We caught the 10.56 train from Ella’s beautifully quaint station. Once again, we chose 2nd class, where we knew we could open the windows and hang out of the doors, rather than reserve seats in the air conditioned (but closed in) first class carriage. There was also a choice on this particular train for the observation carriage, which is an extra carriage added on the back of the train, with seats facing backwards along the tracks, and is basically made of windows (although I’m not sure if you can open them). From what I’ve heard, it’s not really worth paying the extra for this, as only the very very back few seats get a good view of the tracks, and from what I could see through the doors from 2nd class, and from on the platform, it didn’t look all that great.
We got seats easily this time, and sat back to enjoy the ride. There were lots of travellers as it is such a popular train route – meant to be one of the most beautiful journeys in the world- and we could easily see why. The views of tea fields, forest, and villages roll away from you as you wind gently through the majestic hill country in the heart of Sri Lanka. Make sure you sit on the right hand side of the carriage if you’re going in the direction of Kandy for the best views out of Ella.
We decided to stop in Ohiya for a few nights, in order to split the long journey, and so that we could take a walk to World’s End in Horton Plains, the only national park that you are allowed to walk in in Sri Lanka. The wildlife is less of an attraction than the views here, although there are deer, and (slightly terrifying) apparently there’s leopards too-although hopefully not so much in the walking parts. You won’t be able to get any phone signal in Ohiya, but the local cafes will be more than happy to let you use their landlines.
We stayed at Hill Safari, a homestay near the top of the mountains, around maybe 2000 metres up. Before us, below us, the Sri Lankan landscape drops away from us towards the sea. On a clear day, we are told by Eomal, the owner of the homestay, you can see actually see the lighthouse on the southern coast, and even, sometimes, right out to sea too.
It is truely beautiful, peaceful, and comepletley awe inspiring. We sit at the grassy viewpoint that is a few hundred yards from the house, and are surrounded by tea field. We enjoy the cooler air and watch pickers working in the valley below us, the children spilling out of schools, and tuk tuks rattling along dusty red tracks.
The next morning, we set off early to Horton Plains, hoping to beat the cloud cover from sweeping in and swallowing the views before we could soak them up. It cost 5800SLR to get a permit to enter the park as tourists, which we had to then keep on us whilst walking. At the gates, they checked our backpacks, making sure nobody was taking in plastic bags.
The plains themselves might have been glorious, but unfortunately the clouds were already low when we arrived, at 6am, and consequently a thick fog covered everything, making it more resemble Dartmore than anywhere else we had seen in Sri Lanka. However, it did give us a chance to test out our snazzy new raincoats we’d brought with us for (and not used in) the monsoon, so that’s a silver lining I guess.
The short trek (2-3 hours) around the plains was enjoyable, and interesting, even with the clouds making things a bit miserable. There was many a rocky scramble, and forests to pass through, and waterfalls to see (Baker’s Falls especially is worth the walk alone). We were lucky, considering the day we’d come, to actually catch about twenty seconds of the breathtaking view from Worlds End, where the rocks drop away to a sheer cliff over hanging the valleys below, before the persistent thick fog of water vapour swirled around us once more.
We dropped into the cafe to grab some earthy coffee at Horton Plains before heading back to Hillside Safari. The day was proving to be wet and windy, so we stayed indoors, playing carrun, a Sri Lankan table game where you try and flick black and white disks into holes at corners of the board, a kind of cross between tiddley winks and pool. We made friends with some of the other guests staying, who we hope to meet up with again in Trincomalee perhaps, in a weeks time.
The wind howled us to sleep, and now we are on our way again, a five hour train ride weaving through the hills still ahead of us! But the views are fantastic, even through the rain streaked windows, and we’ve got lots to look forward to in the culture capital, Kandy, where the hills and lake and forest all meet.
–apologies for lack and quality of photos once more, something to look forward to in a few weeks when we’re back!–