I had always thought of Sri Lanka as this hot country huddled close to the equator. Merely a larger brother of Chennai. Yes, perhaps it had some beautiful beaches, but being more into hills than beaches, I felt no inclination to explore its sandy blues. The long running civil war did its bid in making the country even less attractive for travel.
In the last year, however, I heard from many friends who went to SL for holiday and came back impressed and delighted with its charm. In the end, it was a beautiful picture shared by a friend on what’s app, that made up my mind. It was a particularly hot day when I saw that delicious green picture, surrounded by a clouded sky and tall grey-green hills. I checked the temperatures – Kandy at an attractive 22 (Singapore was scorching at 32!).
So on short notice and even shorter planning, we booked our tickets, got an online approval for entry, and started looking for places to visit and stay. This time. We had decided to stay mostly in guest houses and home stays.
Our first destination, of course was Kandy. I wanted to rush to the spot where my friends had taken that picture. I was almost prepared to be disappointed, a photo only captures a moment and moments seldom repeat themselves. And then, walking into Liz’s perfect home (Summit View), when I saw the exact same view spread out before me in the living room, I was delighted beyond expression. Liz and her son Luke were perfect hosts, sharing with us their time and their stories, but also giving us the personal space we needed. Their house, perched atop an edge of the hill, looks out into the beautiful valley and it’s muddy river. Almost 4-5 km away from the Kandy town, the place is peaceful, quiet and very relaxing. In many ways, it feels like being nestled away from civilization. And yet, when you get a burst of flavor in your tea cup, along with delicious tropical fruits in the morning, it feels awash with all luxuries you could ask for.
We stayed here for 3 days and were sad to leave, even though we were going deeper into the hill country. My favorite moments from these three days were climbing the Ambuluwawa tower in drizzling rain – the whole valley was being trampled upon by clouds, who sometime completely hid the lush green valley, and at other times heightened its beauty by offering it as if under a veil.
Then there were dinners near the pool, under a starry sky. Liz’s cooking was delectable, and we stretched out those dinners late into the night. On these days, I enjoyed staring into the valley with my books – it has been a while since I read three books in a week and yet did so much else.
From Kandy, we went to Ella, mostly to enjoy the much talked about train journey through the hills. I am always iffy about trains because I am seldom able to fall back to their very slow rhythm. To me, a journey that can be made in two hours should not be stretched to 6 (May be that’s why I struggle with the Odyssey). Yet, it is hard to reject the charm of a continuous panorama of misty trees rolling in front of your eyes. It was a scenic journey, and we enjoyed the second class because we could open the windows and let the breeze walk in. The much publicized observation deck or the first class, had the same views, but because of air-conditioning, the windows could not be opened.
The journey was long, and trains in Sri Lanka are not known for their punctuality. Just a day before, we had heard of another family from Summit View waiting at the station for two hours before they could board the train. For us, the delay was only 20 minutes, and there too, the train managed to somehow wind up 15 minutes earlier into Ella. Getting into the train was another story – we ran around like madmen on the Kandy station, jumping from one compartment to another before we could find the right one. The doors of the right compartments were locked, and at one point, I was almost about to give up any hope of being able to get in. But then, just a minute before the train was about to take off, we managed.
Fifteen minutes after leaving Kandy, we started rolling through green tea farms, which line up most of the landscape of Srilankan hills. There were clouds hovering above these tea hills, mystifying the lands into settings of romantic stories. Unattainable love of course, such beauty cannot lead to a cliche of happily ever after. There was a particularly pretty stretch before Nuwara Eliya, and then around the station for Horton Plains.
Ella is a sleepy little village, surrounded by hills – Ella Rock and Little Adam’s peak, and several others with no name. Nice place to spend a couple of days reading some more, walking around (some easy walks and climbs) and enjoying the food (Nescoffee is a good place, so are some local joints for kuttu). So this is what we did. The walk up to Little Adam’s peak was particularly interesting, as it goes through tea farms. The tea factory invites visitors who are interested in observing and knowing about how those leaves spread out before you turn into an ingredient for a refreshing evening with friends and family.
After spending two nights at a guest house in Ella, we took an early morning ride of 4-5 hours to go to Galle. But that part of the trip was like being in a different Sri Lanka.