Once a small sleepy town along the Ella- Wellawaya road, Ella was not by any means a tourist destination. Not many even knew of its existence or about the hidden treasures it had kept under wraps for a long time.
But things have changed, to say the least!
In the past few years every blog post I read or social media feed I see on Sri Lanka is about Ella. In time Ella became the definition of Sri Lanka in the world wide arena of travel. The lush green mountainous backdrop of this town had become the “postcard picture” that represents this tiny island, bringing in a steady stream of travelers from all corners of the world to this small town nested in the hills of Badulla.
So on one cold December morning me and a few fellow travel geeks (yes I found a few more of this rare breed!!!) decided to check what the “Ella hype” was all about by taking a spur of the moment trip to this picture-perfect town. We settled down on a bus to Badulla from Kandy (our departure point) ready for the 3 hour journey ahead of us.
To get to Badulla you can ether opt for the bus like we did or take the more scenic route via train (Advised!), since this trip was planned in a haste we did not have the luxury of booking the train. So by bus it was!. The ride was quite comfortable minus the annoying music blazing off the radio, A typical scene in local public transport in Sri Lanka!!.
The bus fare is only 170 LKR for the normal buses and 230 LKR for semi luxury buses (Didn’t really see any noteworthy difference between the two). The road from Kandy to Badulla falls on the picturesque “Raja Mawatha” where you will pass lush green mountains, paddy fields and the famous Randenigala reservoir giving you an insight in to the true Sri Lankan life in the hill country.
We reached the bustling city of Badulla mid-day and decided that our first stop would be the world famous 9 arch Demodara Bridge.
Built in the 1980s’ during the British colonial period this bridge is famous for its architecture along with the fact that it had been constructed solely using solid rocks, bricks and cement. Not even a single piece of steel had been used!! Built by a local named Appuhami this bridge stands as proof to the architectural ingenuity of an era gone by.
To get to this bridge you can ether walk 3 km from Ella station along the rail road or you can take a vehicle from Badulla towards Haliela where you will find a small road to your right with a sign post of the bridge (any local will be more than happy to direct you the right way). This road will lead you closer to the bridge than any other route, but be warned – the road is very small and not in good shape, so taking a vehicle could be a task. Instead you can walk about 2 km along this road to reach the bridge.
The breathtaking view of the magnificent bridge in its splendid backdrop is worth all the trouble you might have to endure to get there. The day we visited Ella was a local holiday so the surrounding was packed with local traveler and travelers from all over the world alike.
After admiring the bridge from far, we felt that it was just not enough! So, we decided to walk down a pretty sketchy and steep foot path leading to the base of the bridge, just to quench our curiosity of what may lie at the base of this structure! And boy were we glad we did! Even though there was only a small stream at the base, the view of the bridge from below was breathtaking! The sheer size of this structure can only be fully experienced from this point of view.
As it turns out we had reached the bridge in time for the 3 o’clock train!! Which gave us the opportunity to witness this structure in all its glory!
While coming back we decided to walk along the train tracks toward Ella station instead of going back the way we came. It was quite the walk, along which we witnessed beautiful hills covered in tea plantations, small homes with smoking chimneys dotting the landscape and wildlife that we wouldn’t normally see in the metropolitan that we call home.
I do recommend walking along the train tracks but do remember to keep a lookout for incoming trains!
We came out of the Ella station and headed down towards the town to be greeted with an atmosphere quite different from what we expected. Today the once sleepy Ella has turned in to a bustling vibrant tourist destination attracting travelers from far and wide. New hotels, hostels and boutique style restaurants have popped up along the road to cater to the needs of these travelers giving off vibes similar to that of more famous touristy towns such as Galle or even Goa.
It was no more the Ella I remember as a kid!
After taking in the colors of Ella, our next stop was the Ravana falls.
A part of the “Ravana Ella wildlife Sanctuary” this magnificent water fall is well known for having a pivotal role in the Hindu epic Ramayanaya. According to legend the waterfall and its surroundings including the Ravana caves are thought to be the location where King Ravana kept Sita imprisoned.
By the time we were done admiring the beauty of this magnificent natural wonder it was getting dark and was time for us to head back to our home for the day located at the foot hills of the Namunukula mountain range.
Next morning we decided to go on the world famous “Ella Hike” that people have been raving about! There are two popular hiking points in Ella, namely “little Adams Peak” and “Ella rock”. We opted for the latter because it sounded like the more rewarding one.
You can either start the ascend towards Ella rock from the Ella station or from Kithulella station.
Resembling a station right off an old timey story, Kitulella station serves as the main point of departure for the Ella rock hike. Once you walk less than half a kilometer along the train tracks you will find a opening to your left side that leads to a small foot path. Spotting this entry point is a little tricky but with the help of the never ending crowd heading towards the rock and the small arrow signs that people have painted on rocks and on the train tracks you can find your way easily.
The path that leads to the base of the Ella Mountain falls through a picturesque Sri Lankan village setting, where you have to cross a small bridge over a miniature waterfall, walk along a “Hena”- a traditional vegetable farm and through the backyards of local homes. After a 10 minute walk along a winding foot path up hill, you will come to an opening looking out towards the open sky. To your right you will see a steep foot path leading the way to the top of the mountain. This is where the real uphill battle starts!
The climb is moderately challenging especially if you have been a couch potato during the last couple of months! (Me,Me!! ) But if you can power through it, it’s all worth it!
A 20 minute (-ish) climb later you will reach the summit, a clear opening looking out in to the distance with lush Green Mountains as far as your eye can see! Quite the view I must say! A small lady sells tea and coffee at the top of the rock if you’re interested in indulging your taste buds in a rather expensive cup of tea.
When you are done taking in the view you can start the climb downhill which only took us half the time it took to climb up.
Once at the foot of the hill it was time for us to bid adieu to this breath taking city of Ella and head back home. We made our way back to Badulla and caught the bus to Kandy, unwilling to let go of Ella. A weekend well spent indeed..
Things to look out for during the hike..
- Leeches– Even though we didn’t really encounter any, we had heard horror stories about the existence of these little critters along the way. Do go prepared!
- Wrong turns– so many turns and so many paths, it’s easy to go the wrong way. If you feel lost ask anyone around, they will be more than happy to guide you.
- Steep falls– we wouldn’t want to fall down one of those would we!
- Unsteady pebbles – the foot path has been subjected to wear and tear for so long with so many travelers climbing up and down regularly! So watch your step.
- Water for the way– you will not find many shops or watering holes along the way. So take a good supply of drinking water with you before you start the climb.
- Please don’t litter- surprisingly enough this area has been saved from the devils of litter(So far), so please help keep it that way for other travelers to enjoy.
- Respect the nature, the villagers and their culture
That concludes the tales from Ella.. And I must say Ella is worth all the hype!
Until next time,