It was cold in Nuwara Eliya, and no wonder, for we were at an altitude of 1,868 metres. Our shorts and jandals were back in our suitcases, and we wore long trousers, socks and trainers again. And as we didn’t have a map of this stretched-out, strangely misshapen town, Sujan kindly hand-drew one for us.
“Just keep turning right,” he said, explaining how we could walk in a loop taking in the bazaar, the post office, the police station, the main hub of town, and the famous old hotels of the Hill Club and the Grand.
Nuwara Eliya is an old colonial town sometimes called “Little England”. With its cooler climate, its mists and rolling green hills, it was founded as a holiday retreat by hot and bothered British plantation owners. And as we wandered, starting at the post office, a redbrick building with a red pillar box, then walking to the oldy-worldy house that was the police station, the town really did feel like somewhere in England.
So far Sujan’s map had been good. Then we came to a roundabout where our navigation came unstuck.
“It’s up there,” said Kate, pointing at a road on our left that appeared to lead into a park and golf course.
“But that’s not what Sujan said.” I remembered how he’d told us to turn right. “And if you look at the map we still have to go past the Windsor hotel and the petrol station.”
“I think it’s up there.” Kate stood adamant.
“I don’t think it is.”
In the end, we agreed to go my way. Straightaway we came to a big roundabout and the Windsor Hotel as predicted. Plus we bumped into another couple from our group.
“We’re going to the pub.” They pointed across the street. “Fancy coming?”
“I think we’re going to look at the old colonial hotels.” I nodded in the same direction. “Maybe sample their famous afternoon high tea.”
On we walked, only to meet another couple from our tour. The man had purchased a bright new elephant shirt, while his wife shielded her eyes from the pattern. They told us they’d just been to the old hotels – so we had to be heading the correct way, always turning right.
Yet as we plodded on further, into a maze of busy side-streets, the shops becoming smaller and scruffier, the trucks and tuk-tuks more plentiful, there was no sign of the green lawns that surrounded the Hill Club or the gardens and façade of the Grand.
“We’ve been past this before.” Kate scowled at a familiar blue tuk-tuk parked on the corner. “We’re going around in circles.”
“We’re just turning right.” I waved Sujan’s map.
“I’ll ask somebody.” She approached two bystanders who listened with puzzled faces, then waved at the way we’d come. Following their directions, we walked for another five minutes – only to end up at the same tuk-tuk.
“Perhaps they’ve moved it,” I said optimistically.
“This is ridiculous.” Kate was hot and annoyed, and even I was starting to doubt the map.
In desperation, we headed along a mud path across a patch of parkland – and then spotted our bus. Sujan wasn’t onboard, but the driver Dharme smiled at us and pointed in a new direction.
And lo and behold, we found ourselves on that road into the golf course that Kate had pointed out an hour ago.
“This is left rather than right,” I said in self-defence.
Nevertheless, as we followed this route, we came first to the Hill Club, then the Grand. Too late for afternoon high tea, but at least we’d see the hotels from the outside.
And the lesson of this story? Never trust a map drawn in haste on a sheet of paper. Trust your wife instead as she is always right.