Our Travel Diary - Central Sri Lanka
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
View of the surrounding hills from Little Adam's Peak, Ella
Duration – 10 days (February 2018)
Getting there – Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport near the capital city of Colombo is well connected by air with Middle East, Asia and European cities via direct or one stop flights. We flew Qatar Airways from London Heathrow via Doha (one stop with 13.5 hours of travel time including stopover)
When to go – The best time to travel to Sri Lanka is from November through to March. During these months the weather is cool enough to enjoy the historic sights and the natural beauty of Sri Lanka. During these months the costal weather is excellent all through the day, water temperature is prefect for a swim in the oceans, and with minimal rain if any, makes this time ideal for beach holidays.
What to buy – Sri Lanka offers amazing handicrafts to bring back home – head to the government shop of Laksala for wooden and leather handicrafts (Sri Lankan Masks are beautiful pieces of art). The proceeds go directly to the craftsmen and thus supports the art and the artist and sustains local economy.
Staying comfortable – The tropical weather means shorts and light T-shirts are the best options while in Sri Lanka. However you may a light raincoat or jacket if you are the tea growing hilly region of the central part of the country .
Day 6 – Ella Sight Seeing, Tea Factor Visit and Scenic Train Ride
Little Adam’s Peak: After witnessing a beautiful sunrise followed by a filling breakfast enjoying the hills views, we started our day with a trek to little Adam’s peak. We trekked through scenic and working tea plantation for just over an hour. We stopped to take pictures and just soaking in the wonderful views.
The trek was well worth the time as the view from the peak was of the Ella town and surrounding areas was stunning. After a little rest we headed back stopping on the way to drink fresh coconut water. We arrived at the carpark just around noon and it was time to devour some more good food as a reward for all the trekking.
Walking through the tea gardens of Ella - the track to Little Adam's Peak
Tea gardens of Ella
View of the surrounding hills from Little Adam's Peak, Ella
Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory: After lunch we headed to Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory for a tea factory tour. The hour-long guided tour of the tea factory was very informative and interesting. It was apparent that the guide took great pride in the history and heritage of Ceylon Tea. We were among the few people and the whole experience was nice and not rushed. After the tour we had a tea tasting session which was a big hit with Oviyan. He thoroughly enjoyed his time at the team factory which was a little bit of a surprise for us!
Tea tasting season at Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory, Ella
Locals at work near a tea garden of Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory
The fresh picking
Haputale to Ella Train journey: The train journey from Kandy to Haputale via Ella is considered one of the top 10 most scenic train journeys in the world. The train passes though the hilly countryside, chugging alongside spectacular tea plantations and small villages. We chose to travel from Haputale to Ella by train as this stretch is perhaps most scenic part of the train Journey. Our driver dropped us as the Haputale railway station and met us back at Ella. This is about 1.5 hours by road.
The railway station itself was a quaint little place quite reminiscent of the British rule and its influence on the architecture. We bought a one-way ticket from the counter and couldn’t help but laugh out loud when the station master literally cut a ticket into half with scissors because Oviyan only needed a ‘half’ ticket. These were the little brown tickets made of cardboard that we had during our childhood days! The station master though wasn’t tickled and gave us a stern look with his glasses resting at the very end of his nose.
Haputale train station
Though the station itself was nice and clean we could have skipped the toilet visit. We sat and waited for the train to arrive. The train was late by 30 min and when it arrived all the restless passengers made a beeline to get in first. We had imagined soaking in the views but to our dismay the train was full with no empty seat. We found different places to stand and as long term married couple communicated with our eyes- ‘really are we supposed to squeeze in between people’s suitcases on this beautiful journey?’ and ‘hang in there – people will surely get off at the next stop!’ But that was not meant to be! Only more people boarded the train the next station. Determined not to let this ruin the experience we just headed to the door and sat down there! The view was bigger and better and the wind came right in to kiss Oviyan’s face and he couldn’t believe that it was real – that he sat there with his orange juice and enjoying the wonderful views and experiencing a thrill that was unimaginable in UK! But for us this was nostalgia – the sound of the rhythmic chugging and whistles of the train, the wind blowing on your face and friendly banter with complete strangers. When we got off Oviyan couldn’t contain his smile and looking at him we couldn’t contain ours!
We ended this amazing day with dinner at Ceylon Tea Factory – a beautifully restored abandoned tea factory with lots of reminders to its past. After dinner we decided to walk back though it was raining as holding an umbrella is always high on a 5-year old’s wishlist!
The sonic ride through tea gardens from Haputale to Ella
Day 7 - Ella to Kandy via Nuyara Ellia
We started the day early and left Ella just before 7 am in the morning. Aunty (our hotel owner) gave us a big packed breakfast for the road.
Aadishakti Seeta Amman Temple. (Sita Mata Temple): Just before entering the town of Nuwara Eliya we stooped for our first tourist attraction of the day – the Sita Temple. This temple is associated with the mythological saga of Ramayana and is believed to be the place where Sita was kept captive by Rawana. Hanumana had come here to bring the message of Rama and surprisingly the temple is thronged by monkeys. The architecture of the Hindu temple is beautiful and the surroundings have a magical effect.
Aadishakti Seeta Amman Temple
Nuwara Eliya: Also known as the ‘Little England; Nuwara Eliya felt British with all the colonial-era bungalows, but the landscape very different from England. The terraced team plantations are mountains are shrouded with mist and the magic that is so typical of tea growing regions. One main attraction is the Gregory Lake which is a reservoir was built by Governor William Gregory between 1872 and 1877. The park near the lake has things like speed boat, swan boats, dinky boats etc. The park around it has a walkway and its well maintained. So can take a saunter stroll along the area’s 5 km path. The view is worth a visit but we just decided to skip boat rides (and swan boats!) and headed towards our next stop.
Nuwara Eliya Lake
Damro Labookellie Tea Centre and Tea garden: Few kilometres away from Nuwara Eliya is the Dambo Tea Company. We went for a factory tour, as Oviyan was in love with tea factory tours but it was disappointing - too commercial, crowded and rushed and nothing like the one we experienced in Ella. However the visitor centre in Damro Tea Centre was quite well organized with a nice spacious place to drink tea and a restaurant at the upper level which offered nice buffet lunch at a reasonable price. After lunch we headed towards Kandy but stopped quite a few times on the way to enjoy the scenic beauty of the central hills and tea gardens of the Sri Lanka. We arrived at Kandy in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel and called it a day.
Tea Gardens of Damro Labookellie Tea Centre, near Nuwara Eliya
Day 8 - Kandy Cultural Dance and Visit to Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic
Kandy Fruit and vegetable Market: We started our day with a visit to the Kandy fruit and vegetable market. It is a busy and thriving place with an amazing array of colourful fruits and vegetables mainly for wholesale trade. This is not really a touristy place and were the only ‘aliens’ in an otherwise local trading place. But we absolutely enjoy going to local markets as nothing else quite gives the feel of a place like the local markets do! People were pleasant and Oviyan also got a few bananas from this friendly bunch.
Kandy Fruit and vegetable Market
Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue: Our next stop was the hilltop Buddha statue in the town of Kandy. The beautiful tall white statue of Buddha and the view from the top was great and was worth a visit.
Kandy Viewpoint: After lunch we took some well-deserved rest and then headed towards the Kandy viewpoint. This hilltop viewpoint is a nice place from where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Kandy Lake, Royal palace and Sacred Tooth Relic temple.
Kandy cultural dance
Kandy Cultural Dance: This was perhaps one of the most magical time of our cultural discovery of Sri Lanka. We went to the Kandy Art Association in the evening to witness the Kandy cultural dance. As we waited in a dark hall, we didn’t really know what to expect and were trying to read through the brochure they provided us. It seemed like a long wait but then the program which was roughly an hour and half in duration was just spectacular! A dazzling display of a variety of dances. As we clapped hands and gave a standing ovation to the artists, little did we know that the showstopper was yet to come! We headed outside we saw people congregating around some other performers. We stood with our mouths open as the performers danced with fire and walked on fire (smouldering coal). Fire-walking is something we have witnessed in Tamil Nadu in India - this is a festival called Themeethi and is celebrated by Tamil Hindus globally but mainly in India, Sri-Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and even South Africa. Fire symbolizes purification in Hindu belief and this ceremony is also has the same underlying theme. Witnessing this surrounded by people from all over the globe, as the sun went down and amidst drums and other traditional music was an experience. Somethings stay with you forever and this was definitely one of those.
Cultural Dance at Kandy
Cultural dance and performance at Kandy Art Association
Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic: After the cultural dance show we walked to the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) which was 5 min walk from the Art Association. However, we reached there just in time (that’s a different story)- the temple closes at 8 pm so we didn’t get as much time as we would have wanted but still managed to attend the evening prayer. Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is also a World Heritage Site mainly due to the temple. The golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. However, you don’t really get to see the tooth as it is kept in a gold stupa shaped and is heavily guarded. Rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, at noon and in the evenings and during the puja (prayers) the room containing the tooth is open to visitors. It was great to be able to catch the evening prayers and get a glimpse of the casket. Apart from the main temple the complex also includes a series of smaller temples, shrines and museums. Like the Vatican city is this place has been the power hold of Sri-Lanka from ancient times to now and has also survived bombings.
Entrance to the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic
Meticulous art work inside Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic
Day 9 - Kandy to Dambulla, Dehigaha Ella
After breakfast we left for Dambulla.
Matale Hindu temple: On the way to Dambulla we stopped at Matale Hindu Temple which had a very dramatic exterior and interior with colourful statues of Hindu deities and beautiful architecture. It must be noted non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple and the easiest vetting process was to filter out westerners or Muslims or anyone that doesn’t resemble a Hindu. We offered our prayers and walked through temple complex before continuing our journey to Dambulla.
Matale Hindu temple
Elaborate work of Matale Hindu temple
Dambulla Cave Temple: Dambulla cave temple also called royal cave temple or Ran-Giri cave temple complex is made up of five separate caves containing around 150 spectacular Buddha statues and paintings. It sits on top of a hill and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka and dates to the first century BC when ousted King Valagamba Anuradhapura, took refuge here. After he regained his throne, he ordered the interior of the caves to be carved into rock temples. Subsequent kings added more paintings, but most notable is King Nissanka Malla, who had the caves’ interiors gilded, earning the place the name Ran Giri (Golden Rock). Retouching and addition of new paintings has continued over the years but in line with the overall soul of the cave. From the caves you can get magnificent views over the surrounding countryside; including Sigiriya. This is one of those places that cannot and shouldn’t be rushed - spend time to marvel at the jaw-dropping paintings and statues.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple
Back and Beyond Tree house at Dehigaha Ela: After finishing the visit to Dambulla Cave temple by noon we left for our nature adventure at Dehigaha Ela. At a village near Sigiriya we were picked up by the Back and Beyond vehicle driver. After a good 45-minute drive through dirt road and into the wilderness, we and arrived at the Tree house resort of Wild Heaven by back and Beyond. The accommodation was a nature resort which has a handful of tree-houses in the lap of nature. We enjoyed a hearty lunch made from ingredients sourced from villages around the resort. The place also has a pool with fish that feed on dead skin, so is a very natural fish-spa! We took a dip and enjoyed the walk around the place followed by some tea. Without any internet connection it was a great way to actually experience nature living and mindfulness. For our full experience at Dehigaha Ela please read more here.
Our tree house at Back and Beyond at Dehigaha Ela
The freshwater pool at Dehigaha Ela
Day 10 - Dambulla and back to Airport
We were woken up with the sound of birds chirping and a hornbill perched on the balcony of our tree house. We enjoyed the sunrise with our tea and looking at the calm Lilly pond. After breakfast we bid goodbye to this little slice of heaven and left for the meeting point were our driver was waiting with his car. As this was our last day we decided to take it easy and therefore skip our visit to Sigirya rock. Instead we visited a Gem factory, and batik print factory in Sigiriya area and picked up a beautiful painting of a Sri-Lankan dancer- something we had witnessed, and it was therefore a beautiful reminder of our time in this amazing country.
After this we left for the airport which was good 3 to 4 hours’ drive stopping on the way for lunch. We arrived at Negombo late evening; we also visited a beautiful local Buddhist temple. Our driver Chanaka’s home was on the way to the airport and he insisted we visit his house to meet with his family and a cup of tea. By this time, we knew a lot about Chanaka and his life. We had a nice time at his home and looked through his family album while sipping some nice homemade ginger tea. It’s amazing how in a matter of few days, you make such lasting connections. Our flight back to UK was on time and we left Sri Lanka with a heart full of happy memories and SD card full of amazing pictures to cherish for life.