Sri Lanka. The train ride from Colombo to Ella (19 – 23 May)

Sri Lanka came to our travel plans when we started looking for different routings for our journey back home. Initially, we had taken a plan to definitely go to India. However, since we wanted to get home by at least by mid-June, we could only have been in India for just two weeks. However, for this short time, we did not want to pay for the expensive Indian visa. So we decided to go to Sri Lanka instead, because in the news there was that as from May this year, that EU citizens are exempted from the visa fees for visiting Sri Lanka. We also found quite cheap airfares. We had both heard a lot of good about Sri Lanka, and the more we started to study about this country, the more we were delighted with our decision …. until Easter.

We were in the Philippines at that time. We started quickly exploring whether our insurance would cover traveling to Sri Lanka at all in such a situation, and what opportunities we have to change the airline tickets. Fortunately, we received feedback from Air Asia that we can cancel our flight tickets or change the flight time for free. Insurance also confirmed that the policy is still valid and there is no direct obstacle to travel to Sri Lanka. We let the thing settle down for a while and observed the situation there. The exemption of visas for EU members was, of course, postponed to an unknown time in the future as a result of the terrorist act. We read various online publications and travel blogs. And based on this information, we dared to make a decision that we would still go to Sri Lanka in the condition that we avoid crowded places including Colombo, all kinds of temples, etc.

Finally, we were very pleased with our decision, because the security level was very high and the military was on the streets. Tourists almost did not exist. Every attraction or business we went there were no queues. Cheap accommodation was easy to find. In addition, we received excellent service from the locals because the tourism industry, which had been in crisis for a couple of months, was extremely grateful for every dollar that they managed to earn. We were delighted that we could support the Sri Lankans as a tourist at this difficult time. On the contrary, we even felt a bit over-secured in Sri Lanka 🙂

The first night we spent in Sri Lanka was in Negombo. It is a city next to Colombo, where the airport is located. In the Negombo hostel, we also left one of our backpacks to come to pick it up on our last night there before the outbound flight. With one backpack it was a lot easier for us to move around.

The next morning, we drove to Colombo to get on the train right away. One of the most famous tourist attractions in Sri Lanka is the long train journey from Colombo to the city of Ella in the middle of the island. It is considered one of the world’s most beautiful train rides. In addition, it does not cost much to drive. You can choose between first, second- and third-class wagons. The first class has air conditioning and a reserved seat. The second class is nicely seated, but you may not get it if there are a lot of people on the train. We did not witness the appearance of the third-class wagons, but we read that there you can find dogs, cats, chickens and, of course, humans. Smell there supposed to be horrible and that is why we didn’t consider the third class. It was not recommended to take the first class because there you can not open windows to take pictures. Thereby we bought second-class tickets that cost just 500 rupees, or 2.5 euros for two people.

To make the 10-hour train ride more comfortable, we decided to split our ride into two and stopped for a night at Kandy. As the train arrived quite late, we couldn’t get to the city. We briefly familiarized with the family with whom we stayed. The family was very friendly and told us about the local life after the recent disaster. We had arrived in Sri Lanka just when the schools were reopened. Many parents still did not dare to send their children to school. This is because terrorists were next promising to attack either a school or a Buddhist temple. Thus, all the school buildings were secured by the army and the children were obliged to carry backpacks of transparent film material, which each family had to purchase themselves. We were quite sorry for the family because their main income was tourism, and even buying a new school bag was a big expense for them.

The next morning, we took the next train to Ella. This part of the ride was supposed to be the most beautiful. Although the journey was long (6 hours), we enjoyed it every moment. Looking out of the train window, the landscape changed with beautiful mountains and jungle. The locals were working in the plantations and picked the tea leaves or planted the tea trees, We also saw several waterfalls. Even though the rain fell and the weather was not the best, we still got a stunning experience. Like almost everybody we also took the images of the hanging out of the window and the train door 🙂

Of course, when we arrived at Ella, we were very tired, because two days we hadn’t heard anything other than creaking train tracks. So we took it easy and just had a good rest on the first day.

Of course, in Ella, we had a very pleasant surprise that the weather was rather cool. We were almost 2,000 meters high in the middle of the mountains and tea plantations. We literally were staying in the middle of the tea fields. The next day we planned to visit the tea factory. Since the factory is a little out of town, we had to take tuk-tuk. We found a great tuk-tuk driver who also acted as a tour guide. He drove us around for 2,000 rupees or 10 euros for half a day.

In the tea factory, we were given a thorough overview of the tea making process. For us, it was a very interesting moment to see the tea plant and touch it – we had never seen such a tree before 🙂 We were introduced to every step of the te processing and saw workers working on machines and tea. It was surprising to us that the tea is picked by farmers in Sri Lanka. Thus, tens of man-hours are needed for one tea bag. We realized that the tea is still shamefully cheap considering the difficulty of this manual job! At the same time, it was a pleasure to see that the majority of the farmers are still local farmers and the factories are buying tea leaves from farmers. The factories are participating in the auctions, where the tea companies already known to us like Tetley and Lipton, etc., buy the tea. We also got different teas to taste in the factory, and enjoy the wonderful view. Namely, the factory we visited is located at the end of the hill with a wonderful view of the surrounding tea plantations.

After the tea farm, we drove to see the famous 9-arch bridge. This is a marvelous bridge which all the trains passing through Ella are crossing. Our guide or tuk-tuk driver led us to a place where we could admire the bridge from the terrace and wait for the train. We even received a couple of passion fruit from local family there, which were so delicious for both of us. The locals were surprised, of course, why we just eat it without adding the sugar – it’s sour! For us, it was exactly the right taste. We enjoyed the fruit until the train drove over the bridge exactly at the time the guide told. There was also some fog over the mountains, and we were lucky enough that the fog didn’t completely ruin our beautiful view.

Next, our road led to the local market. Of course, compared to Cambodia and Thailand, it was difficult to call this place the market. In essence, it was a tiny main road area where the locals had laid down the blanket and placed what they were selling. We are bought some pineapple and coconut for the evening.

In Ella, finding a place to eat was a bit difficult, as many places had closed the doors – tourists in the city almost did not exist. Luckily, however, we found one restaurant that offered a relatively high price for food. However, despite the high price, we got an interesting food experience and taste genuine local food. Inside the banana leaf, we were served various vegetables and chicken, flavored with different herbs and peppers.

On our last day in Ella, we decided to take a cooking class. Jaanus loves curries and local culinary schools offered the opportunity to learn to cook at least 10 different vegetable curries. We chose a cooking school near our home. Unfortunately, it turned out that we had a great language barrier with the teacher. So we couldn’t do that much. Jaanus chopped the roots and Kaija’s worked with the dough for the coconut pastry. We were taught how to make coconut milk from the old coconut and what spices go into the curry. We learned how to cook the curry and fry the papad, which is thin and crispy cracker from India. Despite the language barrier, we had fun and, of course, our stomachs became more than full of all these 10 curries. In the future, we should have no difficulty to cook a decent curry ourselves

A couple of days Ella was enough for us, and the next day we were already on the bus for new adventures. You can read more about them in our next post.

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