Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Busy day outdoors in beautiful Ella

Our only full day in Ella started bright and early with a 7am breakfast – much to the delight of our lovely homestay hosts who had family commitments in another city to attend to. Tasty Sri Lankan breakfast with pancakes (pani pol), dahl & coconut with dough and fruit (🍉🍍& papaya) 🤤😁😋. Our day would take us a good 30km around Ella starting with Ella Peak.

Ella Peak 🗻 – Buena vista no1

It was about a 5km hike to the top with c300m vertical. The route is straightforward – just follow the rail tracks from Ella to c500m past Kithalella station and uphill from there. We followed the steps as described in this blog post.

Don’t let locals fool you off track or into using their services (they try just after Kithalella station), unless you want company of course.

The views from the summit back to Ella and into a deeply green valley are amazing and best enjoyed with a fresh king coconut (sold for Rp200 amongst other refreshments).

Passing by Ravanna cave

We followed a different route back, which i had found on my viewranger app (great trail details google maps won’t have). It led us down the other side of Ella valley.

The Rp150 entry were a bit of a waste. The tiny cave is a steep hike up. That was ok. Yet offers close to nothing to see. Not so ok. Well, a good work out!

Ravanna falls

About 5km from the cave are the Ravanna falls. Pretty big and worth seeing. Some people even swim in one of the natural pools at the bottom though it is technically not allowed.

For transport there best take one of the frequent busses from Ella (Rp30) or a tuk tuk though they will charge Rp1000 return.

Sri Lankan food we like so far
Finally we got some local food options having felt Kandy didn’t offer much. Other than an amazing breakfast as discussed above, the sri lankan cuisine we tried in Ella offered a decent curry (though not with the same number of variations as India and generally less spicy) and a kind of shredded, oily piece of dough called rotu or kottu. To that you add veg, chicken, cheese or whatever your belly screams out for. We also love hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes) with dahl curry. So tasty!!!

Little Adam’s peak 🗻 – Buena vista no2

A lot closer than Ella Peak is little Adam’s peak (the little brother of the roof of Sri Lanka – Adam’s peak).

On the way you also pass by the Ella zipline experience. A 550m ride in arguably spectacular scenery with set you back U$20.

Views from the summit over the valley are great and, if it isn’t too hazy, let you get a glimpse of many more hills further away.

Nine Arch Bridge 🌉 – Waiting for the Hogwarts Express 🧙‍♀️ 🧙‍♂️

This bridge is a beautiful example of colonial architecture. A stone viaduct with nine arches similar to the one you’ll see the Hogwarts express steaming over – though that one stands in Glenfinnan, Scotland and boasts 21 spans.

There are four trains daily to and from Ella. We waited for the 3.30pm train to get our pics sorted (alongside many other one-off train romantics 😍🚂). And we all got what we wanted… After a 45min delay.

Needs to be seen. Both the bridge and the 30min hike there are spectacular!

Popular rumours suggest that when construction work commenced on the bridge, the Great War began between the empires of Europe and the steel assigned for this site was reallocated to Britain’s War related projects at the battlefront. As a result, the work came to a standstill, leading the locals build the bridge with stone bricks and cement, but without steel.

And so quickly was our time up. Ella is clearly a place dominated by tourists, but so far it is well-managed and the vibe reminds me of places like Pai in Thailand or San Augustin in Colombia. After an amazing time here we are now off to a safari in Yala national park 🐘 🐆 🐃 🦌 🐦.

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Sri Lanka 🇱🇰: Magnificent Kandy-Ella train journey & Ceylon Tea Basics

After our time in and around Kandy, it was time for our second train journey on what is advertised as a most spectacular route (some say the most beautiful in the world).

Message from Anatoly, St. Petersburg 🇷🇺: ‘I have a friend, she was in Sri Lanka and said “if you didn’t travel by train, you didn’t see that country”.’ We agree wholeheartedly!

Route basics

The route from Kandy to Ella takes about 7h to cover something like 150km – yep, about 20-25kmh on average. There are options to jump off in many places on the way to explore tea plantations and hike in the lush green hills. We went all the way.

As usual, you have three classes on offer. 1st is usually booked up weeks in advance. So we opted for 2nd (about 1USD each) well knowing that it might mean standing for the entire journey.

Timing wise, there are two trains completely in day time – 8.30am and 11am. We were told to get to the station early to get a ticket and take the early train. Not sure if that is true, as the 11am train couldn’t have been much busier!

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Getting on the train

All passengers were keenly aware that seats are limited. So some positioning games on the platform unti the train arrived. To the surprise of most, the train and in particular 2nd class was already full. Damn!

So 3rd class it was. Standing. By the open door. Generally it is best to be on the right hand side of the train for the first half and left for the remainder (in direction of travel). Further, the train gets gradually emptier as time passes.

And now… Take in the scenery

Green valleys with tea plantations, cosy villages, ever often a tuk-tuk on a nearby road and lovely old school railway stations don’t fail to impress as the train meanders slowly through the hilly landscape. Pictures speak a thousand words…

People on the journey

Below a selection of portraits and other shots showing people in their life – be it in the train, the tea plantations or else.

A word of caution

It is very popular to hang on the train for cool pics using the permanently opened doors. People get hurt and die doing that, one girl only the day before we travelled (in response, there was a safety officer in each wagon now). So if you do it, hold on well!!!

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Tea of Sri Lanka

Tea production

Let’s start with a few facts. No-one will be surprised to hear that tea production is a key industry for Sri Lanka and most of us will have tried it (knowingly or not). Tea is a U$1.5-2bn trade, a key source of FX revenues and employs c1m people directly and indirectly (vs. 22m population and 8m employed population).

Tea was introduced by Brit James Taylor in 1867 who understood the excellent tea growing conditions – humidity, cool temperatures and rainfall – in the central highlands. Kandy region is the main area and at the time of Taylor, also still the cultural center of Sri Lanka with c1/3rd of the population and the last kingdom until 1815.

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In terms of production (about 340m kg per year), Sri Lanka is no4 producer globally (after China, India and Kenya) and second largest exporter having lost the top spot recently to China).

Types of tea

The main tea of Sri Lanka is black tea, which is considered a subgroup of the Indian black tea. The below infographic breaks it out superwell (just zoom in enough). This blog breaks it out really well (top right in the poster are Sri Lankan black teas). There are also green and white teas available (green tea is from the same plant yet not fermented meaning it retains more antioxidants). Quality of teas are divided into many subcategories from BOP (best) to DUST (worst). See here for details. 

Arriving in chilled out Ella

The train suddenly emptied as we arrived at our destinations and 7h journey time. Tuk-tuks already waiting for their many guests.

After quickly refreshing ourselves we headed to town for some good food, a foot massage and some life music. Really decent vibes here. And the fog that moved in at night created a mystical athmosphere. 🐺 🌕 🌫