Softly spoken Sri Lanka travel blog Continued from Part 1.
More information on travel in Sri Lanka below..
9. Ramboda Falls
Heading south and east, takes us deep into the deepest blue of the Bunsen burner flame of the Sri Lanka map. Luckily for us, and tip of the hat to uncle Nigel (thanks, Nige!) we have an old-school fold-out paper map to trace our route, circle stops and appreciate this graphic flame often and at our leisure.
Turns out that deepest blue in the bunsen burner means altitude! And we spend the morning gaining some of it pretty quickly. It’s about 2.5 hours of up into the mountains before we have to ditch the car at a turn off and are shuttled down an immensely steep switchback drive to the lobby of the most spectacular Ramboda Falls hotel.
The casual hostel scruffiness here gives way quickly and magnificently to the surroundings – a south facing overlook on a wooded ravine. Flanked by a powerful nearby double waterfall on the left, a taller, slender, silent one straight ahead in the distance and a crinkle of mountain range spanning out to the right.
It’s hard to describe the excitement when the guy helping with our packs and showing us our way to the room leaves the main dormitory style building and leads us out to the furthest-most cottage perched right at the steepest and most nicely shaded spot where the view is nothing but Sri Lanka travel’s finest.
An afternoon of waterfall and sun bathing, dog-befriending and balcony music happy hour sunset give way to an evening of buffet, wine, table-side Sri Lankan happy-birthday guitar and tambourine quartet (not even close to my birthday, but very nicely played, Ali!), a few hours of 8-ball billiards in the hotel bar with self-soundsystem and finally, a flat-on-our-backs-in-the-grass star-gazing cosmos ponder.
10. Nuwara Eliya
Next day, awakened by a small platoon of caffeinated monkeys on the tin roof of the cottage, it’s off through the tea plantations, into a tea plantation factory (where our guide reinforces my hunch that most commercially available black tea bags are filled with the dust swept off the factory floor) to the nearby town of Nuwara Eliya. This place is too cute. Much cooler temperature-wise given its altitude than anywhere else we’ve been, NE is full of storybook brick and stone Tudor architecture inspired by the English countryside.
Apparently, the British colonialists found this to be one of the best spots to set up a home away from home complete with a golf-course, plush resort hotel and downtown with banks and a post-office.
Taking a walk a few blocks north of downtown though and the bus terminal, fruit markets, roti cafes and shops selling SIM cards, milo, hardware, bridal hairstyling, stiff-billed Stussy caps and elephant pants – say, “nah, this isn’t the Cotswolds, you’re travelling Sri Lanka still’. It’s just a little less hot.
But then a walk by the adjacent recreational lake feels again like somewhere else altogether – maybe Sweden? Who knows. It’s nice though, and our guide there, a smiley yellow dog that trots up and puts his paws in Ali’s seated lap, stands tall to signal his approval of her, makes sure we leave town with a profound appreciation for its welcoming and carefree spirit.
Another light-agenda day is just right, and after a breezy windows-down drive back through the tea plantation road switch-backs, we spend the rest of the day near the hotel luxuriating by a natural pool in glittering dappled sunlight, bouldering and building Zen rock piles.
The evening is about a village walk, another riverside waterfall scamper to get the bpm’s up. Then a fantastic night of watching Makila, a local dude with big plans, and his buddies laugh uproariously and tweak each other gently about not *quite* getting the cue ball up table, around a coin and back to home in three shots, no cushion or coin to be touched – a game that Ali knew would be all it takes to start a fun, bonding party like this.
11. THE Train Ride
I believe this to be one of the main reasons to travel Sri Lanka:
This morning we’re met by our second driver/guide, Nisha. He’s a lithe, handsome guy who looks quite a bit younger than a 43-year old dad of two teenagers. Nisha’s got an easy smile, gentle demeanor and the same confident flow behind the wheel as Tharanga.
I’ve learned from Ali that Nisha is the engineer and artist behind our itinerary and he’s got the presence you might expect from a mastermind.
We make a stop back in Nuwara Eliya for a little breakfast and coffee before heading over to the train station to catch the 12:15 to Ella.
The train is only half an hour behind schedule and when it does pull in it’s interesting to note that it takes about five minute of Nisha and his colleagues trailing other guides and their disembarked clients before they return hurriedly holding tickets for us to board.
First impression, after lots of hype is “Oh. OK. Cramped commuter train through the countryside with other underwhelmed, snacking Eurameristralians.” Ali even picked up a dark vibe in her foursome across the aisle from me – which, thankfully, made us move to a better location in the carriage.
But then. End of Car. Open doors. Full-face lean-outs over seated leg hangers.
“Tika-taka, tika-taka, tika-taka. Ta-tak; ta-tak; ta-tak.”
This was the dialog between the steel wheels, the carriage, the tracks, the sleepers and the earth as we coasted past a grove of silvery gum trees bathed in dappled sunshine that punctuated a view of green mountains through them and blue ones beyond. It was only another bend before the train was enveloped in a passing cloud, bringing a cool misty ghostliness to the emerald grasses and fiery flowered bushes that brushed our outstretched toes.
Here and there a face would drift by, one with a whistle, softly but firmly blown to signal something like “I’m here”. Another squinting through a sunbeam to gather a glimpse of the far paler faces aboard looking back through open windows and sunglasses.
There was nothing loud or abrupt or forced or splashy about this afternoon train ride, billed as the most beautiful in Sri Lanka, between the quaint Britishy-feeling tea and scones resort town of Nuwara Eliya.
Surrounded by some of the country’s most prolific tea-producing plantations and the not-so-nearby ayurvedic backpackers/ beer/tea/shisha/massage basecamp called Ella nestled in the crook of Adams Peak and the 9-arches bridge.
About an hour in, after a station stop in a sunny siding, an opening for a side-by-side seated leg-hang of our own, albeit on the less scenic, less sunny side.
But then, almost instantly, a big right-hand bend and the valley of the gods opens up to us through ghostly gum trees and we’re there, floating, clicking, clacking, grinning and breathing involuntarily deep breaths.
Next through a cloud, then whipped at the toes by sun-warmed grasses, past small farms and houses bathed in late afternoon golden glow.
Please don’t let it stop. And it doesn’t.
Seeming hours (and it was) of fragrant sun-dappled woods, 200-km views to distant mountains, wooshing tunnels and smiling faces at stations and between.
THIS is the Sri Lanka I brought with me when I left. Mountains, colors, tea, train, mellow sunny fragranced fields, patient tuk-tuk travelers stopped at crossings and gentle breezes.
At our destination, Ella, high in the central province mountains, all pile out and it’s apparent that more than half of the passengers are 20-30-something crunchy back-packers, tatted, dreadlocked, tanned, ankleted, pony-tailed and equipped for trekking.
The town itself is small and caters to this contingent – hostels, bars, shisha joints and lots of little mom-and-pop ayurvedic massage emporiums. After a pot of street-front, people-watching tea, we book into a massage place. Relatively early to bed at another deserted hotel after some amazing hotel-grown-and-made pumpkin soup.
The following morning we make quick work of Mini Adams Peak – a brisk vertical endeavour that rewards with an incredible panoramic view of surrounding mountains. Now cast in stark atmospheric relief by the brilliance of the mid-morning sun and offers a nice glimpse in the direction of the next chapter of our tour, south toward the ocean.
A family of mountain dogs and their pups show us around the summit after they were treated to Coconut Haiwaiin cookies care of Nisha, much to the delight of a pair of Aussie ladies whom Ali pegs as being from Queensland.
Part 3 continued here.
If you’re considering a trip to Sri Lanka, PLEASE make sure you get in touch with the below wonderful humans to help make your trip a comfortable and educational breeze:
Nisha (organised the WHOLE trip for us):
WhatsApp; +94 77 626 4733
Tharanga (majority of driving & educating):
WhatsApp; +94 70 363 6046
For discounts on accomodation through Booking.com, click HERE.