The most scenic train journey segment is between Nuwara Eliya and Ella. There is nothing but green tea plantation through the journey. The train moves very slowly, something between 20 to 30km per hour, slow enough and most travellers (if they can) prefer to sit at the open doors facing outward to enjoy the mountains and the beautiful tea hills.
Where is Ella?
There are fewer trains departing from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. Some departures are entirely third class which means you may stand all the way to Ella and the total journey time between these 2 towns are approx 4 hours and 30 minutes. You also should be aware that the train may be delayed by various reasons.
We departed an hour later than scheduled, stopping in some towns along the journey to pick up more travellers. I found my open door spot but unfortunately it was right next to a smelly lavatory. Half way through the journey a Polish girl joined me and squeezed in to sit by the open door. We had a good chat to get to know each other. She was on her honeymoon and they were doing the exact same route.
Ella is a small town in the Badulla District. It is approximately 200 km east of Colombo and is situated at an elevation of 1041 meters above sea level. The area is rich in biodiversity, dense with numerous varieties of flora and fauna.
Ella is surrounded by hills covered with cloud forests and tea plantations. The town has a cooler climate than the surrounding lowlands. Due to its elevation, the Ella Gap allows views across the southern plains of Sri Lanka.
Ella is also a very popular English name which got even more popular in recent years, so if you shout Ella in public in London, you’d probably get mostly 5 – 10 years old children respond to that!
Many people got excited once we arrived at Ella station, including myself. The station has a large sign with my name in English, Sinhalese and Tamil (the official two languages used in Sri Lanka). I just couldn’t avoid taking a photo with the sign.
Ella is one of my favourite towns in Sri Lanka, although it’s really small. The town is completely set up for tourism and is very welcoming. It has everything that a tourist would need: on its main street there are plenty of restaurants and cafes offering a wide range of cuisines. There are taxi services to other towns and cities in Sri Lanka, plenty of laundry services and hotels.
As soon as we checked in our hotel, we asked our host about things to do in this little town. I realised that we weren’t going to stay here long enough to do everything, so we had to pick and choose a few routes that fitted our itinerary.
We dropped our luggage and headed out following the host’s instruction to find Nine Arch Bridge.
It’s funny to see the big “no walking on the rails” warning sign as soon as you wound your way through the bushes and trees beside the station. Every local and traveller are advised this is the route to the Nine Arch Bridge.
The walk on the rail to the world famous bridge lasted approximately 30 minutes. It was peaceful enough and you would walk passed other travellers. As it’s only one direction to get to the bridge it’s hard to get yourself lost in the rail trek. Little Adam’s Peak is also in the same direction and most people may choose to visit the both places in one trip.
A quick WiKi brief of Nine Arch Bridge
The Nine Arch Bridge is also called the Bridge in the Sky, it’s one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in the country. It’s located between Ella and Demodara railway station. The surrounding area has seen a steady increase of tourism due to the bridge’s architectural ingenuity and the profuse greenery in the nearby hillsides. Popular rumours suggest that when construction work commenced on the bridge, the Great War began between the empires of Europe and the steel assigned for this site was reallocated to Britain’s War related projects at the battlefront. As a result, the work came to a standstill, leading the locals build the bridge with stone bricks and cements but without steel.
We followed a small group of people and climbed up a hillside where you can see a cafe from the hill bottom. It was rather interesting trek as the route was extremely rural and rugged. When we got to the top of the hill and sat in front of a closed cafe, we realised the climb up was the easy part but to go back down seemed quite dangerous. We were expecting to see the small group we were following to lead the way to return to the town, but they had a tuk tuk sitting right there to collect them for returning to town. We negotiated with the tuk tuk driver and he agreed that he would come back for us and to take us to the Little Adam’s Peak.
Little things to know about Little Adam’s Peak.
It’s also known as Mini Adam’s Peak, it is the closest and easiest hike in Ella. The peak is 1141 meter above sea level. It takes about 30-45 minutes walk from the entrance. There are built stairs to climb up to the top and the panoramic views with clouds rolling around from the summit are incredible.
We entered the park and the first thing we saw from distance was a guy holding up huge tree branches and leaves in a circular bundle that sat on top of his head. I was curious to know how he managed to get all these material together and where he was heading to with this enormous green hat.