We left Sigiriya on April 13th to head to a cooler climate before the Tamil New Year holidays began and before everything, including all major transportations, were closed or had very limited service for a few days. Our next destination is Ella, a small town largely made up of a long main street lined with restaurants and paths leading to many home stays (equivalent of bed and breakfast places). It is not a place close to historic sites but rather more of a nature location where the draw is hikes. Ella is a long way from Sigiriya and we cannot make the trip in one day.
Kandy, a place we had already been to, is enroute, so we decided to go there first, as it is cooler than Sigiriya, to wait it out until we can get transport the rest of the way. We ended up staying two nights. On April 15th we left Kandy and travelled by train to Ella. The train was FULL! Many people were trying to get on, and we just barely managed to board. We were in the unreserved cars, so there was no limit to the number of people who could enter the car. The aisles and carriage ends were so crammed with standing passengers that movement was nearly impossible. Sanford managed to get into the aisle, but I was stuck near the door for quite a while.
I will always remember that train ride for two reasons. One, someone stole all the cash out of my purse! I’m pretty sure I know who did this and when. I believe it happened when I was standing in the entrance way of the train. Sanford was a ways from me but had asked for his ticket (as I was carrying it), I opened my purse to get it out and although I try and be discreet when opening my purse I suspect the man standing behind me saw where my cash was. Later in the ride I was against the wall in the entrance of the train and that same fellow wanted to get past me. Sri Lankans are used to travelling in very crowded and crammed buses and trains and are actually very good at weaving through impossibly tight spaces. However, when this fellow passed me I noticed that my purse, which was over my shoulder, was more in front of him, between him and the wall, and it seemed to take him a long time to pass. I didn’t, of course, click into what happened at the time and was unaware all my cash was gone after he passed. I thought he passed to go to the toilet on the train, but he didn’t, he just disappeared and then a few minutes later came back. I remember at the time thinking that was odd. In retrospect, I think he stole my cash and then went somewhere to see if I would notice, and since I didn’t, he thought it was safe to come back. About an hour later, I made my way to Sanford and it was at that time I realized my cash was gone. So it could have happened at another time but I highly suspect that one fellow. I was actually lucky in many ways that my credit cards and the bracelet that Sanford bought me in India were not stolen as well as they were in the same spot as my cash, but he only took the cash. I had a little less than $200 stolen from me. In the grand scheme of things, not that much, it did upset me that I was not aware at the time, but live and learn.
The second reason this train ride will be remembered is that the journey was 7 ½ hours long and we had to stand for more than half the train ride. That is really difficult in a very hot, very crowded, train car. It was probably 4 hours into the train ride that I was able to sit. Someone took pity on me as I was constantly shifting because my back was very uncomfortable and gave me his seat as he was getting off at the next stop. Sanford probably had to stand an extra hour before there was room for him to sit. I believe the trains were unusually busy because many people had travelled during the New Year’s festivities and were now returning home prior to work starting the next day.
Once in Ella, things started to get immediately better. For our accommodation we stayed at a home stay, Mount Breeze Villa, and it was one of the best places we stayed in our entire trip. It was a family-run place, and we had a beautiful room with hot water for showers. The family didn’t speak a lot of English but were very welcoming and accommodating. Meals, if we chose to eat at the home stay, were wonderful. Everything was homemade, not too spicy, and there was a lot of variety. Some of our best meals were at this place.
As to what to do in Ella, this is walking country with no shortage of places to go. Ella is located in Ella’s Gap, a cleft in the hills where the land drops 1100 meters to the plains below. On one side of the gap is Ella Rock and on the other side is Little Adam’s Peak, two hikes we would do.
The first day we decided to conquer Ella Rock, a four-hour long hike southeast of the town up 300 meters to the top of one of the bluffs. To get there we walked through town, to the railway track, along the track for a km or two, over a waterfall bridge, through tea fields and up a steep, rocky, rooty path to the top. It was a pleasant walk, though steep and tough near the top. Clouds were coming in as we ascended, but held off long enough that we didn’t miss the views. And the views from the Rock were spectacular, looking over nearby peaks, the railway, town, Little Adam’s Peak, and down the Ella Gap to the lowlands.
Below is a picture of Sanford and I at the top of Ella Rock. That day we gave all our dirty laundry in for washing. I gave both my shorts and it was too hot to wear pants so Sanford let me wear his shorts!! I was absolutely thrilled that they fit. I was always heavier than my ex-husband and up till now Sanford, and it was just one of those wonderful moments for me that I was no longer bigger than my partner. Sanford was very generous because since I wore his shorts and the rest of his clothes were in the laundry, he only had his swimming trunks left to wear!
The second day we decided to conquer Little Adam’s Peak, a grassy hill to the left of the Gap. It was about a 3/4-hour hike, gradual uphill and then steep, but not as high as Ella Rock. The Peak (actually 2 or 3 close peaks) gave virtually a 360-degree view of the surroundings, and there was less cloud than yesterday. We could see down the gap to the plains, across to Ella Rock, the town, and the Newburgh Tea Factory to the east. It was so nice up there, though hot, that we stayed at least an hour or so before returning down. Once back down from the peak, we continued further down the road to find the 9-arches railroad bridge, which is considered another local attraction. It turned out farther than expected. On the way we discovered we were passing the Newburgh Tea Factory, so we decided to go in and check it out. We found out they gave tours for $3 each, and decided to take one in. The tour was about 1/2 hour and included tea tasting. They only made green tea here, the process was quite simple: drying, rolling, drying again, final drying, sieving, grading and packing; all processing taking 1.5 days. Quite informative!
On the road again, we had to walk another km or so downhill to get to the railway, and back along the tracks to the high and impressive 9-arches bridge over a creek valley. We walked back to Ella along the railway tracks and enjoyed the food to have in Ella; curd and fruit.
The last full day here we decided to take in the Ravana Temple and Caves. It was meant to be about a 40 minute walk, which it was, but it was quite the hike. To get there we went straight downhill on the Gap Road, for about 1.5 km. Then at an intersection we took a minor road which was a steep uphill climb for some distance before coming to the Temple. The cave temple is said to be 2000 years old and contains some Buddha statues. It was okay but not that impressive.
Having explored the temple we wanted to see the cave. Turned out it was a 700-step climb up to the Ravana Cave. With some hesitation we set off up. The steps went on and on, as it was a long ascent, and the final few meters to the cave were an intimidating rock scramble followed by more steps. The cave itself was not large, and nothing really spectacular, not worth 700 steps in my mind anyways. This cave is said to be the place where, in the Ramayana scriptures, the demon Ravana took Rama’s kidnapped wife Sita to hide her. It was a long climb down and then down the secondary road to the main road where we had a steady uphill climb until back into town.
This walk did me in, I got a huge blister on my second toe on my right foot. The blister extended beneath the nail and now as I write this a week later, the nail is loose and I know I’m about to lose the nail. I’m very squeamish about it at the moment, it is grossing me out! This is the third nail I have lost in the last two years. I would like to think it is because I’m now so physically active that it is just a natural part of this type of lifestyle but I suspect it is more that my shoes weren’t a good enough fit for this type of activity. I’ll have to investigate this later.
Between Sigiriya Rock, the Polonnaruwa ruins, standing on the train most of the way to Ella and now three days of hiking, I was ready for a rest. Thankfully, our next locations would be just that.