles, which sits at 1864m.

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The views on the hill country and the plantation were breath taking, and made us forget our misadventure.

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We then headed back down, stopping by a waterfall, and then all the way to a village, where Sachi picked us up to bring us back to our car in Kandy.

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Leo and fell asleep for most of the car journey back to Kandy, and only woke up when Sachi stopped for one last adventure – late lunch at a local restaurant in Kandy!

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