Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.
The Badulla bound train from Colombo-Fort is packed with tourists right round the year and Ella is supposed to be on the three top destinations visited. I had reached Ella around 6.30 am taking the night mail train with a couple of my hiking friends. Sadly missing out on lovely scenery whooshing past large extent of it in the dead of night. We were saved by a glimpse of the quiet dawn over shrouded misty mountains. It’s a new day and a big day – as we were geared to teeth for hiking. We were off the train and straight on our way to scale the Little Adams Peak our first of many trails.
From the station to the town and 2kms along the Nanmunukula road we walked with our backpacks that stocked the bare-minimum, to carry anything in excess would be a burden. This team was clear that the trip was for the young at heart and sturdy, no whimper is to be tolerated. A road prominently marked for 98 Acres Hotel takes right and traveling along for 1.5 kms we pass the magnificent hotel complex. The hotel is apparently very popular among tourists. Those who had done the Little Adams Peak trail were returning pink faced and looking content. From there we take a stepped path along the ridge scaling 200 meter further up.
With strong winds blowing across the open area, the morning chill biting at the ankles the steps although not great leaps were found to be slippery. Years of girls scout training clipped-in on cue and help reduce feelings of uncertainty and fear. I had immediately taken the crawl position for safety. It was not yet time to enjoy the picturesque scenery. First I had to scale the ridge and take in that wow moment later.
Some say the Little Adam’s Peak is nothing like the Holy Mountain but did you know that it shared a similar shape. The peak offers wonderful 360 panoramic views of beautiful blue-green mountains melting into picture postcard creamy blue skies. It’s simply breathtaking and enchanting. Through the mist we could discern the Ella Rock another half-day hike if you wish, and also the Ravana Falls linking Indian Epic, the Ramayana and below the escarpment and through a fall of 400 meters you could spot the Wellawaya-Ella road snaking up the terrain.
Boulders and various rocks give place for seating and opportunity for the youngsters to be done with ‘Selfies’, 360-panoramic captures, Twittering and FB and Whatsapp updates. It absolutely true that Nature provides us in its bounty a piece of heaven and a place to yearn for, but for those without their senses glued to ground realities will surely meet an uncertainty death, tripping over whilst snapping those wonderful pictures.
Hunger pangs alerted that we have not had anything since boarding the train. We quickly took one last glimpse of the scenery and were bound downwards into the comfort zone of that most fantastic hotel. Where we stopped to buy a drink and while away. The 98 Acres is a luxury hotel that offers comfort hidden beneath its most deceiving rustic looks. From the train we saw dozen sloping roofs done in hay, each room built of wood and glass, a gallery showcasing the mountain landscapes. An idealistic spot for honeymooners yet rooms so exorbitantly priced probably suiting foreign tourists than local clientele.
Remembering this was no picnic but a hiking tour we regrouped at a cheaper outfit available in the town. A small shower came and petered out. Having replenished ourselves with a hearty breakfast of sausages, omelets and toasties we headed on our second trail. Walking towards Kitul Ella station we picked a local guide for the expedition. He led us on a gravel path some 300 meters beyond the quaint railway station. We crossed a stream that is supposed to feed the Ravana Falls and hiking further 2 kms and a little more we were able to reach the Ella Rock.
This time we opted using a local guide who could relate to the place like his own grounds. The young boy was around eighteen years of age and appeared to be fairly knowledgeable in natural history. Taking us through a Eucalyptus forest where the floor was barren due to the slow decay of its leaves he tried to explain the downside of these trees. They are said to emit compounds that inhibit other plants growing in the same area. Pines with razor sharp edges strewn everywhere we had to watch our steps. The tall tree growing so fast and endlessly the low realms had no branches and on top everything seemed knitted together, allowing very little light. Yet no plant was taking root in the bed of rough residue. Except for brightly coloured mushrooms and fungi like neon lights, eerily lighting up the path.
When the forest gave way to the summit it was a grand opening of breathtaking views. The boy pointed a finger at various peaks and ranges and named each one rather cleverly. Among them was Hakgala (double M), Thotupola Kanda, Numunukula range and the Little Adam’s Peak we had traversed early on. You would never regret benefiting from a local lad as your guide. They know too well and appear to love their surroundings.
The guide also showed us the starting point of the Ravana falls, its beautiful long cascades resembling the areca flower with withering petals. The tumbling cascades is said to hide the cave in which the gallant King Ravana of Lanka hid Princess Sita according to legend. The Ravana falls form part of the Ravana Ella Wilderness Sanctuary and is around 6 kms away from the Ella Railway station.
Interestingly the boy relates to an opening to the very same cave found a kilometer along the Ella-Bandarawela road and a further 1.5 kms along a narrow path uphill to the Ravana Ella temple. We were too beat up to take upon another expedition. The boy claimed that archaeological excavations had revealed evidence of human habitation dating back 25,000 years.