I learnt a few lessons during our time in Ella.
1. Nothing worth having comes easy.
2. It’s fine to be ambitious but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.
3. Never rely on the maps.me app to gauge the time it will take for a hike as it’s basic distance x speed algorithm doesn’t consider the sharpness of a mountain’s incline.
The train trip from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is said to be the most scenic in Sri Lanka. You’re in the heart of tea country, surrounded by rows and rows of rich green tea leaf bushes reaching high into the mountains. It really is something special.
As our train docked at Ella station we jumped off among a train load of backpackers. We cleared the gates, walked the few hundred metres down to the main road through town and to tell you the truth, were a little disappointed by what we saw.
Sure, it’s location was beautiful, but you could tell the town wasn’t what it used to be. It felt so very touristy. Almost every person we saw was a foreigner, except of course the staff working at the western-style restaurants and souvenir shops. We continued the walk down to our homestay, had a very confusing conversation with our host, then put our feet up to relax after our five hour sardine-can train ride from Nuwara Eliya.
That night, we toddled up to find some authentic Sri Lankan food amongst the pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. We found a dimly lit five-table restaurant with rice and curries on the menu so pulled up a seat. Man, were we glad we did. A selection of five flavoursome curries hit the table along with two big plates of rice. Anita and I ate like royalty and all for a measly $5.
Over dinner, we listed and prioritised everything we wanted to see and do in Ella which would determine how many days we spent there. Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock and Rawana Falls topped the list. The thing was, after some research, I figured that we could do these things in two lazy days or one full-on day. Anita and I aren’t afraid of hard work and figured we’d get bored staying for two days, so planned to get up at sunrise the following day to tackle Little Adam’s Peak before hiking to Ella Rock then down to Rawana Falls.
The next day we woke up at 5:45am, chucked on our boots, and hit the road to Little Adam’s Peak. Now don’t let the name fool you, Little Adam’s Peak aint that little. It’s actually 1,141m high, but earnt it’s name from the resemblance of it’s big brother, Adam’s Peak. The hike itself wasn’t that strenuous as the path there is pretty well cleared, but it’s still steep enough to get a puff going.
We reached the top and were given a magnificent view across the mountains. Just stunning. There was a second view point which could only be reached via a narrow dirt path around an edge with a straight drop off. With the wind blowing hard I pussied out big time, but Anita just laughed and walked past me. Once she returned, we climbed down the mountain and headed for Ella Rock, an easy 7km or just over an hour walk away, according to maps.me. This begun what Anita and I agreed was probably the hardest hike we’ve ever done.
Now I’m not sure if it was because we climbed Little Adam’s Peak directly before, or that each bend presented a steeper, morale-crushing incline than the last, but that climb was tough. Hundreds of steps past mountain shacks, followed by a steep, uncleared climb to a dusty path, which took us further up, past rustling bushes and tree monkeys, to a steeper incline after that. It felt like it would never end! It was after about two hours of hiking and putting on our brave faces to those returning from the peak that the path started to level out. We passed some trees and shrubs to a view that just opened right up across the valley. Wow, what a view. That moment made the last two hours totally worthwhile.
It was through small talk with some French hikers at the peak that we uncovered the fact that we took a longer, less scenic route at the start of our hike. Apparently you could walk along the train tracks and bypass the stairs altogether. Great. We took in the view, had some water, then turned back around to take the alternative route back to town.
Our last stop was Rawana Falls, which by this stage we weren’t totally enthused about visiting but thought we should, otherwise regret it. We ventured down, took a photo, then headed back to town to eat, shower and sleep.
We quite liked the time we spent in Ella. Sure, the town itself might have lost the villagey charm it once had, but the true beauty of the area lies just outside of town. Just don’t use bloody maps.me to get you there.