Our arrival in Sri Lanka went without incident, and after a good nights rest close to the airport, we set off to catch our first train ride to the cultural capital Kandy. On gaining some useful local advice, rather than head to Colombo main station to catch the train, we went to the much closer Gampaha instead.
After a small glitch trying five different ATMs before we finally had money in our wallets, we found a small bakery to grab a quick takeaway breakfast. Scanning the available options, and dealing with grandma’s broken English, I pointed at these yummy looking triangles and asked her if they were vegetarian. Sure were, and with four in a paper bag and some water we walked away with our first taste of the infamous “curry triangles” which would be our go to “grab on the run” breakfast for the holiday.
Some confusion emsued when the first train pulled up to the platform, and my travel sense gave me a feeling that this wasn’t the right train for us – as trains pull into the station you literally have less than a minute to get both you and your bag on before it rolls out again. With no signage on the front, and nothing to judge by except the time, I looked around to see that none of the passengers alighting or boarding the train had luggage. Asking a helpful local to confirm, we waited for the next train to arrive which was in fact our train!
Hanging out in the dorrway with some friendly locals, I wished I had snapped a quick photo as I rode looking out into the rice fields whizzing by, face in the wind. Around an hour into the journey, we found ourselves high up into the mountains, a great view of some pretty spectacular terrain!
Arriving in Kandy we had the fortune of hiring an awesome local guy called Bennet to drive us around the sights for the afternoon. We visited a tea factory, herbal medicine spice garden, giant buddha temple and took a walk through the beautiful Botanic garden. Saw a traditional Sri Lankan dance performance, with some acrobatics and colourful costumes, including firewalking!
Finished up the day with an awesome feed of dahl and roti kottu at the highly recommended Garden cafe (chopped roti grilled with vegetables). It was so good we went back for more then next day ;
Chatting to the hostel guy, we hooked up a tour with Sudar and his tuk tuk and set of for a 150km adventure to Dambulla to see Sigiriya (Lion Rock).
Broke the clutch on the way which was a bit of a side adventure, but old mate managed to limp us to the mechanic and get back on the road in no time at all.
Rather than take the $30USD tourist trap of scaling Lion Rock itself, we took in the beautiful view from nearby Pidurangala – which was a mission to scale up the steep rock in the rain, but when we got to the summit the sun came out! So our little mechanical turned out to be a blessing in disguise!
On the way back we stopped at the impressive Rock Temple (in a cave!) and manged to find some excellent home cooked potato curry and dahl for lunch at a random roadside before the torrential rain set in, luckily we were all covered up in the back.
The journey from Kandy to Ella is meant to be one of the world’s most impressive train journeys according to the guide books, and luckily enough we managed to jag two train tickets on the morning (or so we thought). Our excitement quickly turned to dread as we realised how crowded the train was, so cramped we had to push our bags then ourselves on, and move to the side everytime the food sellers or conductors moved up and down the carraige! The journey to Hatton where we alighted took around four hours, but we wouldn’t know what the scenery was like as we couldn’t move let alone see out the window!
A short bus ride later and we arrived in the small town of Dalhousie, which serves as a base for pilgrims making the trek up to the temple at the summit of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak, named for the footprint which exists in the large rock at the top which is said to be where Adam set foot on earth). The town has pop up stalls for six months of the year, and has a definite carnival feel to it. Finding the Grand hotel to be a winner, we booked in for the night with a balcony looking over the valley below, and watched e sun set over Sri Pada.
Tackling the ascent of Adam’s peak at 2am to arrive for sunrise, we made the 7km journey up 5,500 steps in great time. If 80yo grandma with a walking stick can do it, so can we!! The path was well marked with lighting, and we definitely were not alone for the journey – reaching the top we wer greeted by hundreds who had made the trek the nigt before and camped out at the summit! Removing our shoes and finding a viewpoint at the front, we hoped we were facing in an easterly direction – we were soon to be surrounded by hundreds of others doing the same thing. Still the sunrise over the mountains was spectacular, although trying to get down from the top was interesting with the crowd!
Having made the five hour journey from Dalhousie along some bumpy roads that rival Death road in Bolivia (although the scenery was idyllic and reminded us of Australia in many parts) we arrived by tuk tuk into Udawalawe. Rather than taking four buses to make the journey (the long way around) we went back to Hatton and found a guy to take us the direct route!
Rising at 5am and setting off to be at the park entrance by 6am, we were quickly rewarded by the sight of many wild Indian elephants, water buffalo, deer, crocs and many bird species. The leopards however eluded us! Breakfast of “deep fried roti triangles with a boiled egg inside” and “sweet coconut stuffed rice noodle hotdog” were strange to look at but hit the spot, served to us at a little table inside the park.
A short trip and two local buses later we arrived in the small coastal town of Talalla for a delicious fish curry dinner, and this begins the coastal part of our trip!
Check out the photos and follow our route!