The train ride from the highlands of Sri Lanka to Ella is one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world
We had risen early in the morning to visit Horton Plains National Park, and it was around lunchtime before we arrived back in Nawara Eliya for our train journey to Ella, a popular tourist destination, especially for those back-packing their way around the country. This was one of the things that I was most looking forward to on our itinerary!
We have always loved train journeys and I was almost wetting myself with excitement as we pulled up to the station. There was a little time before our train arrived so we went into the cafe on the platform to grab some food as we hadn’t left enough time for a proper lunch. Our experiences of trains in recent times, especially the last one we caught in India we had half expected to be hanging around for hours. But no worries this time as the train arrived in the station pretty much on time.
There a number of trains that travel through Nuwara Eliya to Kandy, most of them make many stops and take hours and hours to get there. Our guide had booked us on to the express train which makes the trip in about 2 1/2 hours with only one or two stops which sounded perfect.
We had been booked into the first-class carriage which actually sounds nice and it did have some sniffing and comfortable seat, which were only two people across, and best of all it had airconditioning. Those were the good points the bad points, which for me far outweighed the benefits were that the windows did not open and they were dirty so it detracted from the beautiful scenery and I couldn’t take photos. I was so bummed, in fact, I got a real hump on! This had been something I was really looking forward to and it was ruined! I could have wandered down the carriage and set in the stairwells on the connecting sections between the carriages, risking life and limb. But these were already occupied by younger and more daring folk who would have bounced better than me if they fell out.
Karen, the ever practical, decided to solve the problem rather than sulk. My only justification is that I am a man. Anyway, after a brief and slick negotiation, she managed to persuade a very generous Sri Lankan family in second-class to squeeze up so we could take their seats. They were simply travelling on the train to see family, a journey they had done many times so they had little interest in the scenery! The benefit of being in second-class was the windows opened and I could take as many unobstructed views as possible. I was finally in seventh heaven and could restrict my bemoaning to the fact that the power and telecom lines on the ugly poles run alongside the train track! Oh, why can’t people think about these things when they make planning decisions!
The journey is glorious as the train runs along the ridge atop the mountains offering spectacular views to the valleys below which we a patchwork of small villages and town, jungle and paddy fields. The two hours of the journey shot past and we finally arrived in Ella, a small tourist town in Central Sri Lanka and popular stopping off point for backpackers and people taking the many hiking trails that leave from here.
We met with our driver and went off to explore. One of the most iconic features of the railway line here is the nine arch bridge. Unfortunately, it lay on the train line heading south of Ella so we had not crossed it on the train. So, as a second-best option, we decided to walk and see the bridge in person. You can wind your way through the village and get to a point where you can get a great place to view the bridge itself. Or if you want, and don’t mind scrambling down a slightly sketchy trail you can climb down to the track. By the railway line, there is a little cafe so we took the opportunity to sit down with a king coconut and enjoy a marvellous view of the nine arch bridge. Finished with our coconut we decided to join the multitude and walk across the bridge, of course keeping a beady eye out for approaching locomotives. It was a somewhat surreal but fulfilling experience.
As we left the nine-arch bridge to find our hotel we could not but help ourselves taking some more pictures including a tuk-tuk being serviced. I had never seen this before I had always assumed they were indestructible.
Having dropped our bags off at the hotel we set out to make the walk to the top of Little Adams peak to catch the sunset. The main climb to the top starts a couple of kilometres outside the town, which any number of local tuk-tuk drivers would only be too happy to take you to. We decided to walk from the town, it is a gentle uphill climb and quite pleasant in the latter part of the day.
The last part of the journey to the top does require trekking up a fairly steep, narrow trail that is not always in the best of conditions. It is a fairly easy climb for most. It took us about 15 minutes to make the final climb to the summit.
The journey to the top was well worth the effort as we joined many other fellow travellers enjoying the spectacular views across the vast Ella Gap as the sun descended behind the mountains. On top of the mount was a small Buddhist shrine – which felt so pertinent to the moment as we enjoyed this beautiful moment. With the sunset complete we set off back down the trail to Ella, passing many on the way up, not quite sure what was still drawing them to the top. I am not sure how I would feel coming down this trail in the dark without a light.
In Summary …
- Don’t sit in first class on the trains to Ella – you want windows that open
- Eat something before you travel or take a snack
- In Ella go to the nine arch bridge and take a walk across and enjoy the views
- Take the trip to the top of Little Adams Peak at sunrise or sunset