Ella (rough translation to English from the native language Sinhala, meaning ‘waterfall’) is a small town located about 3400 ft above sea level on the South Eastern Slopes of Sri Lanka’s Central Mountainous regions. One of the most sought after destinations for tourists on the island, Ella offers a spectacular view of the Southern Plains of Sri Lanka through the Ella Gap through many of its viewpoints.
Getting to Ella
Located 200 Km from the Capital City of Colombo on the Western Coast of Sri Lanka, Ella is roughly a 5-7 Hour Drive following a climb up the southern slope of the central mountainous region. The time duration of the drive is mostly dependent on what time of the day you decide to travel. Leaving Colombo early mornings are the best, just in time to catch the first light views of the south & south western plains as you make the climb. Public Transport with Air Conditioned or Non Air conditioned busses also available from Colombo directly up to Ella.
Ella is also accessible by Train along the most scenic railway route in the Country, the Colombo – Badulla line. This will take roughly 10-12 hours, but you won’t regret it once you get a glimpse of the stunning views this journey has to offer. The Badulla – Colombo line makes its way twisting & turning through the central hill country and through Horton Plains National Park (6900 – 7500 ft above sea level) before descending down through to Ella & beyond. The drop off point will be the Ella station (opened in 1918) on the main line & all trains going uphill or downhill stop at this station.
Places to See & Things to Do
Mini/ Little Adams Peak
Easiest of the Hikes to do, is the Mini/ Little Adams peak climb. Known as ‘Mini/ Little Adams Peak’ possibly because of the winding series of stairs that resemble some of the sections of the 12 km climb up the Adams Peak Mountain (also a place to visit if you are into bit of physical exertion). Located off the Ella – Passara road, Mini/Little Adams Peak can easily be located on google maps if you type in ‘Little Adams Peak’. You will probably need to park your vehicle(s) on the Main Ella- Passara road and walk along the concrete/ dirt track up through a private estate until you find the start of the stairs leading up to the top. Once you find the starting point of the Concrete Road, it’s pretty easy to find your way up even though there is limited signage. Ideal if done early morning before dawn, this 30 minute hike will allow you to get to the top of this ‘Mini’ Mountain in time to get a look at the sunrise and a gorgeous view of the southern plains through the Ella gap. If you are a little more adventurous you can climb down the other side of the first peak and make your way onto the second & possibly the third peaks.
Demodara Railway Loop
The railway network built by the British during their rule over the Island was put in place to help the transport of goods from the hill country down to the ports in Colombo. The story goes that one of the impossible obstacles that the Railway builders at the time had was negotiating the gradient of the Demodara hills, which were simply too steep for the railway to climb on a curve. The solution inspired to one of the Engineers (D.J Wimalasurendra) at the time was from the way a local farmer tied his turban around his head; to make the rail track go under itself through a tunnel make a loop and then come back over the rails to the station. This apparently is also the only station in the world that is situated directly above its own rail tracks. It is not advised to try and walk along the rail tracks or through the tunnel under the station to try and complete the loop because of the possibility that you simply might not hear or see the train come along….. Up to you. Also very easily found on google maps.
Nine Arches Bridge
A walk of roughly a couple of Kilometers from the Ella – Passara road will take you to the famous nine arches bridge located between the Demodara & Ella railway stations (Can be easily found on google maps). As per the local lore it is known as the ‘Ahas Namaye Palama’ (Nine Skies Bridge), because of the view one might have when they stand near the bottom of the bridge and look up into the skies through the nine arches about 100 ft up in the air. The entire bridge commissioned in 1921 is considered an engineering marvel since only bricks, cement & solid rock were used in its building. Not a single piece of steel has been used.
If you are lucky you’ll reach it just as a train passes over it.
A tougher & harder trek would be the one to Ella Rock. A sure shot starting point would be the ‘Kithalella’ Railway Station. It would be ideal if you can target getting to the top before sunrise but this means starting at 3.30 am since it can take you up to 2 hours to climb up depending on how well you manage to find your way. So if you are planning to start that early you might have to spend a few bucks to arrange transportation from where ever you are staying to the ‘Kithalella’ station which is close to a Kilometer from the Ella – Passara main road. You can locate the Ella Rock on google maps, but you won’t find a clear road leading up to it. You are very much better off asking clear directions from a local before you try this or even getting a small map drawn up on how to reach the top without getting lost…. because you very likely will. Did I mention how difficult & steep this climb is? (Tip: Make sure you carry at least a liter of water). But you will not regret it one bit once you find your way to the top. The view is simply too breathtaking.
If you still have a bit of energy left, head south through the row of pine trees (keeping close to the edge of the mountain on your left), you’ll eventually find a battered pathway which will take you to a another view point from where you can see the famous Ravana falls in the distance. This is also home to a small Buddhist Shrine under a jutting piece of rock.
The above mentioned are just a few of the must see places if you get a few days to explore this beautiful place.