Haputale and Ella - 17-22 March 2019

I’ve arrived in Sri Lanka from Vietnam, a journey which took 10 different stages of transport to reach my Homestay in Haputale.

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One of the last pieces of the journey was a train from Colombo. This was about 230/240kms. The journey took all of 8 hours and takes you through some beautiful scenery through villages where the train runs up the middle of the street. It winds it’s way following contours, through tunnels and over small passes before dropping down into Haputale. Some signs along track say max 25km as the rails and sleepers are weak! As the train thumps, sways and jostles its way along it raises dust clouds from the track I guess by the movement in the sleepers on the clay base. The sleepers at least in some parts are being changed to concrete. Later I found when walking along a track after rain the sleepers squish and move about when I walked over them. Dear knows what happens with tons of train rumbling along. It explains some of the thumps I heard on my train ride.

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I arrived in Haputale and got a tuc tuc ride to White Monkey Dias Rest. This is a Homestay perched on the side of a valley at around 1400m above sea level. The views are amazing. This is an unusual place with a variety of places to stay in. They have a pet rooster which wakes you up quite early. The owner decided to get a hen for the rooster but it didn’t like the hen and fought with it. It was concluded that this was a bad idea and the hen had to go.

My room was a small bungalow overlooking  the valley and the jaw dropping view which went on for miles. Monkeys cheekily climb over the roof and stare in through the window.

This is a tea plantation area where Thomas Lipton has his factory. On a high point above the factory is Liptons Seat where he was renowned to sit and survey his massive estate.

I attempted a painting of a valley with tea plantations near the factory which had its problems. First I forgot to bring my paint thinners. Two local men on a motor bike agreed to go to Haputale and buy some. Then heavy rain started. My pre-arranged driver was soon to collect me so I left. So unfortunately this wasn’t a good start but  great scenery. They aren’t all publishable!

The second day was more successful and I decided to go for simplicity and stay all day at the Homestay and paint from the balcony. The area has many eucalyptus or gum trees which have been imported at some stage in the past. I painted this one which now looks like an Australian painting. The skyline has been significantly altered by these lofty trees dominating. I quite liked doing it as it made me think I was back in Aus!

Soon I had to leave this interesting and eclectic Homestay and go to Ella. I would love to have had more time to explore Haputale but must now keep on the move.  Finally I shared with some English tourists a sip of gin and tonic with a fresh picked lime from a tree.

Before I left I arranged to hire a driver for the 7 days between leaving Ella and the flight out of Colombo. As I had it confirmed by experience I would quickly loose hours and days with busses and trains and probably not reach the places I want to see.

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I arrived  in Ella by train. The journey took 90 minutes for a trip which should take max 30 minutes by car. The two towns are completely different in character. Gladly my Homestay was a little distance out of the town so I could relax on the balcony and enjoy another great view.

Having read about Ella I was forewarned. It was wall to wall cafes, restaurants, tuc tucs and short shorts. It was tourist mayhem and every spare piece of space in the town was either built on or being built on. It is completely over run by tourism and not special to the area but just like anywhere else. I dread to think what it’s going to be like in 20 years time.

On my first day in Ella I hired a tuc tuc to the nine arch bridge.

It is a good example of colonial railway construction and built in 1921.

(Credit Wikipedia) “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 cement, but without steel”

While an important engineering construction it is just another tourist spot. Here the people undeterred by mud and tropical downpours are up and down and all over the train track, even entering the tunnel. Then the train would come along honking them off the track.

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I perched myself beside a hillside cafe and was immediately offered drinks etc. Of course I ordered something - a smoothie  but got a toasted sandwich thrown in and later some tea and biscuits.

The next morning I went to Mini Adams Peak intending to go up it but got sidetracked by a view of Ella Rock and a tree. What more could I ask for. I positioned myself amongst tea plants a short distance below the track. The official reason to get well off the track was to improve the composition but really I wanted away from tourists. But they still lined up to look and click. One cheeky clicker said ‘hello’ just to get  me to turn around so he could snap me. Cheeky!

These tuc tucs are great little things. They are like a motorbike in that they have handle bars, are 500 cc and low geared and sometimes seem to struggle on hills. They are everywhere. Some are customised with furry dashboards and pictures of pop idols everywhere inside. I used them often to save time hiking everywhere.

The drivers want to ask questions when you’re being driven along and it generally follows a set routine:

Where you from?

How many day Sri Lanka?

What you do tomorrow  - generally wanting repeat business.

Then they say.

Sri Lanka good?

If you say yes, very very good, great and all sorts of superlatives then they’re happy and the conversation dries up.

The importance of what you think of Sri Lanka is high up the priority rankings and these people love their country.

They gained independence in 1948 but when they talk about that the say ‘we got our freedom in 1948,.

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On my final day in Ella I walked the short distance up hill from my Homestay and had an amazing view of Ella Gap. It made a great composition for me. I was in the grounds of a smart hotel but I was standing amongst lots of soft plastic rubbish so much so I had to be mighty careful not to leave any of my belongings behind. If I had more time i would have headed further up the valley to get a different perspective of this great view. Oh well - another time.

That evening I had dinner out as often is the case and was noticing the Wi-fi codes used in homestays and restaurants. They must say something of the Sri Lankan’s attitude to life in general.  I have had - Good choice, Buy a drink and Have a nice day.

The next morning I am off to Tangalle with my driver and have mixed feelings about leaving. I could have easily stayed in Ella 2 or 3 more days but must now move on. Again some day.