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Ella. The place we did not want to leave.

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Ella. The place we did not want to leave.

It was time to move on from our lazy hazy days on the coast and move inland to Ella our first stop in the hills. Ella is situated in the Badulla district of Sri Lanka, and is some 1041 feet above sea level. We decided to take a car from Talalla, as getting there by bus involved two buses and took most of the day. When we arrived in Ella it was raining, shrouded in mist and very grey, not a great start. We had not booked any accommodation but had a homestay in mind that we liked the look of, but when we arrived it was nothing like the photos and it was situated too far out of town, so we got the driver to drop us at the nearest cafe, dragged our luggage in and sat down to search for our home for the next few days. Luckily it wasn’t long before we found Eeshani Guest Inn, run by a lovely couple who have lived here for 50 years. It was just like visiting my grandparents house, they were both so lovely. (Cont)

Ella is quite a small town with just one main Street, which consists of mainly restaurants and the odd shop here and there, but the place is buzzing and has a great vibe and chilled atmosphere about it. We only stayed for four nights but I felt I could have stayed for weeks. The only downside I feel is that in the not too distant future it will become a much larger and much busier town. This is because the amount of building work going on in the area is, in my opinion, too much. I can see this lovely little town being over saturated by tourists, so get here quick. There is plenty to keep you occupied in the town and surrounding area, like Little Adams Peak, Ella Rock, Ravana Falls, the Nine Arch Bridge and a couple of tea plantations. I will try to give you a little insight in each attraction.

Little Adams Peak.

The way to reach little Adams peak, is walk or take a Tuk Tuk up the Passara Road from town about 1km until you reach Ella Flower Resort on you right. Take the path just to the left of the restaurant (there is no sign indicating the way) and just follow the path for some distance. This path takes you through some really nice tea plantations. “If you set out early you will see the tea pickers at work”. You will then come to a set of steps to your right. This is where the fun starts, and where after a while your thighs and calf’s will start to protest. Well mine did anyway, but trust me it’s worth it as the views from the top are amazing. We did meet one couple who had climbed it twice in a day, once for sunrise and once for sunset, rather them than me. (Cont)

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

I can’t really tell you a lot about Ella Rock as we did not climb it, but the guide books do suggest you take a guide as it’s easy to get lost as the path is not very well marked. The climb to the top takes around three hours. We got this information from a group of guys we met on the train to Badulla.

Ravana Falls

Situated around 6km from town are the Ravana Falls. You can take the bus which costs 20 rupees, 9 pence or take a Tuk Tuk. The buses normally run quite frequently but on the day we visited it was election day so the buses were every hour “quite why an election should affect buses is beyond me”. So we decided to get a Tuk Tuk. 200 rupees, £1.40. (Cont)

Nine Arch Bridge.

If you do a google image search on Ella you will almost definitely see many photos of Nine Arch Bridge, it seems synonymous to Ella. There are a a few ways to get to the bridge. One is by walking along the train tracks from Ella which is around 4km. The way we got there was by walking once again up the Passara road until you reach a small homestay called Rose Garden Ella and take the path on your left a few metres beyond, be careful as it’s not marked, then just keep going until you reach the bridge. If there is a local around perhaps just ask to make sure you are going the right way. Top Tip check out the train timetables, as watching the train go over the bridge is quite a sight. (Cont)

Scenic Train Journey

Another great thing to do is take the train from Ella to Badulla. The journey takes around an hour and takes you through some beautiful scenery, you cannot reserve seats for the journey but the train isn’t busy, “we had nearly the whole carriage to ourselves” Once you get to Badulla there isn’t a lot to do, but perhaps get a drink and some food, although there is a nice Buddhist temple which is worth looking at. The return train leaves around an hour and forty minutes later. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and all for 160 rupees for two people return £0.75p (Cont)

Next stop Nuwara Eliya.

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Shh! Can you keep a secret.

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After our disappointing experience in Mirissa, we had one more beach destination to visit before moving inland to do some serious sightseeing. Our final stop along the coast is Talalla beach. Situated at the southern most tip of Sri Lanka (well almost, in fact Dondra is the southern most tip). We were still a bit apprehensive after our experience in Mirissa, but according to the guide books and google images it did sound and look lovely. We sourced an accommodation on booking.com, who was advertising a deluxe room, close to the beach. The pictures looked good, “but from previous experiences on our trip the camera does in fact lie” searched on google maps for the phone number and gave them a call, and negotiated a price of 5000 lkr around £22.50 per night. Subhasha Cottage (+94 71 965 8388) is located in a quiet lane leading down to the beach. The owner Isuri showed us to our room, and we were both gobsmacked. Our deluxe double room was in fact a two bedroom cottage complete with a separate kitchen with dining table, a separate dining room, a private seating area and an outside seating area and a really lovely shower room. Just amazing, we could not believe our luck. We dropped our bags and headed down to have a look at the beach, before we made our decision on how long we were going to stay. After our short walk of around 150 metres we were confronted by a glorious curved white sand beach, stretching for around two to three km, with just a handful of beach front restaurants and hardly any people, Paradise. So we decided to stay for five nights.

Subhasha Cottage

Talalla Beach

Our first couple of days in Talalla were spent just relaxing on the glorious beach and soaking up the sun. In the evenings we just sat outside and watched “something that I have never seen before”, fireflies darting in and out of the trees and bushes I watched in amazement for ages. I had to Google why and how they light up, I won’t go into detail but it was fascinating reading.

We decided to hire a scooter for our last two days and go and explore the sights further afield. Our first day we visited the Wewrukannala Buduraja Temple. (entrance fee 200 lkr) The temple is located some 14km from Talalla just outside the town of Dikwella. The temple is home to the largest Buddha statue on the island. The Buddha which is in the seated posture stands “or sits I should say” some 50 metres high. Behind Buddha almost like a back rest is a large staircase which you can climb, to reach Buddha’s head, once there you can peer through a viewing window and see a miniature Buddha shrine. As you are climbing to reach the top, you will see some marvellous Jataka paintings on the walls. The temple complex also houses some magnificent reclining Buddha’s in various poses.

Tallest Buddha statue on the island 50 metres Jataka paintingsReclining Buddha

Our next stop was Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara Temple, which is located some 22km inland from Dikwala. Mulkirigala is a series of 5 cave temples built on a 205m natural rock. (entrance fee 500 lkr) Each temple is accessible by some steps, “some of which are steep, so be warned”. In each cave there is a reclining Buddha, one of which depicts his passing surrounded by mourners. The walls and the ceilings inside each cave are lavishly painted and are well preserved. Once we reached the top we were greeted buy a really nice Buddhist monk who gave us a blessing. He chanted a prayer and anointed our heads, the ceremony was quite touching really. After we went outside and rang a ceremonial bell situated at the top of a bell tower, by pulling a rope. There is a donation tray for this experience “isn’t there always”. Unfortunate for us we did not have any small change, the smallest was 1000 lkr (about £4.50) but it was worth it as it was a lovely experience. Also he prayed for me to have a long life, so it’s a small price to pay if it works, don’t you think. Once you have been blessed, or not as the case may be, walk behind the temple down a very precarious slope onto the top of the large rock. “Beware of the sheer drop at the edge”. This is definitely worth it as the view’s stunning.

View from the top

On the way back to Talalla we stopped for something to eat in Tangalle. Tangalle beach is in my opinion somewhere in between Mirissa and Talalla for tourist numbers, but it has a much nicer vibe than Mirissa.

On our second day we visited Dondra and it’s Lighthouse, which is located at the southern most point of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately you cannot go into the Lighthouse and climb to the top,”contrary to what our guide book says” but it’s worth a visit as it is architecturally very nice and it’s stands in some nice grounds. Another fact that I learnt was that if you sailed in a straight line from this point, the next land mass you will encounter is Antarctica, some 15000 miles away “although I could not see any Polar bears on the horizon”. Next stop was the Devinuwara Raja Maha Viharaya temple. It’s a Buddhist and Hindu temple in the same complex. We have visited a couple of Buddhist temples so far in Sri Lanka. Now I have said for some time if I was to adopt a religion it would be Buddhism “although Buddhism’s not a religion it’s a way of life” but for Buddhists to preach that we should care for all living things, it’s a little contradictory to have elephants chained up in the larger temples to be used just for ceremonial purposes. The Elephant in chains at this temple was what appeared to me quite mentally distressed, as it was just swaying from side to side and unable to move from its spot because of its shackles, for us it was quite disturbing. I recently read an article about the taming of wild elephants and it was quite a barbaric process. Such as starvation and beating, quite shocking reading. So it begs the question, why! After Dondra we drove to Matara quite a nice town. Most people use Matara as a hub as the bus station here serves most areas in southern and eastern Sri Lanka. We came to visit the Star Fort, but unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays “note to self, study guide book more carefully”. Another sight worth seeing is the small Paravi Duwa temple which is sited in a small island, connected to the town by a small suspension bridge. We had such a great time in Talalla it was sad to leave, but it was time to stop lounging around and head inland for some serious sightseeing. Next stop Ella.

Mirissa, What a disappointment

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Mirissa, What a disappointment

After our short stay in Galle it was time to move further south to the beach resort of Mirissa. We could have taken the train, but instead negotiated a good price with a Tuk Tuk driver for the 32km journey to Mirissa. Our driver was a very nice man, spoke good English, he carefully stowed our two wheeled holdalls in the back, and we were off. Surprisingly “being in a Tuk Tuk, probably because it was brand new”. the journey down was easy, nice and scenic too, as the route down hugs the coastline. We arrived at our lodging Celestial Inn, a nice place, very quiet located down a small lane away from the busy main road. After we dropped our bags it was time to go off and explore the much publicised beach. Once there we both agreed it wasn’t for us, the beach was lined with beach bars, and was very crowded. I have to add the beach itself is nice, it just had too many people on it. So we settled down in the quietest place we could find, grabbed an expensive cold beer and formulated our next move. As the sun went down all the beach bars brought in there sun beds and replaced them with tables ready for evening dinner crowd. We did eat on the beach that night and we did enjoy our meal, but a nice serene evening with just a few people around you it was not as the beach was crowded. Before we cancelled all our hotels we were going to stay four nights here. We were really glad we had changed our plans. After our first evening we were quite prepared to leave the next day, but decided to stay another night and go into Weligama to get some well needed supplies. Decided to take the bus into Weligama. Now let me tell you the local bus drivers in India and Sri Lanka are completely off there head, they drive so fast, “in fact like lunatics”, spend most of there time on the wrong side of the road, overtake on blind bends and don’t even wait as you try to get on, but thankfully we arrived in one piece. Weligama town itself is pretty nondescript, and busy, also the beach is very scruffy indeed and strewn with litter. Needless to say we did not stay long. So we got our supplies and headed back on the bus for another hair raising journey. Had an evening meal away from the crowds on the beach and went back to our lodging. All in all Mirissa was a let down.Let’s hope Talalla beach bodes better.

Galle and it’s amazing Fort

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Galle and it’s amazing Fort

It was time to leave Bentota behind and take the train to Galle. The train journey from Bentota to Galle takes around 50 minutes. As the train line hugs the coast for most of the way you will be treated to some stunning view of the coastline. The only downside to the train is that it gets extremely busy and you cannot reserve a seat. When the train arrived it was packed, no seats and people standing in the aisles, luckily for us we managed to stand in between the carriage doors, with the doors open, admiring the view. I felt sorry for the people who were standing in the aisles as they could not see a thing as there heads were above the windows.

When we did our research into Galle we decided that we was not going to stay in Galle town but in Galle Fort itself. Galle Fort was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese then extensively fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century and is a historical, archaeological and architectural heritage monument. There are many interesting sights to see in the Fort and if you have a copy of the Lonely Planet there is a really good walking tour. Some interesting buildings of interest are the All Saints Anglian Church built between 1868-1871 and would not look out of place in an English Village Old Lloyd’s Shipping Office with its well preserved ship arrivals board. The Dutch hospital which was once filled with victims of the plague. Ironically now it’s home to many upmarket restaurants. The Clock Tower built in 1882, who’s clock mechanism was built by the British is said to show the correct time even today. When we looked it was three hours out. “That’s why the Swiss make watches now” Also what’s nice about the Fort is you can walk all the way around the walls, which afford great views over the city and the bay. Staying in the Fort is a little more expensive than outside but it’s worth it. We found a great place called Villa Amilisa, it was in a great location and a very good price considering the other hotels. Originally we had only planned to stay one night but we liked the Fort so much we stayed for two. Which turned out to be a good thing as we met a really great couple Don & Marilyn from Canada. Spent a great evening with them and will definitely stay in touch

Restaurants

The ones we ate in and all were good was Cannon and Sugar both in the Dutch Hospital and Calorie for lunch, who serve a great salad.

Top Tip

When we were India their were a few occasions that we found that we wished we had booked for longer and a few that we could have stayed for less, and although we had booked most of our accommodation through Booking.com and could cancel quite close to our arrival date, once we were there we could not alter our dates, and quite frankly some accommodation we would not have stayed at all. “Photos and descriptions do lie”. When we was in Pondicherry and were having hotel problems, and the fact it was getting late and needed somewhere to stay we booked one hotel on Booking.com for one night costing £71 per night. We ended up staying at the same hotel and got a far better rate than Booking.com £41 per night “that’s not our normal budget, but White Town Pondicherry is expensive”. So when we arrived in Sri Lanka and was told that it is quite for tourists, we took the plunge and cancelled all of our accommodation and just decided to go with the flow. I have to say, so far it’s worked out brilliantly.

Sri Lanka. First stop Bentota

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Sri Lanka. First stop Bentota

After our flight from Chennai we arrived in Sri Lanka. As we had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and the journey to our transit hotel where we were just going to to get a few hours sleep was very short. We did not get any indication of what Sri Lanka was going to be like, the only thing that I noticed immediately was how much calmer the driving was. I thought that this was due to the fact it was 02:30 am, and everyone was asleep.

On our journey to the bus station to get the bus to Bentota it was quite clear to the fact that Sri Lanka was going to be nothing like India. As on the way was immediately evident that it was going to be much calmer “driving wise”, the streets were so much cleaner, and everything seemed so much more sedate. Straight away we knew we were going to love Sri Lanka. Our journey from Negombo to Colombo took around an hour, “but not without its problems. See below”, the second leg of the journey was around two and a half hours for a distance of just 70 miles because of heavy traffic. Total journey price £6;30 Taxi would have cost upward of £30.

Bus scam beware

We were taken to the bus station by Shaun who was the manager of the Transit Inn where we stayed for our first night. He told us that the fare to Colombo would be 130 lkr £0.59. We had three seats, one for our luggage. So our total fare for the journey would be 330 lkr. On arriving at the bus station in Colombo the conductor of the bus wanted 800 lkr, two seats for us a seat for each of our bags “both bags were on one seat” and 400 lkr for the toll which was the toll fare for the whole bus. “We noticed the fee at the toll booth”. Needless to say even though he wasn’t happy we said no and just gave him the correct fare. The next leg of our journey to Bentota went much smoother the conductor was very helpful and he didn’t try to scam us.

Bentota

I’m sure if you looked at Bentota in the glossy brochures you will find endless high end faceless hotels, so for some this may well put you off visiting, but if you cross the bridge heading south out of town and head for the beach you will find, what seemed to us like miles of unspoilt immaculately clean white sand beaches. Our choice of homestay was Villa Lalita, a really lovely home stay, great value and amazing hosts. Villa Lalita is in Pitaramba Road, which is turning on the right, over the bridge heading south. There are plenty of other home stays to choose from down this road. Our homestay was just a 5 minute walk to an amazing beach, that you will almost have all to yourself. We possibly counted fifty or so people in like I said what seemed like miles of beach. We didn’t do much else in Bentota except soak up the sun, as we needed a rest after our busy schedule in India.

Eating out.

Restaurants in Bentota . Pier 88, which is in Bentota town itself, they served good food. Good location on the river. Happy Fish “although if you chose a fish dish the fish would not be too happy”. Located just across the bridge heading into town, another one with river views. Finally the Golden Grill which I can also recommend. “Just don’t order a bottle of Sri Lankan wine, it’s appalling”.

Taxi’s

Über and Ola Cabs appear not to be available in Sri Lanka, but another useful app I found was PickMe which does work, but not in all areas.

Next stop Galle Fort.