The bus gently manoeuvred through the many bends going uphill, the scenery outside my window unravels into rolling hills, verdant tea plantations and deep forested ravines. I have arrived in tea country. The cool air is a welcome change from the heat of the lowlands. My ride was meant to go to Badulla but I took the wrong one and had to change buses a couple of times to get there. I didn't mind though because I enjoyed looking at the view while the bus slowly made it's way in through the dangerous twisty roads. Badulla was quite a busy city. There's better places to be around these parts. After checking out the nearby waterfalls, I decided to spend the night Ella, 30kms away from Badulla.
Went for a trip to Badulla's major attraction - Dunhinda Falls. I had to take a bus 5km north of the city and then walk 2km from the main road to the falls. Paid the tourist price of 200 when the locals only pay 1 rupee. Seriously. Well as long as the money goes into conservation of the waterfalls then it's all good. The brownish water coming out from the top is caused by the recent rainfall. This place is more of a local tourist spot as droves of Sri Lankan families came here today and with me being the only foreigner around, I got a lot of attention.
A sleepy village purposely built on tourism, Ella is everybody's favourite hill station here in Lanka and for a few good reasons. One is the excellent walking that you can do in just about any direction out of the main road. Another one I could think of is the pleasant weather. You can be as easygoing as you like, chilling all morning in your room that overlooks the spectacular Ella Gap or spend the whole day on your foot, walking through tea plantations, temples and viewpoints.
Ella is a town made for walking. There are so many awesome trails to keep yourself busy around the area. I went hiking to Mini Adam's Peak (the big one is in Hatton) this morning with a 5am early start to see the sunrise at the top. I've been on quite a few treks and this one easily makes it my favourite so far. Passing through a sprawling tea estate and ending with a challenging climb up to the peak, I hoped for the sun to come out however the clouds were too thick. The views up there were stunning though.
What is Sri Lanka without tea? It wouldn't ever be the same as it is now hadn't the colonisation happened. Well, there would be coffee plantations instead but we all know tea tastes better and much more good for you. I'm no tea expert but the stuff they've got growing here is top notch. I really enjoyed the cup of ceylon black tea with just a touch of milk and a teaspoon of sugar I had this afternoon. Had to buy some of it to take back home.
Built by the Brits in the 1920's, this section of the Badulla - Ella line is popular for its old architecture. I got here by walking on the train tracks from Ella Railway station. Keeping alert for oncoming trains, whenever they sound the warning horn, you simply step to the side of the track to avoid getting run over. The historical bridge is just right at the other end of a dark tunnel.
I've got my eyes on the peak of the majestic Ella rock today. Went for an early head start around 6am to avoid the midday heat and the crowd. Followed the railway tracks until the turn off point that is very easy to miss if you don't have a route map. Then I get pestered by a local who insisted that I went the wrong way. It was funny how he kept popping randomly out of the bush to keep reminding me that I needed a guide to get to the top. Half of that is true since there are a so many ways to get there and taking the wrong one could easily get you thrown off the right path. Even I got lost around the village at the base of the climb. Good thing I started noticing these blue arrows painted on trees and rocks. They eventually led me to the start of the ascend. So far so good.
It was a hot sweaty struggle to scale the top of Ella Rock but with enough determination, I made it all the way up . You can almost see all of Sri Lanka at the peak. The superb views took my exasperation away. After a calm moment of pondering into the distance, I then made my descent. Foolishly decided to take another route back instead of the one I came up in and of course I screwed up so bad that I totally lost my sense of direction (which is usually pretty good). After eating my last ration of butter cookies and drinking the final drop of water on my bottle, I started to panic, thinking I'm going deeper into the woods. And this is how google maps essentially saved my life. Wish I thought of it sooner though. I found the way back to Ella with the help of gps navigation and caught the train to Haputale.
With tea plantations as far as the eye can see, the views from this train ride is an absolute delight. Every possible land space is taken over by the green shrub and then manicured into trimmed rows. I could go on this railway journey for hours and not complain one bit.
I just had the best samosas of my entire life at the tea house on Lipton's seat. The freshly made goodies where the perfect compliment to the sweeping 360 degree of the landscape. This very spot is where Sir Thomas Lipton, the savvy Scottish entrepreneur, used to survey his burgeoning tea empire and entertain important guests back in the days. Mornings like these are the best.
A nice enough town sitting high up in the mountains with excellent views of the tea plantations below. The small population of Haputale are mostly Tamils (South Indian) brought over here to work for the tea barons from neighbouring India. I've also been hearing that the construction workers building all the high rises and condo units in Colombo are also imported from nearby countries like Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. And thus I've been wondering, why not hire the local people?
They go well with each other. Sri Lanka owes a lot of its annual $700 million income from the tea business to the hardworking Indian immigrants. The Tamils are really nice people too. It was strange how I never saw anyone plucking tea leaves around the plantations though. Maybe it's not harvesting season this time of the year.
Game over. I'm done for. Why did you decide to do this to me now? This is the worst thing yet to have happened on my trip. And no, I didn't get malaria or some sick disease like that nor robbed of all my belongings by some aggressive tout. My camera broke! The freaking lens won't open up and retract. It just happened so suddenly today. The poor thing still turns on but I can't take any photos with a closed lens. I've tried every quick fix I can find on the internet but still no dice. For those who are wandering, it is a Sony RX100 M2. I think I'll head back to Colombo tomorrow to have it repaired. Fingers crossed, it's nothing serious.