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SRI LANKA  DIARY 13

10/12 2013 - 10/2 2014

   Map + Plan

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 After the southern part of the east-coast I keep visiting the best places, and those I missed due to bad weather. Mainly highlands now.

27/1. The plan for the day is simple: Get my self positioned for a early start on an expedition to Horton's Plain for tomorrow. Last time, we drown for six hours with Ella as base, and World's End is only visible before nine or ten, and it is one hours walk within the park. This time, I have a list of way-points: Can't fail. Except; my GPS either don't recognise the names, or it leads to a city by the same name, 100s of kilometres away. That GPS is seless as a compass without a needle!

 Then it must be old-school: Map and asking a lot. The first stint is straight forward; up north, into the mountains. I had hoped for some interesting sights on this virgin road, but it is just small farms and houses, mixed with villages all the way to Buduruwagala, just before Wellawaya. It is a greyish day, and the sun only break through a few times: Not good for photos.

 I give Buduruwagalaa go, might lead into some wild nature? The well maintained gravelroad sure leads into the wild. First, I see a  swamp with some awesome trees in. Then a partly demolished degoba with a lot of wildlife around. Common Garden Lizards and a rather big Water Monitor. The last one too fat, to really be bothered by me.

 Further out the path, I find a rather big lake with pink water lilies, storks and much more. Most of the lake is surrounded by huge granite boulders and bedrock. I follow a path into some bushes, but it does not reveal any new findings.

 I reach the end of the road and an active monastery. Here is a tourist bus, and on my way to the main site, I meet a line of Frenchmen. I great each and every one of the 35 middle-aged pricks, of which none replies at all. Their driver/guide on the other hand, reply with the usual "How are you?". I say "Way better then you!", and he cracks into a huge grin.

 The trail leads to a 20 meter vertical bedrock wall, with figures carved into it. The centre person is Buddha, around 17,5 meters tall. It is from 7-9 centuries AD. Buddha is flanked by two Bodhisatves, whom again is flanked by two others.

 I do a loop in the area, and find a small pond with frogs and the eggs in foam, from a leaf-frog. Here are a single  Commiphora caudata, and I try to get some better photos. On the way out, I passes a strange looking grasshopper.  When I drive back, I spot a few other interesting places, and one display the biggest Water Monitor I have seen, a bit more than two meters. Strangely enough, it is colourful like the young ones.

 I do a breath tea stop in Wellawaya, but it is running late, and I push on, into the mountains. My plan was to drive to Haputale, but the GPS only know one 130 km away; wrong one. I find another city neat bye, and set of. I thought I knew the road, but I might have driven it in the rain? Then I reach a huge waterfall; Rawana, and I don't recall that either, despite it is huge.

 It turns out, the GPS have led me 90 degrees further north to Ella, and I enters from the other side, we did last. That is a bit of a bummer, because this is the recipe of failure. But at least, it was a really beautiful road with lots of slightly misty views.

 I try the GPS again, and now, it have an idea for Ohiya, the nearest village to Horton's Plains. I try to compare the map on the GPS with my printed map, but no names doubles. The first village I passes is right, and when I am only misses 16 km, it show me into a narrow but sealed mountain track.

 I passes a few houses and an old truck, then a real tall waterfall. Bambarakanda Falls is 790 feed tall; 241 meters, accordantly to an old cast-iron sign. Eight kilometres in, I meat a maintain crew, and the surprisingly arrogant engineer, just say; "I don't understand", when I ask him for directions. I succeed to keep the "No, you don't look that bright anyway" within my mouth.

 I drive back to the main road, and start asking around. I seems like I have to go 20 km back to Haputale, then Beragala, Boralanda, Rahangala and then I should reach Ohiya. Great! Especially because I'm low in gasoline, and it is already five o'clock.  I can't help feeling; Boralanda must have a bigger access road than the one I came bye.

 I ask every time I have a choice, and to my big relief, Boralanda have a brand new gas station. The road through the huge forest to Ohiya is in a light drizzle and mist, and that in combination, give a rather dark experience. I have hoped I could find a bed in Boralanda, but no such luck. Last time we was in Ohiya, we did get a bed offered, but in a rather dirty restaurant with a fireplace for cooking.

 Well, the time of the day, and the time it have taken me to get here, I go for it. It turns out to be a pretty clean room, it includes tea and two meals, and there is warm water! I am happy to pay 1750 LKR. Just after I have arrived, the train stops at the nearby station, and I get company of two Belgians and a German, whom seems to be nice people. I offers them a lift to the entrance of Horton's tomorrow morning.

 I work until I'm called to dinner at half pass seven. Red rice and five different, slightly spiced vegetables along with fried eggs make a delicious dinner. We are at 1773 meters height, and that can be felt. It is around 17C, and I wished I brought more cloth. I will have to bring everything tomorrow morning for sure! Once again, we are outside cell-communication, and I can't up-load.

28/1. We ordered breakfast at 6;30, but due to a night with next to nothing of sleep, I have to be woken at seven. Well, the other three and out host wasn't ready anyway. It is a greyish day with a bit of drizzle at first, and we are not really in a hurry to get up to World's End. A huge beetle crawls dozy around on the porch, but due to the lack of light, I fail to get a dissent photo.

 Right after breakfast, we drive the 8-10 kilometres to the entrance of the park. At first, it is through pine, then eucalyptus forest. We passes four walking tourists, and see no cars at all. But the Sri Lankan Junglefowl; Gallus lafayetii is plentiful along the narrow and bumpy road. They do not crow like ordinarily cocks, but their cry is heard all the time. Again, the missing light spoils a good photo.

 As we reach the 2000 meter high plateau, the mist increases, but that do create some great motives. The huge trees is kind of bonsai-like, the near mountains more mystical and the Sambar Deer; Rusa unicolor look huge! As we reach the entrance, a huge male welcomes us. Because we are a group, we get a good discount; 33%.

 The grass is heavy with drew, but the drizzle have stopped. The mist, on the other hand, is covering most around us. The parking-lot is stuffed with 20-30 mini-busses, but we only meet a few people on the entire 10 km walk around the park.

 One of the bushes I recognises right away, is the endemic Rhododendron arboreum with its few but very red flowers. The endemic Sri Lankan White-eye; Zosterops ceylonensis are a frequent guest. The dwarf bamboo; Arundinaria densifolia are found in the marshy areas along the rivers and creeks. What look like Eagle-ferns are most places, while the large tree-ferns; Cyathea srilankensis only are found on the wetter hill-sides.

 We follow the warn-down trail through some awesome nature, spiced by the passing clouds. I find an Arum, having one leaf and one flower. Here are quite some other flowers, some I know like the Impatiens and Oxalis, others I can only guess families on. We get close to another Junglefowl cock, and this time, the photo is useable.

 The open grassland changes into dense forest or bush-land, and orchids starts to turn up. Way up, that is. I do a bit of illegal climbing, but it is still hard to get close enough. The first site is Mini World's End, where a couple of elder Englishmen are stationed. While we are there, the mist clears enough to get an impression of the scenery. That is quite impressing!

 A few kilometres further out of the trail, the big World's End is covered in clouds. It is a 800 metres vertical drop, and we are at the upper end. We settle down and wait, despite it have turned ten o'clock. I do a few tours in the vicinity, and the German find a little snake, slow in the morning coldness.

 Then, a few dark spots give the impression; the clouds might clear away, and within a few minutes, we get a glimpse of the abyss. What look like mosses is actually the top of trees. Ranges far away appears for seconds, revealing tiny trees. It looked a lot clearer in-situ than on my photos. When it closes again, we head on, into the park.

 A new open moor and meadows, with bush and trees on the higher areas. The clouds come and goes, and every time I look up, back or to the side, a new scenery appears. Deep down a river winds its way through the hills, and after a few kilometres, we reach the Baker's Waterfall.

 It offers numerous motives and possibilities, and with some sun, it would have been absolutely great. Unfortunately, only the clouds seems to work today. As we continues, a Grizzled Giant Squirrel; Ratufa macroura is occupied with the flowers on an unknown tree. That allows us to get real close, but the light is missing.

 When we returns to the parking lot, we decides for a short test-drive further out the road. I think it actually leads to Nuwara Eliya, but the road is real bumpy despite the sealing, and the next 28 kilometres seems to be alike - and rather misty. Especially with four people in the tiny car.

 We returns, and do a few stops on the way down to Ohiya. One place have a large group of big tree-ferns and a great view with giant bonsai trees with a cloudy back-ground. Back in Ohiya, we get a cup of tea, and I head on by myself, leaving "the kids" at the station.

 I keep in the highlands, way above 1000 meters. The GPS have an idea for Nuwara Eliya (1889m), and it look interesting. The first part is on a road that is being widen, and the roadwork make it quite challenging. I passes small rice patches in the hills, here they are newly sown, where Arugam Bay's was almost ripe.

 After some time, I head up-wards again, and it get significantly colder. When I reach Nuwara Eliya around five, it is only 17C, and it quick drops to 13C. Not what I consider pleasant! I can't recall which hotel we stayed at last, and the first ones I find are insane. Still quite warn down, and $100 for a room?!

 Try a few before I find one cosy one for 2200 LKR with warm water. The rural place in Ohiya did actually have a heater, but I did not find time to use it this morning.

 I start working accompanied by a cup of tea, and the host, who is interested in my photos. He offers a mixed fried rice for a recently price, and I se no reason to fumble around in the city at dusk for dinner. A nice Dutch couple turns up, and we share our experiences.

 Going through the day's 250 photos make me realise; Horton's Plain must have its own slideshow.

 I'm not sure why I am in Nuwara Eliya, and the 13C does not clarify it at all! I sure hope it will be down-hill from here.

29/1. It is a greyish morning, and I take my time. It is still real chill, and I start the day with fleece jacket and shoos. At nine, I'm to impatience, and head out for Victoria Park. My guidebook praises it, opposite the two other botanical gardens, which I thought were great. The entrance fee it considerably lower, but so is the standard and layout of the park too. It is "winter", but here lack a lot, compared to the others. Their greenhouse is small, but stuffed with potting plants and even some cacti and succulents. Their Japanese Garden is a joke. If it not had a big stone tablet about who opened it, I would never have guessed Japanese!

 Never the less, I do several rounds, and try to capture the better parts of the park. Then I drive into centre of town, to have a second look at the branded cloth at the market. It is the right products, but second quality or third, with the names removed. I figured I will need some thick fleece trousers when I get home, and just for fun, I try to get a jacket witch fits me.

 Amusingly enough, I actually find one, and a light raincoat, which I was looking for before the tour. The prices are printed in the items from the factory, and I pay around 1/6 of that. To celebrate, I find a "hotel" and treat my self with some of the local sweets, made of coconut oil, milk powder, bananas and a hint of sugar - around 80%, cached down with tea.

 As every where else, the napkins are parts of newspapers, so are the wrapping from fish to bread. The most odd thing is; I only have seen three persons reading a newspaper, but I have seen tons for secondary use. And they are with the local letters, resembling @, buds and boobs (This sign below say: Behave decently):

 I cruces around in the city for quite some time, but all I find useful, is a 3-sec glue for my sunglasses. I have to pay 20 LKR, around 1/40 of the price at home. At noon, the sun still refuses to peak out, but I drive out to the Pedro Estate Tea Factory. Mainly to do the five kilometre "Lovers Loop". When I reach the factory, a light drizzle starts, and I feel a suddenly need to see a tea factory - again.

 It is only 250 LKR, but they can't change my 1000 bill. I agree; they owe me till later, and sit down and wait for a guide. I'm served a cup of their tea, and I'm not going to buy any. They only make light tea, only fermented real shortly, and that make a light yellow or orange cup.

 Outside the room, the endless hills with tea bushes starts. Mist is roiling in from time to time, and I try to capture the mystic. Then, I'm joined by a fresh French woman, and eventually, our guide turns up. We see where the fresh leaves are brought in every second hour, and where they are dried for twelve hours .

 I was puzzled about the "rolling", but here I see the machine. To open the cells, it is kind of softly grained on smooth oak-wheels. I get a few photos before I'm told to pack the camera away. They skip the fermenting, and go straight to the final drying. Then they pass the powder under some electric plastic rolls, and the dust is removed. Then they are sorting by size. The biggest bits are the finest, the smallest are for tea-bags.

 On the way out, I say; "Now, I like to get paid", and to the French woman's big surprise, I get a handful of money. I spend some of them on a cup of good tea, on the other side of the road, and then start on the Lovers Leap. It is a dirt trail, leading up through the tea plantations. That offers a great view to the other fields, the village and the factory.

 I meet a bunch of young school children, and end up taken a lot of photos of them, fooling like only kids. There are not that many interesting plants among the tea, but the trail ends at a pretty nice waterfall. Just as I reach it, the sun breaks through for a few minutes.

 Besides from the tea, here are a big production of "cool vegetables" like lettuce and strawberries. The small farms look spotless and very productive. I walk back the same way, although there should be another - it is called "Loop". The marking have not been good, and I don't want to spend the rest of the afternoon in some remote tea plantation.

 My next goal is the rain forests of Kitulgala, and I try the GPS. It has an idea, and it look a bit like mine: Through a unfamiliar mountain road to Hatton and further on to the lowlands. It look like 35 km on the map, but it is mountains the whole way, and 75 is the GPS's guess. Unfortunately, the first 27 km is being renewed. They have so fare only broken up the old road, and it is a real challenge.

 Here are quite some traffic, and I see two lorries and a normal car, in need of assistance. They have gotten stuck in the "road". I am afraid I shorten my cars life with quite some years, but there are no alternatives, when I first started on this road, within Nuwara Eliya. And I keep thinking; now et ends... Well, it almost does in Talawakele, but a few of the tricky stretches are still "open". The small villages the road cut through, are suffering from traffic and dust.

 I had hoped to have time to explore a bit of the surroundings, but the first 27 km took an hour and a half, and I need to push on, if I want to reach Kitulgala before dark - and I do. It is 90% tea plantations way most of the way, anyway. A huge mountain raises to the north, but I can't figure which one.

 I scenes a great view, and stop at an absolutely astonishing place. A huge valley with a large waterfall; St. Clair's Falls, 80 metres and wide, in the middle. I haven't read anything about it, and neither of my maps have a note about it. But beautiful, it is. A bit further up the road, a restaurant is called "Devon Falls", but it can't be the same, from that angle.

 It is not, it is yet another "unknown" wonder of the nature, and a rather big one; 97 metres. I still consider to find a way to get closer to both, but this evening, it is way too late. I reach Kitulgala at dusk, and the first hotel is nice, but not 15.000 LKR nice! He suggests, I drive back through town, and I do.

 A tuck-tuck driver calls me up, and I give him a chance. He have an uncle, who have a hotel, and it turns out, I would have tried it. 2000 for cold water, but nice surroundings. Considering it is dark by now, I'm game. He even make a rice&curry, and I have not had that for some time. It is great with fine chopped vegetables, wing-beans, boiled vegetables, carry-beans, a fried egg, dhal and some pork. A bit spicy, but not too much. I follows it up with tea, and start working.

 Four Germans occupy the other rooms, and we chat on the terrace, facing the river. Here are only 20 metres to the 25 metre wide river. On the other side, the dense rainforest starts on a real steep hill, some 3-400 metres high.  The intense driving have kept the photos down, but I am pretty used on the other hand.

Somehow, the amount of photos and text keep adding up, and I better tie-up the highlands with a slideshow.

The diary continues with tales from the central part.

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