Everything in the hotel at Bandarawela was at an angle. The staircase ascended not only vertically, but zigged at ten degrees, then zagged at twelve. The same with the corridor. It slanted too. And the passage that led to the aromatherapy suite, the flowers in the tranquil garden. As for our bathroom – jutting from the bedroom at twenty degrees – it was a gross violation of the perpendicular.
“I should have brought my protractor,” joked Nelson as we climbed upstairs. “I could have put them straight.”
The staff didn’t want to be straightened though. They all wore red Santa hats – at funny angles, of course – and smiled at us.
“This is a very interesting town,” said Sujan, perhaps really meaning it was busy with traffic and didn’t cater greatly for tourists. “And this is the best hotel.”
Whatever his angle, or the hotel’s for that matter, the breakfast was terrific.
We all sat at one long rectangular table – the same as in other hotels. Except here, there was no help yourself buffet. Oh no, here, the staff – all still wearing their Santa hats – served you. First, a plate of bread: brown slices, and white slices highlighted with red and green. A second plate of tomato, cucumber, pate, cheese, and olives. And a third of fruit. Then tiny glasses of watered down juice and hot strong cups of coffee. Omelettes to order, and pancakes, and milk toast, and curds and treacle.
It was a feast. The finest breakfast we’d had anywhere. And instead of people constantly going up to the buffet or returning to sit down, everyone stayed where they were. Like a proper breakfast time, the way hotels used to be. And all this in a hotel that at first had appeared a little basic, somewhere the angles didn’t quite add up.
Bandarawela might not have any pretensions. But if Basil Fawlty ran this place, he’d be proud of it.
Afterwards, we packed our bags and ourselves into the bus and rode through the popular town of Ella and down the Ella Gap. This is a steep hairpin road that descends from the hill country down to the coastal plain. The views were breath-taking: dark mountain peaks, and verdant green hillsides rippled with cloud. We were still travelling through tea plantations, and rain too. At one place, we slowed for roadworks where workmen constructed a gigantic retaining wall. Further on, a lone tea shop perched on a precipice. At Rawana Ella Falls, we stopped to photograph water tumbling for nearly one hundred metres over a series of black rocks.
It felt like we were descending forever. And perhaps we were, one cloud after another, departing the cool straight plateau and dropping at a very acute angle. Until eventually the road levelled off and, to our surprise, a lone male elephant blocked our path. It wanted fruit. This was the toll. Except our breakfast had been so delicious, we’d eaten every last slice of papaya and pineapple, every last banana.
“Looks like we’re in a spot of trouble here,” said Nelson without flinching. “Anyone got any ideas?”
But the talented Mr D, our driver, had it sussed. Pressing on the accelerator, he swerved around the elephant and onto clear road ahead. Mr D didn’t do angles. He drove in a straight line, from wherever we started our journey to wherever we finished.