Monthly Archives: October 2009

haputale train station on to kandy

From Sri Lanka::Hill Country Trainscapes. I love the way the girl’s dress blends into the flowers at the station.

haputale train station

The train ride became less and less scenic the closer we got to Kandy, and the extremely slow pace of the train, then our unexpected change of trains in Kegalle (I think) became a bit draining. Once in the station at Kandy, we found a driver to take us to Sharon Inn, which Samantha had recommended. It was run by a Muslim Sri Lankan and his German wife.


We choose a room on a higher floor with amazing views from the balcony. The Inn sits on top of a hill overlooking the lake and the Temple of the Tooth. We were starving and so ordered up tea and cookies (biscuits) because dinner wouldn’t be ready for a few hours. Exhausted but pleased, we sat outside on the balcony and marveled at the city below. It was fabulous.  (Our view pictured above, Temple of the Tooth at top left.)

I just came across this excellent site, Lankapura, with old images of Sri Lanka. Very nice. I’m in the process of editing the elephant orphanage photos. They are amazing creatures.

the best train ride ever

sri lanka trainWell, in my life anyway. I’ve travelled a bit by train. Moscow-Leningrad (was L at the time), Berlin-Warsaw-Vilnius-Kaunas, Mumbai-Kochi (before the west-coast train went in, so it went through Hyderabad and Bangalore. It was about 36hrs long. India hours, mind you), Mangalore-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Jaipur, Jaisalmer-Delhi, Tashkent-Ferghana/Kokand, Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara, and NYC-Montreal. Some were hellish, some were quite nice, but this ride, though long, was gorgeous.

Some of the photos are blurred because of the motion of the train. Slideshow iv is done. It’s entirely the views from the train and train stations, so it’s a bit shorter than the others. Only two more shows after this, and the Sri Lanka photos will be entirely edited.

The train was the first we came across non-Sri Lankan tourists. There were two tattooed Germans (note the motorbike jacket over the seat) and a middle-aged French couple. They all got off in Nur-Eliya (Nuwara Eliya). We didn’t have the time.

There are photos of women tea-pickers. One is obvious, but the others are less so. Look for dots of white amidst the green of the tea plants. Again, Cerno and Sigma have good blog posts about tea cultivation in Sri Lanka (called Ceylon by the British colonizers).

train from ella to kandy


I spent my morning looking for Ingrida Cox (née Gunkaite). We met in Klaipeda in 1995 and she moved to Australia with an Australian she later married. I lost track of her around 2000, I think. Today is her birthday (if you know how to reach her, send her to me via contact at GrumpyYoga).

I’m still editing the train photos. I love trains, and this was certainly the most scenic I’ve been on. We waited almost two hours for the train, as it was late. We’d booked our tickets on the first night we arrived in Ella, as the “scenic” car, which is somewhat comfy, sells out very early. We found our seats and settled in. I was glued to the window for hours, while Andrea read. He found me quite funny and childlike to be so excited by the train. How could I not be? It was so gorgeous, moving through that scenery.

We heard plenty of stories before and after about the safety of the trains, about how the tracks wash out, and how it’s common to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. By the end it was exhausting as the last few hours aren’t scenic, the novelty has worn off, and the train barely moves. A trip that would take two hours by car on western roads took about 10hrs on that train. But the views were incredible and the roads don’t offer the same views.

Slideshow to come.

dunhinda falls~bridal falls

fallsdunhinda06There were more couples talking shyly with one another, some even holding hands, on the hilly 1km walk to Dunhinda Falls, than anywhere else we went in Sri Lanka (see slideshow iii). These were, refreshingly, the boldest public displays of affection we encountered. There were also lots and lots of aggressive monkeys on the walk.

There are two myths connected with the falls. One concerns a king and a fern. The other is about lovers who were ordered to separate. Instead, they threw themselves down the cliff, a storm began, and the falls formed. I found this info online as it wasn’t mentioned by anyone there, nor was it in the guidebooks.

The falls are gorgeous and the walk beautiful. Again, Andrea was keen on swimming and had brought his bathers. I advised against it. Having picked up giardia (I love that the CDC calls it a germ. It’s a parasite) more than once in my Asian travels, I was in no hurry to swim the rushing waters of Dunhinda Falls, which probably wouldn’t be the best idea even if the waters are parasite-free.

fallsdunhinda15The cluster of young guys on rocks nearby eating cookies, ho-ho-esque golden cakes and drinking sodas from 1.5L bottles agreed. They told Andrea that it was dangerous and he’d best not go in.  While yes, we were the only foreign tourists, Sri Lankans aplenty had come to admire the falls. These boys were from Tangalle, where we’d come from the day before. We chatted a bit about this and that. They’d taken the bus there (truly unpleasant) early that morning and were headed back that afternoon. They were happy to try out their English on us, and we were happy to meet some Tangalle teens. They didn’t seem too excited about their life prospects, but who can be sure given our conversation level. We were pleased we’d been to their hometown, as we’d been almost nowhere but the beach at that point in the trip. They were funny and charming (aside from asking Andrea how much money he made, hee hee), and made the trip to the falls as fun as the impromtu ride in the tea truck the previous day.

fallsdunhinda13Andrea followed their guidance and didn’t swim, though there was a Sri Lankan man washing something on the large rocks in the water (see slideshow iii). We made our way back to our driver who took us back to Ella, where we had an amazing spread of Sri Lankan curries, rice, and Lion Lager. We checked our email after and I downloaded my images onto a flash drive before heading back to Ambiente.

I could have rested and read for days enjoying the scenery and quiet at the Ambiente guesthouse, but we had limited time and train tickets on to Kandy the next morning.

Alas! That’s it for slideshow iii, which ends with our breakfast views from the guesthouse. Now to edit the next batch, the train ride through the hill country to Kandy. Oh words cannot describe how I loved that trip.

halpewatte tea factory tour~or~think for a second about what you use

view from ambiente guesthouseThe previous night (16 March 09) we’d arranged for a car to take us to the tea factory and Dunhinda Falls. Andrea had done well finding a place in town with much much better rates than Ambiente (as a rule when traveling, unless you’ve money to burn, always find your own driver/guide. Eliminate the middle man, especially if it’s the hotel). I insisted we do the tea tour. I like tea. I like factories. If nothing else, it reminds me how luxurious my life is, even when I’m crammed into a subway car and people are snarking at each other.

We ate an enormous Sri Lankan breakfast of hoppers and curries and sat mesmerized by the view (see the last ten photos of the slideshow iii, if you haven’t already), which made up for our mediocre dinner the night before. It was so breathtaking. So good to be out of the city and so amazingly beautiful.

We made our way down to town and met our driver for the day. We started at the UVA Halpewatte Tea Factory, which looks amazingly flash in the website. On our tour, well, the picture below is a bit more accurate. The guy we organized the tour with was cranky with us and rude to his employees. There was no photography in the factory, which was fine as it was dark, and flash photog is generally miserable in dark places.

UVA Halpewatte Tea FactoryThe process of making the tea was interesting and amazingly greuling and hot for the women doing it. There might have been a few men, but it was mostly women. And this was probably easier than picking the damn leaves, which women do from 6am to 6pm, in addition to caring for their families and being bossed about by the man of the house. Sigma has an interesting blog post on the life of a tea planter, and Cerno offers a caricature (perhaps best read first) of this colonial legacy. Definitely worth a read.

Knowing the labor behind what we consume is important, I think. The world would be very different if we all had to put that kind of labor in for even one day. Puts a different light on the groans of a day job when I consider what could be. Often I go back to the conversation I had with a young guy selling lemonade drinks outside the gates of Khiva in Uzbekistan. I was complaining about the tourists (I was their guide and had momentarily escaped them) and the kid told me that I had quite a good job, actually, even if I did work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I would leave Khiva and eventually Uzbekistan. He could not.

In Sri Lanka, I missed the aspect of learning about what was going on behind the scenes, what workers really experienced and felt, which took time, contacts, and trust to learn firsthand in Central Asia. It’s just not possible on a quick country tour, which is why I’m so glad to have come across blogs that discuss this, and their comments as well (thanks for the links, Kirigalpoththa).

At the tea factory, we were again the only tourists around. We didn’t get to try their tea, as they didn’t have water that day, or were having problems with it (huh?). So after our tour, we left and headed off to Dunhinda Falls, an hour or so away.

hitching a ride in a tea truck, ceylon-style

From Buduruwagala we went on to Ella, stopping at Ravana Ella Falls and a little part-Hindu, part-Buddhist temple on the way (see slideshow iii). Andrea wanted to swim at the falls but decided against it. There were a few guys showering nearby, and lots of families with kids.

view_ellaguesthouse08Ella is a small town in the gorgeous hill country of Sri Lanka. Samantha took us to the guesthouse he’d recommended and he did well. The room was lovely and the views were amazing (at right, the last ten photos of slideshow iii, and the mostly dark image with the doors are at/from the Ambiente guesthouse). We ate lunch, then he left us at little Adam’s Peak for a hike and took off for the trip back to Tangalle. When Samantha left us on the road, he pointed out where we could catch a taxi or rickshaw back, and off we went.

The climb was fairly easy and, like the beach and Buduruwagala, we were alone amidst crazy-gorgeous beauty. Once at the top, we sat and admired before turning back, as it was getting late. When we got back to the road, there was no traffic at all. We weren’t entirely sure which way town was, as we came out a different way than we went in. We came across a guard at the entry to an imposing tea factory. He couldn’t understand our attempts to communicate, but he found someone who told us we could walk toward the taxi stand in one direction, or toward town, a few miles away in the other. We opted for the taxi station as it was getting dark and we weren’t keen to walk the curvy-hilled streets in the dark. Before long a tea truck come by and slowed down. The cab was full, but they asked us if we wanted a ride, and told us to hop into the back of the truck full of tea leaves. We did. The truck was less fancy that the one pictured, which I snapped on our tea factory tour the next day. Its bed had solid sides and no cover, so we were free to fall out on a sharp turn. All part of the excitement.

tea truck ella sri lankaThis was good fun, if a bit wet. We flew in one direction then the other with each curve. When people spotted us, they laughed and waved. We went through a small village, then another. I asked Andrea if we weren’t in fact going in the opposite direction of Ella, slightly concerned particularly after we passed a gaggle of parked rickshaws and continued on out of town. That the hill country is full of Tamils wasn’t a concern, as they have a different history than the Tamils of the north, and most of the problems of the civil war took place there, in Jaffna, at the northern tip of the island. Nonetheless, there’d been a bomb in Matara, the town next to Tangalle, just before we left ashtangalanka. There weren’t meant to be problems in the south, particularly not of that scale, so we were somewhat more alert.

When we finally slowed on the street outside of town, there were a few parked vehicles and rickshaws. One pickup was filled with men, one of whom was dressed in all black with black shades (at dusk) and a black headband. Oooh, not a good look. But I ignored him as we clambered out of the truck, brushed off the leaves, and went to the rickshaw. We had no choice but to go with him back to Ella, and didn’t have much bargaining power, but we bargained anyway. And back we went along the road toward town, back past the gaggle of rickshaws in town which, at this level, we could see had no drivers but were parked for the night. Ten more minutes of winding roads and we were back in Ella. We walked around town, got some water, then went back to the guesthouse for dinner. We had less-than-tasty, room-temperature crepes that took them thirty minutes to conjure as we swatted bugs in the grim cafe before we finally hit the sheets for some reading under the mosquito net—now with light! What luxury.