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The Train to Haputale and Lipton’s Seat

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On the second of our three days in Ella, we hopped onto the morning train, having decided that we couldn’t pass up a visit to nearby Haputale (ha-POOT-a-lay): a town on the southern extreme of Sri Lanka’s hill country celebrated for its beautiful surroundings and tea plantations.

Best View in Sri Lanka
The finest view in Sri Lanka!

Everyone knows that “getting there is half the fun”, but the train ride to Haputale accounted for at least 80% of this day’s fun. The rusty old machine rumbled slowly through lovely mountain scenery which, after the recent days of rain, was even more lush than usual, and we spent most of the journey hanging out of the open doors.

We didn’t spend much time in Haputale, a busy town with an abnormally large number of liquor shops, and instead immediately sought out a tuk-tuk to take us to Lipton’s Seat: a viewpoint said to be as stunning as World’s End. We had been warned that a late arrival at Lipton’s Seat could mean the mountain would be covered in clouds.

Despite our hurry, we were too late; a thick layer of clouds had arrived by the time we reached the summit, completely obscuring the view. Suck. We ordered tea and lemon puffs from a shop perched on the hilltop, then sat down and, with vibrant imaginations, colorfully described to each other what the view might look like. Or… that’s what we would have done, if we were annoyingly whimsical people who see magic in everything. But really it was us just sitting there, staring dumbly at the fog and stuffing our faces with cookies. Whining about our crappy luck.

At least the walk back down the hill was enjoyable. We cut through the enormous Dambatenne Tea Plantation, founded by Thomas Lipton (oh fine: Sir Thomas Lipton). Around us, small women with red-stained teeth packed bags full of tea leaves, and posed for pictures. Near a tea-pickers’ village, a prominent sign reminded us to “Be Respectful of Others!” Thanks for the tip, Mister Plantation Owner! Meanwhile, in the ramshackle village that can only be described as a slum, your tea pickers live in squalor. But yeah, I’ll remember to respect others.

We attempted to visit the Dambatenne Factory but after fifteen minutes of waiting for someone to attend us, gave up and hopped on a bus back to Haputale. Despite our inability to see the viewpoint or tour the factory, it had been a decent day out in some of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful country.

Location of Haputale on our Sri Lanka Map

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Train Boy
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Haputale Train Station
Train To Haputale
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Haputale
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April 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm Comment (1)

Ella and Its Rock

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Hotels in Ella

With an unbeatable setting high in the hills, tiny Ella has earned a reputation as one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful villages. With its views over the Ella Gap and some incredible nature walks, the town has become one of the most popular destinations in the southern hill country. We spent a few days here, and had a wonderful time.

Ella Gap

The town itself is far more tourist-oriented than most of our other destinations have been. A variety of restaurants offer both Sri Lankan and western cuisine, free and speedy wi-fi (manna!) and cool, comfortable patios you could spend hours at. For a place which caters to foreigners, the accommodation was surprisingly cheap. We stayed at Ambiente, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a room with a more incredible view. Found near the town’s highest point, the hotel looks straight out over the amazing Ella Gap, a steep valley stretching out for miles between Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak.

Ella Rock was the destination of our first hike. We set out early, at 7am, in order to reach the summit before clouds settled in. As is the case across the hill country, afternoons are almost invariably cloudy. Indeed, we had rain every afternoon we were in Ella, and always tried to get our sight-seeing done in the morning.

Train-Bridge-Sri-Lanka

The hike was rough (see below for details of our route). After walking along railroad tracks, we found a path which leads up to a tea plantation and then onto the rock. Along the way, we encountered five locals who wanted to guide us up. It’s part of the system here: almost every tourist that goes up Ella Rock will have a local guide attached, who expects a tip at the summit.

They all employ the same trick. During your walk, if a Sri Lankan runs up to you and claims you’re on “the wrong path”, you are almost certainly on the right one. He’ll lead you backwards and then up a different path, and you’ll think, “Oh wow, this guy saved me! I owe him big time!” The truth is, there are about fifteen paths which all lead the same way. As long as you’re headed toward the mountain, you’re fine. We knew this in advance (plus, had one of Ambiente’s house dogs leading us), and were able to avoid the locals. Three separate times, we were told that we were “on the wrong path!” Guess what: we weren’t!

There’s nothing wrong with hiring a guide, of course, or contributing to the local economy. But we felt like being alone. After the tea plantation, the remaining path was well-defined and steep. The final 500 meters is extremely taxing and, even allowing for frequent breaks, we were drenched in sweat by the time we reached the top. The view, though, was worth the effort.

Our Route: Follow the train tracks away from the city for about 1.5 kilometers, until you’ve almost reached a small waterfall. Just before an old bridge, there’s a steep path which leads down to the left. Follow that under the bridge, and walk along a canal until you come to a small footbridge which leads past the waterfall. Now, it becomes confusing — a variety of paths lead upwards. Immediately after the bridge ends, the path forks: continue to the right. As you climb, the path enters the brush, and splits over and over again. You’ll want to tend left, but continue upwards when possible. Hopefully, you’ll emerge on the left-hand side of the tea plantation, where you’ll be able to spot the main path which cuts up through the woods. From here, you’re golden: just go up.

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April 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm Comments (3)
The Train to Haputale and Lipton's Seat On the second of our three days in Ella, we hopped onto the morning train, having decided that we couldn't pass up a visit to nearby Haputale (ha-POOT-a-lay): a town on the southern extreme of Sri Lanka's hill country celebrated for its beautiful surroundings and tea plantations.
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