The old train chugged onwards, slowly climbing upwards and upwards into the mountains. Fine mist swirled and enveloped us, making the trees surrounding the rail tracks seem like ethereal ghosts, its limbs and leaves almost lost in the whiteness of everything. We passed through a dark tunnel cut into the earth, compressing our view. And as we emerged from the darkness, a vista of the plains below opened right before our unglassed windows, clouds gently flowing like the sea over ridges of the mountains, a white stupa barely able to peek through the cottony blanket.
|TAKING THE BUS TOWARDS ELLA TOWN|
Knowing that we’re in for a ten-hour train ride going back to Fort Colombo, we started our day quite early. Packing our bags from the Ella Jungle Resort, we navigated the make-shift cable car up, then piled into the 4x4 truck that would bring us back to civilization.
|FOUND THIS HUGE WATERFALLS RIGHT BESIDE THE ROAD|
A few minutes into the open-aired public bus, we decided to drop by the massive Ravana Ella Falls, which was right by the highway, before continuing on our way to town. Being cooped up at the resort for the duration of our stay in Ella, we have no idea, really, what we would see in town.
|AFTER THREE DAYS IN ELLA, WE FINALLY SAW THE TOWN|
|THE REQUISITE OUT-OF-THE-COUNTRY HAIRCUT|
|A WEDDING FEAST AT ELLA|
With still a couple of hours left before our scheduled train arrived, I entered a barbershop on the misty town and got a spankin’ haircut from an old guy with a very slick white hair. After which, a festive wedding promptly erupted on a small hotel right in front of the shop. We wanted to see more of the town, for this is what we really came to Ella for, but we just have enough time then to have a hot meal before dragging our backpacks to the train yard.
|OUR RIDE ARRIVES|
Just in time, the Ella train bound for Colombo came charging into the station in all its old-metal dinosaur glory. We had the choice of sitting in luxury at its tourist coach with reclining seats, wi-fi and meals for LKR2,400.00 (15.88USD), but we didn’t like the fact that its windows are permanently shut, plus we could save a lot rupees if we sit third class at a measly LKR190.00 (1.25USD). Anyways, we’re really into cheap train rides. Can you imagine, a ten-hour train ride for only a dollar?!
|A BOY ON A RED TRAIN BOUND FOR SOMEWHERE ELSE|
The Sri Lanka Railways has its origins in 1858. From steam-powered dinosaurs made by the British during colonial times to transport tea and coffee products from the mountainsides, up to the modern trains operated by the Sri Lankans in the present. The Main Line, which we’re currently on, starts from Fort Colombo up to Badulla Station and runs for 292.3 kilometers with a total of 79 stations. We were currently at Station number 75.
|A LOCAL WOMAN LOOKS ON TOWARDS THE BACKPACKERS WANTING A PREMIUM VIEW|
|HEADING BELOW A MOUNTAIN|
We were rollin’ in no time. Our train wagon, which has seats facing one another, was almost empty except for some tourists and a few locals. Knowing that we’re in for a visual treat, we took a bay, each of us sitting on the window side, and opened the glass window fully. It has been said that the ten-hour train ride from Ella to Colombo is one of the most scenic in the world.
|A CUTE LITTLE BOY SUDDENLY APPEARED ON OUR LAPS|
The air was nippy as the train barreled forward. A local kid of about four years of age, dressed in a strikingly red singlet and a colorful knitted hat complete with cute fluffy balls at the bottom, suddenly jumped into our laps. He was curious about our cameras and was constantly asking us to peek into its viewfinder. When he tires of that, he’d set his head upon the window rail and look dreamily into the horizon. And then he’d tinker with our cameras again.
|WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE|
He was so charming that we never did mind. It was actually his mom who was more stressed than we were, fearing that the child might be too much of a nuisance for us. The kid sat on our lap for hours, watching the scenery of pine trees and tea-covered hills along with us. Like his mom, he spoke no English, but somehow, we were able to communicate with him through gestures and smiles.
|AMAZING VIEW OF SRI LANKA’S COUNTRYSIDE FROM THE TRAIN|
|WE WERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS|
|AND INTO THE CLOUDS|
Three hours into the scenery and C was bored, cute kid on her lap notwithstanding. Me, I was as absorbed with everything as if we’ve just boarded. The air grew chillier as the train slowly crept up the mountains and thick fog soon carpeted the mountainous landscape.
|CROSSING A TRESTLE BRIDGE AND BEING SMOTHERED WITH MIST|
|A TYPICAL TRAIN STATION, ONE OF THE SEVENTY PLUS WE PASSED EN ROUTE TO COLOMBO|
We passed by a sleepy town called Nuwara Eliya and every backpacker on the train, except us, went down. Apparently, this mist-covered town, which looked very eerily like Silent Hill with a slightly Baguio feels, used to be a colonial resort area and is apparently a popular day-tour destination from Ella. We were almost reaching for our backpacks, wanting to join these guys, but then we remembered that we only have a day left in Sri Lanka before taking a flight to Maldives.
|TEA PLANTATIONS ABOUND|
|ONE THING WE MISSED SEEING IN ELLA ARE THESE PLANTATIONS|
We let our bottoms stay glued on our seat. Which wasn’t too bad. The seats were actually quite comfortable, with enough soft padding to keep us at ease for the next seven hours. Or so we thought.
|HILLS OF TEA, ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THE TRAINS WERE BUILT BY THE ENGLISH|
|HARVESTING TEA BY HAND|
At some point into the ride, after passing through countless mountain tunnels, wooden trestle bridges, hillside tea plantations, thick forests and breathtaking panoramas, we reached the highest point of the train ride, literally. At the Pattipola Station, 1,898 meters above sea level (more than 300 meters higher than Sagada), the temperature dropped drastically and everything was shrouded in thick freezing mist. We were literally inside the clouds.
|ONE OF THE MANY MINI WATERFALLS WE SAW AS DUSK STARTED TO SETTLE IN|
|TWILIGHT ALONG THE TRACKS, WE’VE STILL GOT A LONG WAY TO GO|
The train plodded on. Winding through the mountains as the afternoon slowly sets in. We tried some local snacks, bread with crispy chili peppers, slept, took pictures, and took more pictures. We bade farewell to our adopted kid, whose name we forgot to ask, and soon dusk settled on the mountains. Still our train chugged ever onwards. Into the darkness, it moved. And moved, and moved. Its rhythmic chug, lulling us back to dreamland.
Address: Ella Station Road, Ella, Badulla, Sri Lanka
GPS Coordinates Map: 6.875388, 81.047136