Finding Platform 9 3/4 in the Magical Town of Ella

Famous Nine-Arch Bridge

Guest post by Cheryl Williams

After a lovely day in Haputale, we caught the train to Ella.   The train ride to Ella is iconic, and everywhere we read talked about how gorgeous it was.  We’d been a bit hesitant about taking the train due to how busy they are, and, how much we were enjoying the buses.  Anyway, we crammed on the train with all the other tourists to enjoy the 1.5 hour ride.  I’m sure if you got a window seat it would be just spectacular.  But standing in the middle of the aisle right by the smelly washroom…not as ideal.   Before too long, Steph managed to secure a doorway and we enjoyed the view from there (and the novelty of sitting in the doorway of a moving train.)

Ella, the mountainous town in Sri Lanka is probably as popular with tourists as the name has become for babies in Canada.  It’s popular for a reason, with great hikes, good restaurants and gorgeous views.  

The day before I left for vacation, a colleague of mine had connected me with another colleague, Daria, who was also planning a trip to Sri Lanka at the same time as us.  I’d never met Daria before, but we met up for a hike the first morning in Ella.  Daria was travelling with her good friend Maureen and the five of us had a great time hiking.  We did a hike called Little Adams Peak the first morning, and Ella rock the second day.  Both were beautiful and made more entertaining by having new people to talk to.  Daria and Maureen have travelled a lot too, so there was no shortage of things to chat about.

Since we hadn’t spent as much time on trains as we thought we might by this point in our trip, one afternoon we bought tickets to the next town which is about 15 km away.  We boarded the practically empty train (most people get off in Ella) and enjoyed having the a whole train carriage to ourselves.  There is a beautiful nine arc bridge part way along the route and folks walk there to watch trains cross it (we’d gone the day before but unfortunately missed the train by about 3 minutes).  Going over the nine arc bridge on the train made for some good photo’s, but also a celebrity-like experience as there was probably about 50 people cheering and waving as we went across.  Just before the town of Badulla the train does a 360 degree loop and goes through a tunnel under the station, which was apparently a great engineering feat in the 1920’s when it was built.  So we got off the train and ran through the station to see it emerge through the tunnel.  It was neat to see, though to be honest, it was hard to really marvel in the engineering from our vantage point.  Anyway, 10 minutes later we boarded a train back to Ella. The trip was well worth the 20 cents return (train travel is highly subsidized in Sri Lanka).

Watching the train complete the loop!

The next night in Ella we decided to take a cooking class.  It was a blast (and bonus, the same family who runs the cooking school also does laundry!).  They have an outdoor kitchen set up in their front yard right beside their garden.  Both the husband and wife were involved in teaching us (mostly through demonstration rather than explanation due to their limited English and our non-existant Singhalese).  We cooked over open flame which we enjoyed the novelty of.  They showed us how to make about six different dishes that were absolutely delicious.  Not sure we will be able to recreate any of them, but it was very fun.

After spending three nights in Ella it was time to head to the South Coast to Mirissa.  There is no bus station in Ella, so we got differing reports on the likelihood of a direct bus to somewhere close to Mirissa.  There was one per day, and we caught it…unfortunately so did many other people.  We were crammed in, standing in the aisle through a very windy road.  Definitely not our favourite bus trip.  Lucky for us many people got off after about an hour and we managed to get some seats.  It would have been a long day of standing otherwise!

Cheryl did the bulk of the cooking

A magical platform!

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