Sri Lanka Diary Pt3 - Hill Country

So far my Pally’Hi Tees had been on rotation with a few other T-shirts, but over the next few days I’d be really upping the ante and putting them through an extreme stink test. Our stay at the east coast surf hang-out of Arugam Bay had come to an end, next on the cards was Ella, a small town located on the east side of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, a mountainous area jetting-up from the centre of the island. I’d read that the cooler climate of the Hill Country was perfect for hiking trips to the various peaks. Of course the word ‘cooler’ in a country that boarders the equator is relative and in actual fact it was still hot enough to melt away my Northern European composure.

For the first day in Ella we’d arranged to meet our TukTuk driver at 5:30am so that he could ferry us to the start of a short hike to the top of a small local peak named Ella’s Rock. Unsure of the route we accepted our driver’s offer to show us the way and agreed a suitable fee, after a few minutes of bartering. For the first hour of the hike we marched along the local railway tracks in the dark. By the time we’d reached the climb the sun was in the sky and things were starting to heat up pretty rapidly. The climb itself was hot work but physically not too challenging and within 40 minutes we were standing at the top of Ella’s Rock enjoying the views in the dusty morning light. We were up and down fast enough to get to get breakfast at the hotel.



In fear of snakes and other creepy crawlies hidden in the jungle and tall grass I’d decided to wear long cotton chinos, which unfortunately resulted in the bottom half of me being boiled alive. The lightweight Pally’Hi short sleeve Tee I was wearing did a good job of wicking away sweat, but unfortunately for my companions, the backpack I was wearing wasn’t really up to the job. As you can see from the photos my shoulders got a little sweaty, but on the plus side I didn’t smell! So here’s a tip, if you want to hike in Sri Lanka take some lightweight hiking trousers and a backpack with good venting… obvious right?


The following day we strolled around the tea plantations surrounding our hotel and visited a working tea factory on the opposing hills. Sri Lanka is the fourth biggest producer of tea on the planet and the Halpewatte tea factory is one of Sri Lanka’s largest, so we were excited to catch the hustle and bustle of the factory during a busy morning of tea production. As it happened, Ella was in the midst of the dry season, during this time new tea growth is limited, so the daily harvest was small. This meant we’d arrived just in time to miss production which in July ends long before lunch. The trip wasn’t wasted though, we took a short tour around the factory during which the various processes and machinery were explained; we tasted the various teas (which interestingly are all the same plant variety but differ because of the particle size used); and we spent a small fortune in the gift shop. Fortunately our families like tea, because it’s what they’ll be receiving for Christmas this year.



We’d enjoyed our time in Ella but after a couple of days we needed to board the famous Hill Country train and make our way to Kandy, where we’d be spending our final days in Sri Lanka before flying home. The train journey was a real highlight; slowly winding its way along the narrow gauge track from one quaint colonial village to another, its large windows revealed stunning views and picture post card Sri Lanka. Endless tea plantations covered the luscious, mountainous scenery and were only punctuated every so often by rice fields, waterfalls and cricket pitches. It was epic!


For the final two days of our journey we based ourselves in Gampola, a small but significant town (for a brief period it was the island’s capital city), a short bus ride from the region’s capital Kandy. Staying in a nice hotel in the hills above Gampola allowed us to escape the hectic-ness of Kandy while being close enough for a day trip. Although by Asian city standards Kandy is tiny, it still has a manic and flustered feel about it… or perhaps that was just me. Anyway, we took the bus into town for a day trip to see the famous Temple of the Tooth, an important shrine for Buddhists who believe the Tooth Relic, supposedly one of the Buddha’s teeth, is housed there. Inside the temple was beautifully decorated with murals, carvings, statues and the many Lotus flowers brought by the thousands of worshipers who visit daily. Other than the temple, a quick browse through a handful of Gem dealers’ windows and bite to eat in the “Empire” restaurant, Kandy was an in-and-out mission conducted with military precision. We wanted preserve our relaxed state of mind for as long as possible and hanging around at Kandy’s chaotic Good Sheds bus station would have been a quick way to lose it.


So that was the end of the Sri Lankan adventure. In the space of 16 days we’d navigated our way from West to East and back again. We’d explored the beautiful temples and ruins of the Cultural Triangle; caught warm Indian Ocean waves in Arugam Bay and made the Tea drinkers pilgrimage to Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Despite the terrifying bus travel, intimidating packs of dogs and half-finished architecture of the country, I’d fallen in love with the place.