It’s 3AM and I’m still tossing and turning. It’s been three days since I took that incredible train journey from Kandy to Ella. My mind is still abuzz with its sights and sounds and it feels like I’m still on it. For now, I’ll have to content myself with putting into writing all that I experienced on that journey and hope to do justice to it by including as much detail as possible. The trip from Kandy to Ella is only one of many picturesque train rides you can take in Sri Lanka and the world. This route is popular for both local and international tourists.
There are different ways you can travel from Kandy to Ella. One is by bus. But between you and me, I’d say, take the Sri Lanka Scenic train ride. It’s one of the most scenic train rides I’ve done. There are eight routes from Colombo and Badulla, namely:
- Colombo Fort
- Nanu Oya or Nuwara Eliya
It’s a 7-hour ride from Kandy to Ella, one that’s totally more than worth what you’re paying for. The entire stretch from Colombo Fort to Badulla takes 12 hours, 25 minutes. The first hour or so of the trip from Colombo Fort to Peradeniya would be through a maze of towns so, there isn’t much to see. Your stop at Kandy would the official start of the scenic route.
How To Book Your Scenic Train Ride in Sri Lanka
Train tickets can be pre-booked at your hotel, purchased through a ticket agent or online via 12Go Asia for a slightly higher price, or you can purchase tickets at the train stations themselves for roughly around $2. Yes, it’s that cheap for a truly amazing journey!
There are also tourist packages that include this route. The downside to the latter is that it’s not just more costly, you also strictly adhere to a schedule and most of them do so by driving. It’s best to experience the train ride .
The Classes on the Train
Cost: 500 Rs. ($2.80)
Costs relatively more than second and third-class ones, you get air-conditioned units where you can sleep. It’s best to pre-book these tickets because they can sell out very quickly. But let me tell you right off that the pictures you get when you’re in first class aren’t going to be exceptionally good as they’re taken from windows with dirty glass panes or are fogged up from the cold. You can use both doors like we did but most of the people here are just tourists. On my first time riding the train, I stayed in the third class and met a lot of locals. I liked that more.
Cost: 230 Rs. ($1.29)
Tickets can be reserved or bought on the same day you’ll be travelling. They can be sold out very quickly though. Blame it on the TV series, Lonely Planet. Agencies buy tickets by the bulk and sell it for a slightly higher price because travelers from all over the world come to see the sights whether it’s peak season or not.
In second-class, you get a unit with windows you can open so that you breathe in the fresh and cool air, and seats you can be comfortable in if it isn’t crowded. If you want to witness nature at its best, sit by the train door. I guarantee you, you’ll get more than what you paid for with a view of lush green landscapes, vast tea plantations, magnificent bridges, organic farms, and remote towns and villages. One tip, hopefully you don’t change your mind after you purchase your ticket at the railway stations because they do not accept cancellations. All tickets are considered good as sold.
Cost: 125 Rs. ($0.70)
There are no reservations for 3rd class. You purchase tickets on the same day you’re travelling. Tickets don’t run out, but it does get very crowded. If you’re travelling for the scenery, it’s best to take pics early on while there are still a few passengers. It’s almost impossible to take really good ones when you’re squeezed in ( my friends did a trip from Kandy to Ella standing up the whole way so prepare for that to happen). I sat on the floor adn didn’t care. Just took a shower afterwards.
An additional tip is to start your scenic journey from Colombo Fort or Peradeniya instead of boarding Kandy straightaway. Many travelers start there hence, it gets crowded immediately.
|Class Name||Arrival in Kandy||Departure from Kandy||Arrival in Ella|
Once you’re on board, there are different things to do. The 7-hour trip isn’t just about you sitting and staring out into the open. Food is served in first-class if you order. Otherwise, there are food kiosks inside as well as vendors making their rounds selling fish or meat-based snacks. It’s best to bring your own supply.
If you want to make the most out of your trip, get down at each train stop until you reach Ella. So you’ll go through:
- Nanu Oya or Nuwara Eliya
This is your first stop on your scenic route if you’re starting from Colombo Fort or Peradeniya. There are many things to do and see while you’re there. For one, Kandy is Sri Lanka’s cultural capital.
If you’re there in July -August, you’re just in time for the biggest cultural festival in the world called the Kandy Escala Parahera also known as The Festival of The Tooth. It features a procession of jugglers, dancers, musicians, fire-breathers, and elephants all elegantly dressed in costumes. The Temple of The Tooth itself is also worth seeing. If you’re into history, it would be good to get a local to explain the history of the place itself and the rituals that people go through as they say their prayers or walk around.
Awash with colors and a whole lot of energy, take the time to watch the Kandy Cultural Show performed by the most experienced dancers moving to the lively beat of the drums. The highlight of the show is its fire-walking performers who walk barefoot through a pit that’s dug on the ground, filled with fiery hot coals. This practice took its roots from the wife of an Indian prince who did the same thing to prove her chastity.
One of my favorites is the Udawattakele Royal Forest Park, right in the middle of Kandy, that’s rich in biodiversity. It has well-trodden paths, so don’t worry about getting lost. You can easily retrace your steps too. You can go with or without a guide. The guide can help you with information on some of the species there.
Lastly, you can visit Helga Folley which is just a kilometer or so from the city center. It isn’t your typical hotel and ironically calls itself “Anti Hotel” too. You get the common features such as WiFi in each room, different room types, and the staff are very accommodating. What’s unique about it is that it’s rather abundant in colors, contains every kind of art there is, and is just oozing with creativity. You’ll have to book it and get a feel of it yourself.
Hatton and Nuwara Eliya
Both are almost alike. They’re quaint little towns that are nestled in the middle of lolling hills and mountains and are well known for their tea factories and cool climate. I’d say that it’s best to get off at Nuwara Eliya. If you haven’t packed clothes for cooler weather, they sell cheap jackets and winter clothes. Also, if you’re planning to stay the night, bundle up, because it can get freezing cold.
If you’re fond of tea and are craving for its earthy aroma, one place you may want to visit while you’re there would be the Damro Tea Factory, one of Sri Lanka’s many tea factories. It’s also one of Sri-Lanka’s sources of foreign exchange. While there, have a chat with the tea pickers. They’ll gladly share the tea growing process with you and more. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a tip too.
Nuwara Eliya is also home to at least seven sparkling, cool waterfalls that you can hike up to or gaze at from a distance. One such waterfall is named Lover’s Loop which lives up to its name with its nooks and rocks that are good to sit on or pose at while you take your breathtaking pics. Don’t worry about it too if you’re not into hiking. You can still make it to the top via rickshaw.
Watching the sunrise at Lipton Seat between the months of April to October is another to do while you’re there. If you’re lucky, you may be graced with the opportunity to have a spectacular view of the towns and fields below. During the rest of the months, you won’t have that view because of the fog that stays for the most part of the day.
This is your second to the last stop on this scenic route and where most travelers get off. Not only is it a welcome reprieve from your long travel, but just soaking up the sights and sounds will do wonders for your soul. So take your sweet time here.
A testament to the colonial era is the Nine Arch Bridge. There are many hotels and restaurants near it because of its fame. You can travel by bus or a tuk tuk. Either way, you’d still have to go on foot part of the way up because you’ll go through a short rocky terrain. The best time to visit would be around 9 and 10 AM before locals and tourists start pouring in. It’s also the best time to take pictures as the morning sun’s rays reflect on the bridge’s façade.
Another place you can go to is Little Adam’s Peak which isn’t as grand or as high as Adam’s peak in Nuwara Eliya. It takes around 15 minutes to walk up. Bring food with you so that you can have a picnic with a heart-stopping view around you.
If you have time left to spend another full day, I suggest spending it at Diyaluma Falls. It’s the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka at 220 meters. You can start your hike from Poonagala road. Most hikes are done uphill. But this is one hike where you actually go downhill. Poonagala Road is situated far above Diyaluma Falls. So as you hike down, you’ll come across a small village called Koslanda and even a local rubber factory. There isn’t an obvious road to tread on, but there are certain markers that you can follow. I kind of got the idea too that not many people came down here. Right after you reach the first waterfall ledge, you’d also see a good number of little pools that you can take a swim in. Just be careful that you don’t dive headlong into any of them without checking its depth.
There are many sights to see in between the journey from Kandy to Ella or vice-versa. I may have to leave those out until the next write-up. All I can say that by the end of that journey, your mind, your heart, and your soul will be energized. I spent as much time as I could at every stop, allowing myself to live in the moment. My soul was at peace. That’s as much as I can say and I feel that’s as much as I’ll ever need. Try it out! Who knows it may be the adventure of a lifetime! I can’t wait to get back.