Ella is just about at the end of the line. It’s a small village in the middle of tea country almost at the end of Sri Lanka’s hill country train line. It is very popular among tourists and has a good variety of accommodations, restaurants and activities but without being too developed. It just has a nice laid-back feel about it.
After all of our dashing around the country we decided to camp out in Ella for a full four days at the end of our time in Sri Lanka. It was the perfect place to unwind for a few days, catch up on postcards and generally enjoy Sri Lanka at its best.
On our first full day we rose early and completed the Little Adam’s Peak hike. It’s not much of a hike, two hours round trip, but the final push to the summit is a steep slog up some makeshift concrete steps. The views from the top are magnificent. In one direction you can see all the way to the ocean (provided it is clear enough!) and in the other direction its mountains and tea plantations.
Following the advice of a friend, we booked the Sun Top Inn for a long stop in Ella. The family that run Sun Top were very kind and the food was excellent. One of our favorite things about Sun Top was the breakfast that was included with the room. There was a choice between western and Sri Lankan and we always went with the latter. Hoppers, roti, coconut rice, string hoppers, fresh fruit, you name it – they would make it.
Since we were going on short hikes just about every day of our stay in Ella, we fell into a routine of rising early, going for a walk, then returning for a late breakfast/brunch. This way we avoided the heat and landed a massive tide-us-over-til-dinner brunch each day. Did I mention the food was excellent?
On day two we climbed Ella Rock, a much more substantial hike than the day prior. Starting off at 6:30 we had to walk a few kilometers down the railroad tracks then hunted for the trailhead. Eventually I asked a local man and after some pointing he took off at fast pace across the fields and rice patties. Amy and I did our best to keep up with him in hopes that he would show us the real trail. In the end, he took us all the way to the top of Ella Rock without saying a word. Once again, great views from the top.
He led us back down the mountain along a different trail that wound its way through a maze of 10ft high grass. It would have required some trial and error to make it through this part on our own! We stopped at Rawana Falls which is apparently much more impressive during the wet season but it was nice enough. After that he took us to the tracks, tipped him a few bucks and then made it back to town to gorge ourselves on brunch.
Day three was another walk along the railroad tracks. This time we headed the opposite direction of Ella Rock to a village called Demodara. The plan was the walk there in time to catch the morning trail back to Ella. Along the way we crossed the Demodara Nine Arches Bridge which is a pretty famous engineering feat in Sri Lanka.
Another highlight of the walk is train tracks just beyond Demodara. Because of the steep descent through the mountains, the tracks actually trace out a circular path around the valley and then tunnel back under themselves on the way to Badulla. I wanted to see this part of the track but we were running late. Just as we rounded the corner and could see Demodara station, the train was blowing its horn and pulling out. We took off running and soon one of the engineers was waving us up into the locomotive. They stopped the train, we hopped in the locomotive and off we went.
Both the engineers were real nice guys and they answered all the questions we had about the trains. The particular locomotive we were in was a diesel-electric from Germany that was about 30 years old and, aside from the two passenger carriages at the end, the main cargo was fuel. When we got to the Nine Arches bridge they even slowed the train so that we could get some more pictures. Quite a fun experience in the real first class on a Sri Lankan train!
Day four was another visit to a tea factory. The owner of Sun Top gave us a lift to the Halpewaththa Tea Factory and we took a short thirty minute tour. Unfortunately, we struck out again as the day prior was a holiday so the factory wasn’t running. They wouldn’t let us take photos in the factory and the best part of the excursion was the walk back to Ella. We took a shortcut that led us through small farms and tea plantations.
We layed low on the last day. I spotted a number giant squirrels and birds from Sun Top as I filled out some postcards. In the afternoon we made one last trip to the local bakery to get the short eats when they were still oven-hot. The sugary breads were my favorite whereas Amy preferred the curry rolls which were decidedly of the burn-your-face-off variety. Late in the day I went into town to visit the post office and get a haircut. More on the haircut adventure in the next post.