Tea Planters of yesteryears had a taste for good things of life. They built their luxurious villas with immaculately kept gardens and orchards, in the most scenic spots. Nowadays, most of them have become upmarket boutique hotels. Viharagala in Haputale in the central hills is one such tea bungalow
The mini bus was waiting for us at Haputale Railway Station. It was dark and rain was falling. It has been a long journey by train from Colombo and all of us were feeling it. We drove through Haputale town and downhill on the Wellavaya Road and turned left on to the long, tree lined drive to the house. Three members of Viharagala staff with torches and umbrellas were waiting for us. “Watch out for leeches!” they warned. We climbed the stone steps to the beautiful house with its enormous verandah. We felt relaxed and at home. We sat in the lounge and a man served hot, fragrant hill country tea.
The bedroom was enormous and a four-poster bed with a mosquito net stood at one end. There was also a spare bed, a dressing table, a wardrobe and an enormous flat-screen TV & DVD player. A sofa stood in front of the old fireplace. A rug covered the polished red cement floor. The attached bathroom was equally large and had a walk-in shower. There was no bath tub.
We freshened up, changed and got ready for dinner. There wasn’t enough hot water for a shower. I opened a bottle of Torres Gran Coronas and poured the wine in to ISO tasting glasses I brought with me from Colombo. A limited selection of Torres wines are sold in Sri Lanka by a company called Wine World. The 2011 vintage was too young to drink and felt harsh and tannic but was consumed without comment.
Dinner was served at 9 pm. It will be “Fine Dinning” the agent’s brochure said. The room had a magnificent table and cutlery and crockery were fine but the meal was not! The vegetable soup was lukewarm. The grilled fish was ‘cremated’, there was a dollop of cold mashed potato, the salad was not seasoned and the two chicken sausages were miserable and completely out of place. The creme caramel that followed was just tolerable. No wine or coffee were served. No body said much.
Back in my room, I poured myself a night cap from the little bottle of Chivas Brothers Special Blend I had in my bag. I decided to tell the chef to forget about ‘fine dinning’ and serve a simple Sri Lankan breakfast the next morning.
The Morning After
It was a beautiful morning. Birds were singing and mist rose from the Uda Walawe Valley. A rainbow appeared for a brief moment. I sat in veranda and drank tea.
It was a Sri Lankan breakfast and a good one too – coconut roti, string hoppers (Indiappam), fish curry, potato curry, coconut sambol, fiery lunumiris (red chillies with onion and flakes of maldive fish), plantains and tea. Roti and the curries were excellent.
We left Viharagala after breakfast and drove to the highest waterfall in the island.
History of an Old Colonial House
Situated 4000 feet above sea level in the tea district of Uva, Viharagala Estate was established in 1861 by the British planting family of Sillery. Incorporating both Ormiston Estate and Viharagala Estate, it passed to Evan Ormiston in 1862, and thence to George Smythan Duff in 1896.
By the time the Duff Estate Company Limited purchased the property in 1897 (for the sum of £ 10,000), it had expanded to cover an area of well over a thousand acres. Built into a mountain-side, and set among six meticulously maintained lawns, Viharagala Estate Bungalow, the estate’s spacious, 8 bed roomed plantation house, was originally built in 1876. A wide veranda that encircles the front of the house, commanding a panoramic view to the south and east of the Uda Walawe valley extending over fifty miles to the sea, was added in 1911. The present dining room and service pantry were further additions, made in 1948 to render the house more functional without destroying its ‘period’ character. The same aim has inspired all later renovations: for example, the original fire-places have been retained, and the original staff quarters still function today, linked to the main house by a covered stairway running along one side of a paved courtyard filled with flowers.
- The bungalow, its location and view of Uda Walawe Valley are magnificent
- Staff are helpful and friendly
- Bedrooms and bathrooms are huge but hot water is insufficient
- Average Sri Lankan food and chef has no idea about European food
- Beware of leeches in the garden. (Click here to read about avoiding leeches)
- Address: Viharagala Estate, Nikapotha PO, via Haputale, Sri Lanka.
- Reservation & Sales Office: Viharagala Estate Bungalow (Pvt) Ltd. No 02, Inner Bagatalle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka. Hotline: +94 779 918 800, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.viharagala.lk
- Cost: Double room $160 per night half board. There are special prices for Sri Lankan nationals
- The trip was arranged by Bandula de Silva of Sagami Holidays