Our next destination is Nuwara Eliya – highest town in Sri Lanka and surrounded by tea plantations. They call it little England. Before independence this was the chief holiday destination for the British because of its cooler climate and it is still a popular holiday destination for Sri Lankans in April when the horse races are held. Along with the tea are many allotments growing all kinds of vegetables, but particularly English ones like carrots and cabbages. We spend a good part of the morning of our first day in the bank trying to change traveller’s cheques. Jeffrey Eugenides describes it perfectly talking about the same experience in India: “…the British had left behind a bureaucracy that the Indians had made only more complex, investing the financial and governmental systems with the myriad hierarchies of the Hindu pantheon, with the levels upon levels of the caste system, so that to cash a traveller’s cheque was like passing before a series of demigods, one man to check your passport, another to stamp your cheque, another to make a carbon of your transaction while still another wrote out the amount, before you could receive your money from the teller.” (The Marriage Plot)

But it is good for people watching. Most of the clients are poor locals, possibly tea-pickers and most do exactly the same thing. Come in, go to one particular teller, hand over a passbook, he types something and gives the book back. This is done without conversation. It is a mystery to me – are they getting interest added? Their salary paid weekly straight into an account? We get a predictably thick wodge of money and feel bad surrounded by people barefoot or with flip flops made from tyres, bundled up in scarves and padded jackets, with tubercular sounding coughs. But it doesn’t prevent us from lunching at the Grand Indian. It is pretty fancy by Sri Lanka standards, though not expensive to us and it is the only restaurant in town where it looks like you won’t catch something nasty if you eat there. The sofa seats have lime and purple cushions and trim. There are proper table cloths and napkins. The place soon fills up with rich Indians and Arabs staying at the $295 a night Grand Hotel just opposite, but we eat simple thalis off tin trays – more South India than Sri Lanka. We watch the ‘pariah dog’ puppy pull the cotton wool snow off the penguins in the snow display outside. Quite what penguins have to do with Christmas in a tropical country is beyond me!

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