Kandy to Ella
We had been forewarned by our driver, Jeewa, of the windy road between Kandy and Ella, so our prep that morning included travel calm meds, ginger tablets and fresh ginger for breakfast. We were not looking forward to that aspect of the journey, and were glad of the advice, as the meds made us a little drowsy, so we napped in the back of the van like 10 year olds.
The two and a half hours that it took to get to Nuwara Eliya were not as painful as my carsick-prone self had anticipated. The countryside was mesmerising and the small townships so interesting for people watching as we scooted past that my attention was diverted by that rather than focusing on the winding road.
The universal school uniform in Sri Lanka is plain white with only variation in ties or jackets to differentiate schools. Travelling through the countryside of a morning, there were many flocks of them on their way to school. They looked immaculate, pristine, perfect in their white; all the girls walking side by side with their twin plaits tied with matching school uniform ribbons.
Bluefield Tea Gardens and Factory
We arrived at Nuwara Eliya, relieved that there were no motion sickness issues on the way. We stretched our legs at Bluefield Tea Gardens and Factory where a lovely woman showed us around the factory and explained the process of tea manufacture in Sri Lanka. Had no idea that all the different types of tea are actually from the same type of planet, not different strains as I had thought. It’s all about how it is processed – finer cut, fermenting or not (green tea is not fermented), different parts of the leaf (gold and silver tips). And the whole process from picking to packaging takes only two days! I thought it would take at least a week!
Waterfalls View Homestay
Our approach to our little homestay was halted by piles of gravel and sand in the middle of the narrow road, so Jeewa phoned the accommodation and they sent a tuk tuk to transport us which could squeeze past the piles on the narrow bit of road remaining clear. This is an example of the changes happening in Sri Lanka for those industrious people wanting to make a living in the expanding hospitality industry. And in this case, the roads need work to cater for the increased numbers of homestays and B&Bs being built in the area.
Our Waterfalls View homestay was one of a number of neighbouring homestays who have banded together to offer cheap and clean accommodation in the hills of Ella. Breakfasts were a hit, my favourite being coconut roti with dal and buffalo curd, but there were also eggs and fruit if that was preferred. While breakfast (which was so delicious and plentiful that we did not really need lunch) is cooked on site, the dinners are a communal affair that happens in an open sided dining room in a location central to all the homestays (only metres from Waterfalls View).
Our digs were simple, but comfortable. The only negative aspect was that the rooms were so small that the double beds were up against the wall, which for old bodies during the night made for difficult manoeuvring to get up to go to the loo. We managed though.
At the time of our stay, the falls were dry due to no rain in over 6 months in the area. This was a shame, but the view was still impressive. While sitting on our verandah outside our room we could take in the beauty with cold beer in hand with some chips and nibbles. We could hear all kinds of birds in the surrounding trees, including peacocks, but they proved illusive. Our setting, as well as the delightful and eager to please hosts, made this a very pleasant stay.
Demodara Loop and Nine Arch Bridge
We only had one full day in Ella, and we began by exploring the railway tracks between Ella and Demodara stations. This train journey is hailed as one of the most beautiful in the world, but we did things a little differently, and walked the 6km track between the two stations.
In Australia, walking along railway tracks is discouraged, so we felt quite adventurous on this trek. It was such a relaxing and pleasant experience, nodding and smiling to the many locals who used the tracks as their foot highway, and when a train chugged along, they just stood aside as it passed.
We negotiated our way through a couple of tunnels and paused for rest and photos at the Nine Arch Bridge. This is one of the iconic bridges of Sri Lanka, built during the time when Ceylon was a British colony and is a fine example of British railway construction. One of the things that make it so remarkable is the sandstone, brick and cement construction – no steel was used at all.
We continued our walk, loving the sunshine and the occasional cool breeze. Witnessed the Sri Lankan passion for cricket in a school match taking place along side the train track (!!), separated from us by some scrubby bits of vegetation, a train only a ‘six’ away from the action.
Our destination was famous as being one of the marvels of civil engineering in the country – the rail line actually passes under itself, going around the loop and emerging from a tunnel that is directly under the Demodara railway station. The loop is 900m long and the tunnel 320m, and is the only loop in the world with a railway station situated directly over a tunnel at spiral loop.
We were hoping to catch the next train back to Ella to save walking the 6kms again, but we had tarried too long on the sightseeing aspects of the walk. Before reaching the station, our train came towards us and we got off the tracks for it to pass. When we arrived at Demodara, we checked the timetable and discovered that the next train was only 25 min away, which gave us time to sit on a bench for a rest and make friends with the station’s sociable resident dog. When we heard our train coming, we ran across to the top of the bridge to see it going underneath us before looping its way to the platform.
The train trip itself was tops, a charming snippet of what the journey from Colombo would be like. Jeewa was friendly with the train guard who allowed us to access the observation carriage at the rear – it was empty. He opened the windows for us so we could hang out of the train like everyone else and we had such larks!
We drove back into the centre of town around midday and had a bit of a wander. Due to our large breakfast we weren’t quite hungry enough for lunch, so instead we went to Dream Café and had a cool drink or two to rehydrate. The ginger, lemon and mint juice was so delicious and refreshing, it was easy to consume them on a rolling order. Sitting with drinks in hand, doing some people watching and chatting, snacks were soon craved and we got some ‘devilled cashews’ – cashews tossed in a pan with some spicy sauce, onions and garlic. Too yummy, and another new favourite.
This was all delivered at a leisurely pace, and by the time we had finished this treat, we were ready for lunch, proper. After seeing a massive and fine smelling pizza delivered to the Aussies at the next table, we ditched our usual rice and curry order and went with that. Pizza is a rare diversion for us, and this was one of the few times that it lived up to expectations – tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, onion, on a very thin crust, just the way we like it…and they added green chillis and olives on our request. Perfect.
Our Sri Lankan journey continues with Udawalawe…
Accommodation: Waterfalls View Homestay
Tour Company: JF Tours & Travels