Ever since I joined Red Dot as a sales consultant the phrase “scenic train journey” has cropped up in emails on a daily basis. We have people in the Red Dot office who claim to know every station en route intimately, but for me it was time to upgrade my childhood memories.
The first hurdle to overcome was actually to obtain tickets for the train journey. It is an extremely complicated process and there were only 46 seats in the observation carriage. But we were lucky enough to get the required 4 seats and booked the Mountain Heavens Guest House in Ella for the two-night stay, a reasonably-priced guest house with stunning views over Ella Gap.
We got to the station around 5.30am on the appointed day and to my pleasure Poddi Menike set off exactly on time which was a refreshing change from long years ago when the trains never ran on schedule. The seats in the observation carriage were quite comfortable with good leg space and the carriage was full on this Saturday morning. I have always had a great affinity for train journeys and the gentle sway of the carriage and the rhythmic noise were complemented by the scenery whizzing by.
Two hours in to the journey we had a gourmet breakfast of homemade hotdogs, a selection of cheese, egg and salmon sandwiches and washed it all down with homemade ice coffee. Replete with all the food we dozed off for quite a while.
As we neared Kadugannawa we could clearly see the magnificent spectacle of Batalagala Kanda, more popularly known as “ Bible Rock” due to its resemblance to a lectern. The rock stood out majestically, shrouded in the early morning mist.
As the mountainous terrain started, Poddi Menike’s speed slowed, as if in protest of the exertions put upon her aging body. There were times in the steepest sections when I wondered if I could walk faster than the train.
It is after you pass Hatton that the true beauty of the scenic train journey unfolds. Gazing at the green-carpeted tea country with its silvery gushing waterfalls surrounded by the misty hills, I fell in love all over again with my amazing country. The distinctive chill in the air coupled with the icy rain drops that pelted my face and hands as I leaned out of the window for a better view reinforced what drew me back to Sri Lanka after many years of living abroad.
We gasped at the sight of St Clair’s falls which is one of the widest waterfalls in Sri Lanka and is also known as Sri Lanka’s Little Niagara. There is concern about the future of these magnificent falls because of the Upper Kothmale Hydro Electricity Project but the government has given assurances about the survival of the waterfall.
We had now been in the train nearly nine hours and just when we are getting restless the train drew in to Ella station on cue. In no time we were at the charming Guest House called Mountain Heavens. After a delicious dinner, we fell asleep, exhausted by the long day.
The next day after a hearty breakfast we start our sightseeing tour. First visit was to Ravana Falls named after the legendary Hindu character Ravana of the Hindu epic Ramayanaya. It is told that Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka, kidnapped Sita, an Indian princess and hid her in a cave behind the waterfall. The next visit was to the Dowa rock temple, which has a huge unfinished Buddha statue carved into the rock face.
Bogoda Bridge, with its ancient temple, lies some 10kms from Badulla, off the Hali-ela junction and is claimed to be the oldest surviving wooden bridge in the world. The bridge built across the Gallanda Oya is on an ancient route, which linked Badulla and Kandy and is said to have been used as an ambalama (a building used to rest) during the old days when travelling took weeks of hard walking. The more adventurous could choose to climb Little Adams Peak.
That evening we decided to dine out and walked down the hill to Ella town. Ella is dotted with quaint little eateries and it’s a personal choice where you dine at. There are particularly two lovely restaurants called Nescafe shop and Dream café. The Nescafe shop tends to draw a much younger hip young clientele but we opted for the much more sedate but dreamy ambiance of the Dream Café.
Every hotel or guest house has their own secret places that they recommend to their guests. Mountain Heavens is no different. The following morning they directed us to an amazing waterfall which is a good 20 minute walk along the rail track. With some difficulty and a couple of scraped knees we found this little gem of a place. The waterfall was small but stunning in its beauty and the icy cold water was a shock to our systems. But it was an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to anyone staying at Mountain Heavens Guest House.
Ella has not been one of my specialities, but I began to understand the lure of this little mountain hamlet. As for the train journey, you don’t do it for the luxury observation carriage ride (there is hardly any luxury involved in it). Rather more, you do it for the memories of the lively green tea country, the misty hills, the gushing waterfalls and the feel of the cooler mountain air.