Friday, September 6, 2019

Ella, Sri Lanka

Friday, September 6, 2019

Dismissed by some travel guidebooks as a small hill town with nothing much to do, Ella is the one place in Sri Lanka that I wanted to visit.  A small town with nothing to do? That’s definitely my kind of place.

A pleasant five-hour car ride from Unawatuna along the southwest coast of the island and through the narrow winding roads of the hill country brought us to Ella. We spent those five hours admiring the passing landscape and chatting with our driver about the flourishing tourism in his country, the 2004 tsunami, and the time he worked in the United Arab Emirates where he learned to speak fluent English.

Ella Rock viewed from Little Adam's Peak
Ella largely consists of a main street lined with shops and cafes that branches out to dirt tracks leading to a plethora of guesthouses that offer splendid views of the mountains. From the balcony of our small cabin, we could see the famous Ella Rock, imposing in its magnificence. The sight of that mountain caressed by milky sunlight never ceased to amaze me. And when we climbed it I was awed ten times over. 

On a morning filled with the opulence of summer we started our hike to Ella Rock. We walked from the inn to the main road to the town center to the railway station; we went down the tracks then continued walking along the tracks past another train station and onward to a dirt path on the left side of the tracks; we crossed a footbridge, went through a tea plantation, and followed the tree line up the mountain that lead us to a ridge from where could see the stunning verdant hills of Ella. From this view point, we walked up an incredibly steep rocky path amid a forest of eucalyptus trees until we reached the mountain peak. It took us four hours to get there. There are many routes—some very complicated ones--to Ella Rock, and we would have been lost if not for the very detailed directions and the hand-sketched map provided by our innkeeper. On the map he marked which path we should take and which ones we should avoid as well as landmarks that will guide us along the way. These include mileposts, some Buddhist statues, the ruins of a house, and a certain long flat rock that he said we would recognize when we see it--which, to my surprise, we did.

While others would generally spend a couple of days in Ella, we stayed there for six. In those six days we were able to hike not only to Ella Rock but also to Little Adam’s Peak and Demodara Nine Arches Bridge; we relished the inn’s traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of egg hoppers, pani pol (Sri Lankan pancakes), roti, fresh fruits, coffee, and tea served right on our porch; we watched Western backpackers in full hiking regalia wander aimlessly around town; we learned how tea was picked, manufactured, and sold; we walked everywhere, wondering how that small town can remain as it is and not be overwhelmed by the influx of foreign tourists attracted to its beauty; we didn’t want to leave, but we had to, of course.


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