Sri Lanka – climate, highlands and a train ride
Amongst the mayhem of India and serenity of the Maldives, the diverse island of Sri Lanka is no longer hiding in the shadows of seclusion provoked by a long civil war.
Climate – planning your visit
Given Sri Lanka’s close proximity to the equator it’s not surprising that Sri Lanka’s hot and humid climate boasts an all year travelling experience. From coastlines to culture, highlands to wildlife there’s plenty to see and do but it’s also easy to forget that under the penetration of the scorching sun how extreme the UV is. Like a tiny teardrop in the vast Indian Ocean this small tropical island consumes an area of just 65, 610 square kilometres. The climate consists of a distinct dry and wet season and is influenced by two monsoon seasons. The Yala monsoon between May and August drags rain from the Indian Ocean into the southwest. From May to August the Maha monsoon blows intense rain into the north and east from the Bay of Bengal. It’s February so to avoid the rain I head inland and to the south.
The Central Highlands
Arriving in Colombo at around two thirty in the morning the thick wall of air is a reminder of how hot and steamy it is in the tropics. Guided to the top of a guesthouse I get the feeling I have booked the top room of someone’s house. Oh well, it’s clean and for twenty Australian dollars I can’t complain about the inclusion of an alfresco breakfast and the entertainment of squirrels darting up and down trees.
My guide and driver, Waroona arrives with a smile on his face. With no time to waste we head inland to the peaceful village of Ella. The wild luscious countryside is an entanglement of overgrown tropical trees. Local buses outrageously consume the highway, speeding towards unexpected scooters and cars , swerving in and out of lanes to pick up passengers. Horn’s beeping, cows sleeping and to our surprise a turtle slowly sneaking from one creek to another. Somehow amongst all of the chaos there is control. The pace and consumption is no where near as frenetic as some of the other Asian countries I’ve been to.
Tiny villages dot the main road, bakeries sell scrumptious but spicy curry puffs and locals rush to get a lucky lottery – along with cricket it’s a big sport for Sri Lankans!
The highlight for me is Ratnapurna, also named the ‘City of Gems.’ This major city surrounded by large plantations of tea and rubber was also renowned for its rice paddies until modern day farmers are swapping agriculture for the unearthed riches. On the outskirts small makeshift wooden mines are laboured by humans not machinery. We are called over by a group of miners who allow us to explore their underground mine, the shaft is lit by natural light. In the stifling sun these men work every day on a shareholder agreement.
Driving further into the mountains towards Ella the temperature drops from a stifling thirty-two degrees to a refreshing twenty degrees. We arrive to the picturesque landscape of small vegetable gardens, tea plantations and forests growing from the hillside slopes. This might be nicknamed ‘sleepy village’ but it certainly has a knack for drawing a crowd.
A few funky cafes such as Chill offer a good blend of local and western cuisine. With a vibrant atmosphere your bound to share a few travel tales.
While there is not a lot to do, trekking paths are a great way to enjoy this scenic town. Although a short forty five minute walk, Little Adam’s Peak boasts immense views, out to the distance there’s a waterfall and the peak that is Ella Rock.
This more strenuous walk begins along the dusty railway track. There is always a smile from the locals who are carting goods, walking to school or fixing the tracks. Fortunately the trains move slowly giving you plenty of warning. This trek takes you further up the hill, past working rice paddies and through a cool dewy forest.
The return hike should take about four hours. I am glad I decided to head out early it’s not even midday and the sun is burning. Ella Rock is an easy self trek but for those like me without an internal GPS there are no markings so it makes sense to take a guide, besides for around US$12 you’re helping a local.
Another must see is Ravana Falls. At approximately twenty-five metres this waterfall cascades from an oval shaped rocky concave. If you climb the slippery rocks you can take a cool dip in the pools or in my case be entertained by one of the many cheeky monkeys looking for photo and food opportunities. Just watch out for the fast paced trucks and buses swerving around the mountain.
Train from Ella to Bandulla
Have I magically stepped back to the 1800’s? An era when trains loaded with tea and coffee rattled from the countryside to the capital of Colombo. Young children gaily lean out the window. Steam penetrates from the engine as the carriages pull into the perfectly manicured station.
With advice from my driver I board the second class carriage, making a mad dash for a window seat. Leaning out the window I breathe in the fresh country air, I am overjoyed by the cool breeze on my face and the enthusiasm of young children from the villages who race out to watch as the train slowly passes by.
Blackened tunnels temporarily blur my vision and although a little nervous I can’t help but giggle at the boy near me who screams every time we enter one of the tunnels.
One of the draw cards of this leg of the journey is the Demodara Loop. Regarded as an engineering masterpiece, the train slowly climbs up the hill heads through a mountainside tunnel making a 360 degree loop over itself. Arriving at Bandulla station I am tempted to turn around and do it all over again but my driver Waroona is patiently waiting for the next part of the journey.
Check back for posts on Sri Lankan Wildlife Adventures and travelling the South Coast
Tips for Travellers
* Emirates flies from Australia to Colombo stopping in Singapore enroute to Dubai
* Drivers start at US$35 a day
* Tips are widely expected including driver tips
* Road travel is slow Colombo to Ella will take about 9 hours
* Ella to Bandulla train ride US$2.50 and takes about 1 hour
* Rice and Curries are the main local dish. It’s advised to ask for a milder version
* Any further questions please use the comment section
For more photos check instagram: @vanessaohanlon