Ever since I was bitten by the travel bug, my dream was to travel to the misty hills by rail. The actual journey to the mystic mountains begins after Kandy. The train chugging uphill builds a child-like excitement of waiting to charge through the tunnels. Then billowing clouds of smoke the train howls down the line.
Taking the train is an inexpensive way to get across the country. The journey provides wonderful cultural experiences as well. During the journey, I had the chance to sit and mingle with several families. The real adventure in travel is to manage with the bare necessities and making do with the tit-bits offered by peddlers that board the train. By the time we reach Kandy one has enjoyed a variety of knick-knacks. Hot-hot wades dripping with fat, corn-on-the cob and mouth-watering fruity composts of ripe pineapple, guava and mango just to name a few. These items are often passed down the aisle, shared with other commuters over pleasantries.
To while away the time on my travels I always pack in a novel or two with me. Some of the books having been on previous journeys are dog-eared and soiled, get to ride along as a symbol of good omen. Pale purple train tickets, souvenirs saved from past trips are used as bookmarks. You may agree that a book is never read twice in the same manner. It is also the case with rail trips, each ride a roller-coaster packed with fun and excitement.
After Gampola and Nawalapitiya the train starts an uphill trail. I move towards the carriage door from which point I can enjoy the passing scenery more intimately. The sound of the warning whistle as the train makes through several tunnels back-to-back, is echoed and ricocheted like the wailing of a banshee in the ink black darkness. Since it’s already dark I close my eyes and patiently wait for the touch of sunshine on my skin and the feel of wind in my hair, to appear. Each time I memorize the burst of feelings as the train emerges into the greenery. Then the unending trail is back again. For the umpteenth time I have bent precariously over the side to capture the train curve around itself, snaking through tea plantations and over bridges. We pass Watawala, Rozella and Hatton all of which are well known for high-grown tea. Green carpets laid over undulating landscapes where tea factories done in corrugated sheets stand out. Returning back to my seat I take stock of the places we passed, exhilarated, exhausted I wait the passing of a few more stations.
The stretch between Nanu Oya and Idalgashinna is by far the best in terms of views. I am back at the doorway. Great mountains are seen covered in Montane forests, tall trees in shades of emerald green and burnt sienna with wisps of clouds trailing like a bridal veil. What animals lay beneath the layers of foliage was not seen however it reminded me of the movie King Kong (2005). Soon it was my turn to get off. A pastor who was in conversation with me at that time quickly pointed a finger to the top of the mountain where the dream house was said to be built by the Englishman. The train coming out of a tunnel was too swift in taking the side of the mountain and I miss the one position in which the bungalow can be viewed from the rail tracks. However for those viewing from the escarpment from Adisham, it is easier to look down and spot the passing train.
Just 4 kms from Haputale town along a winding road is a Tudor style house built in 1931 by Sir Thomas Villiers. The Adisham Bungalow is now serving as the St. Benedict’s Monastery. From the station I took a trishaw to get there. Temperatures drop drastically in Haputale during the night and it becomes warmer in the morning only around 9 am. I had to made do with the light jersey and knitted shawl I carried. Traveling light is something I always strive. It makes my planning so much easier to want less. So I adjusted to the cold weather, cold water and plain food served at the retreat. Adisham was planned to actually get me out of my daily routine and help slow down. I made it an opportunity to be closer to nature during my stay, to stroll in the garden, smell the flowers, watch the birds and enjoy great views from the top of the mountain. Beside the bungalow and 10 acres compound is a forest reservation. Many rare birds visit the compound. To spot these birds you need to be out in the chilling mornings and late evenings. This is also the best time for pictures as the ambience light is just right. Later during the day I walked down to the station to venture on the rail route, further up to Diyathalawa, Ella, Demodara and Badulla. (more on this in a later post)
A small portion of the house which used to be the quarters of Sir Thomas’ chauffer extends as a retreat for visitors. The rest of the bungalow to date is maintained like an English Cottage. In fact Adisham is the name of Sir Thomas’ birth place in Kent. Around the bungalow is a large garden extending to the sloping edge of the mountain and an orchard on the opposite side. From the harvest of a myriad fruit trees comes jams and cordials made of Marmalade, Strawberry and Peach. Visitors are only allowed during weekends and holidays. This allows the small population of clergy engage in their ministerial studies peacefully. During the mornings at the chapel I saw only a handful of novices performing daily devotions. In the vast precincts of the Adisham Bungalow those who make it to the retreat are able to take a respite from the chaos and stop to smell the roses.