Ella to Ohiya – The Hill Country

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“… The fog began to lift and in its wake lay a landscape of pure wonder… The cliff dropped away suddenly exposing a lush valley of tea plantations, waterfalls and tropical vegetation. Beyond the mountain peaks that framed the valley, the hinterland spread out in a tapestry of lakes, jungle and plains until it met the coast where the Indian Ocean stretched on infinitely…”

As we left behind the coast I felt a sense of excitement at what wonders lay before… Excitement, but excitement tinged with sadness that we were leaving behind the coast.

As you skirt around the coastal regions of south and eastern Sri Lanka, you cannot escape the towering peaks towards the centre of Island. Emerging from the jungle a mighty colossus of rock reaching impossibly towards the clouds. We had looked towards these mountains with a sense of awe and wonder and finally we were now heading into the heart of Island to discover what treasures laid therein.

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We opted to travel from Arugam Bay towards Ella by Tuk Tuk. Most travellers prefer the comfort of an AC Taxi for these longer journeys, but not us. We love travelling by Tuk Tuk and will choose it before any other method of transport… Except maybe the incredible Sri Lankan Trains (more later!).

It’s a beautiful drive from Arugam Bay to Ella and its noticeable how the vegetation changes from the thorn scrub of the east coast to the tropical lushness of Monaragala and Wellawaya before this in turn is replaced by the cloud forest of the hill country, interspersed by some of the most dramatic waterfalls we’ve ever seen.

Our first stop was Ella, which despite its obvious tourist trappings, is a truly wondrous place. A dramatic landscape of rocky peaks, deep valleys and terraced hill plantations clinging impossibly to the steep mountain sides. Our only complaint was that we had only scheduled one night here.

It’s a delightful walk from the village up to Little Ella Rock where a small Buddhist shrine marks the summit and the views stretch on forever. On the way down enjoy a Sri Lanka iced tea infused with local fruit on the terrace of Ella Flower Garden Resort as tropical birds perch on the wooden railings and the sun sinks away behind the surrounding mountain peaks.

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In the evening, a billion stars came out to illuminate the mountain sky as we enjoyed one of the best servings of rice and curry we had in Restaurant Different Corner.

You’ll always hear fellow travellers rave about the railway in the Hill Country and for good reason… It’s simply spectacular. We travelled from Ella to Ohio and enjoyed every minute. Guides will suggest that you take the special tourist panorama carriage, but we found our second class tickets to be the best way to experience the railways… As the train pulled out of Ella Station and began winding through the hills, we were clinging to the outside of the train waving at the smiling local children and enjoying the impromptu dancing and singing of a group of Sri Lankan University Students on their way to Nuwara Eliya.

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Ohiya is like the land that time forgot… It has the feel of a colonial hill station still and our journey from the station to our accommodation took in all the beauty of the surrounding landscape. We were staying in an old hill station villa high up in the mountains with breathtaking views across the south of the Island, across Udawalawe National Park and to the Indian Ocean.

Our only neighbours were the legions of bear monkeys and a small settlement of tea plantation workers. We took a walk in the afternoon to a nearby vantage point where the view simply took our breath away… But it was nothing compared to what was in store the following morning.

We awoke early, keen to get to Worlds End before the fog and cloud set in. The evening before had been spent eating a lovely spicy curry and enjoying a conversation with Deirdre and Damien… Two Sri Lankan newlyweds who were escaping the oppressive heat of Colombo for a couple of days. From our mountain vantage point we had looked over the hinterland below and watched the distant light emanating from Habantota Lighhouse in the far distance.

The walk to Worlds End through the Horton Plains National Park is simply stunning… A mountain plateau of cloud forest and misty plains where you feel like you have gone back in time. We started our walk slightly later than originally planned and so while disappointed, we were not surprised to find Worlds End cloaked in a thick fog when we arrived… However, all of a sudden the fog lifted… We could see the valleys below, waterfalls tumbling over rock and cascading for hundreds of meters… Mountain peaks, each one more dramatic than the last… The mountains then faded into small hills and finally the great plains of lakes and jungle stretching as far as the sea… The fog only receded for a few moments, but those moments were incredible… If a more dramatic and stunning view exists anywhere in the world, then I am yet to see it… As soon as it lifted, the fog came swirling back and the view was lost… But the memory of what we saw will stay with us forever.

With that we left the mountains behind and found ourselves back in the tropical heat and humidity of the jungle… But as I turned around to glimpse the towering behemoths in the centre of this Island I felt at one with it… The mountains will never reveal their mystery, but for us they had revealed their magic.

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