Hill Country

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March 31st 2016
Published: April 14th 2016
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The train puttered along, stopping in different stations along the path. I was on my way to the second largest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy. Kandy is located in the central province and is within Sri Lankan Hill Country. It felt good to escape the stifling heat and humidity of the coast and head into the elevated interior. The scenery became more and more green, with lush rolling hills on either side. As the train drew closer, the skies opened up and dumped some much needed rain. I felt the humidity drop almost immediately. The train arrived in the early evening, and I disembarked and began walking in the light rain. I only had about a few hundred meters before I found my hostel for the night called Elephant Shed. It was small and quaint and I immediately knew I would like this place. I dumped off my stuff and then went back out into the rain and found a nearby restaurant to serve me some rice, chicken and curry. I hadn't eaten in some time. Back at the hostel I met a few other backpackers and we all discussed our journeys through the country. The two hostel guys were super friendly and gave loads of information regarding places we had to check out.

The next morning I was getting into a van with three others from the hostel. We were on our way to visit the famous Sigiriya rock. Located in the central part of the island, the massive Sigiriya rock rises 200m and had been occupied as far back as the 3rd century BCE by Buddhist monks. Many kings had used it as a fortress since then and it had significant cultural importance. It is now a Unesco Heritage site and one of the more famous sites to see in Sri Lanka. The journey to Sigiriya took about three hours from Kandy on pretty good roads. We stopped at a spice farm and saw all sorts of plants and fruits used to make medications and creams. Once we arrived, the three girls in the van and myself decided to actually avoid climbing up Sigiriya rock itself and instead climb up a neighboring rock known as Pidurangala. The main reason was that the entrance fee into the former was about forty bucks, while it was less than five bucks to do the later. Pretty significant for a backpacker. This site also boasts cultural importance including some Buddhist temples at the base and ancient carvings on the way up. The hike itself was only about a kilometer, and the last part included scrambling on boulders to reach the top. Once there though, we were treated to a gorgeous 360 degree panoramic view of the area and as a bonus had an unbeatable view of Sigiriya rock itself. We stayed up there for a while and then returned back down to the vehicle. The heat was oppressive and I was sweating copiously. We continued on and stopped at a local place serving rice curry. We then continued on to the town of Dambulla, and climbed to the famous Buddhist caves. It's pretty easy to get temple burnout, but this place was really worth it. Within was well preserved Buddhist shrines and carvings. Buddha statues were everywhere and designed for the height of the cave where they were situated. Outside the site provided more excellent views of the hilly landscape, as well as monkeys jumping around. Nearby was also a giant golden Buddha, one of the largest in the world. Sri Lanka is fiercely proud of its Buddhist heritage and it shows. It was Buddha overload. Back at the vehicle we made the journey back south to Kandy. Rain came in and pounded the vehicle. That night I was thinking I would just chill out but I met a Canadian and a Japanese guy who were traveling who had met on the road and were traveling some of the country together. They had recently arrived at the hostel. They were really cool and within a few minutes we were on our way to a local bar for some drink and food. Good conversation ensued that evening.

Although I didn't feel like it, I was heading off from Kandy the next day. I joined my recent friends for some street side food, and then went off on my own to the railway station. I was embarking on a six hour journey through the fantastic hill country towards a small village called Ella. I managed to get a decent seat and was treated to wonderful views of the scenery. It might have been one of the more enjoyable train rides I was ever on. By the evening, the train pulled into Ella, and as I walked out of the station a middle aged woman named Ishara asked me if I had a place to stay. I didn't, and asked her the price. Satisfied with her answer, I decided to go with her to her home, where she rented out rooms to travelers. We made our way up a hill by tuk-tuk and I met her family, and hung out with them while she made me a traditional Sri Lankan dinner. I ate well and then sat outside looking out at the hills and Ella Rock as darkness fell. The temperature was actually cool and I had to put on a jumper for the first time since I had left Nepal.

I awoke early and Ishara made me Sri Lankan breakfast while her young son drew me up a map to go visit Ella Rock, one of the famous short hikes near the town. I walked down from the hill and walked along the train tracks for some meters until I found the trail. I walked through tea plantations and farms, passing some locals. On the way up I came upon a few other travelers who were on their way as well. My adaptations from Nepal trekking made this a piece of cake. Even though it was still early, the temperature was rising fast and with it came the insane sweating. Once at the top I got a great view of the area and met two girls who were also traveling through Ella. One of them was named Ashley and seemed pretty cool. She offered me a place to put my backpack once I checked out of my homestay, since I wanted to spend a few more hours in Ella before moving on. Some mist rolled in and blanketed to the beautiful views we had been enjoying. I joined the girls on the way down and we talked mostly about travel and the places we had gone, as well as the places we wanted to go to. This type of conversation can be dangerous because it always infuses your mind with new ideas and plans of what it possible. And of course there never seems to be enough time. I got in a tuk-tuk with them and we stopped by my homestay where I grabbed my stuff and thanked my adopted Sri Lankan family for their hospitality. From there we went to the other side of Ella and I put my backpack in Ashley's room and then took off to hike Little Adam's Peak nearby, not to be confused with the bigger one that many locals and travelers do, but that I would be giving a miss for lack of time. The hike itself was straight forward and easy, but provided more nice views. I returned soon after amidst some drizzle and then went back to Ashley's guesthouse to get my bag. We went down to the main road and ate a late lunch, some traditional Sri Lankan rice curries wrapped in a giant leaf. I wanted to stay in Ella but had a plan to push slightly south. It was a slice and I highly recommend this special region of Sri Lanka.

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