To travel through Sri Lanka at speed would be a great crime. Maybe that’s why all transport networks run at such a leisurely pace? To allow visitors to marvel at all the country has to offer, and soak in the vibrant culture. I spent a month travelling through this beautiful country with my partner, taking it easy.
Words and Photography by Elliott Waring | @seeoutside_
Visiting Sri Lanka had always been high on the list of priorities. Since I first travelled to Asia, I have been hooked by the colourful culture, the vibrant places and the friendly people. So when my partner and I decided to go to New Zealand on a working holiday visa, it was an easy decision to stop in Asia on the way through. The idea of visiting India was pondered upon, but due to time constraints and other factors, we decided to visit Sri Lanka for a month instead.
Flying over the desert into Oman- where we would catch a connection to Colombo- the dusty orange light of sunrise was cast over the desert like nothing I had ever seen. It was in this moment that I really felt like the trip had begun. A frantic week had lead up to our departure; leaving our jobs, seeing family and friends before we departed for an undetermined length of time, and the chore of packing for a trip that would span 4 seasons in different climates. Beside me sat my trusty Smith Rolltop which perfectly held my cameras equipment, laptop, and other travel essentials.
Before leaving the UK, I had carried out some basic research on places to visit and things to do. However, with no fixed plans or itinerary, we felt free. One hotel booking for the first night in Colombo where we would arrive, and nothing further. Having the freedom to change plans and stay in one place longer than planned, or leave at the drop of a hat is essential when travelling through a new country. And after one day in Colombo, we were ready to leave.
The tropical climate was a deciding factor in much of our planning from here- monsoon season still enveloped half of the island, bringing heavy downpours and wild winds to the south-west coast. There was even a hurricane during our first week on the island. So, we caught a train heading North to Sigiriya and the site of the ancient temple, Lion Rock. The remains of the ancient temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and draws thousands of visitors each year. We chose to avoid the crowds and climb the smaller, neighbouring outcrop, Pidurangala Rock, to watch the sunrise. The short climb through dense jungle in the dark was made even more testing by the sweltering heat, even at 4.30am. No sooner than we reached the top, the sun peeped above the horizon and the low hanging cloud began to rise from the jungle below, enshrouding Lion Rock as it did so. We sat for a while to enjoy the first rays of light and the calm of day break before heading down the path to return to our homestay and catch the train into the mountains.
Travel in Sri Lanka isn’t fast. The roads are potholed and winding, and the trains are old and sluggish, yet the journey is incomprehensibly beautiful. In fact, travelling with speed would be a crime in a country as beautiful as this. Chugging along the rickety railway tracks as you ascend to 2000m above sea level through the ethereal mist that rises from the tea plantations, you can’t help but stare out of the window in awe. Like many others, I hung out the doorway of the moving train to take in the magnificent vistas across the valley.
Alighting the train in Nuwara Eliya at 1800m there was a noticeable chill in the air. The stifling heat and humidity of the coast were replaced with thick fog and occasional downpours, not dissimilar to autumn weather in the UK. Despite the changing conditions, we made the trip to Horton Plains cloud forest to climb the highest accessible peak in the country, Pidurutalagala. The cloud forest certainly lived up to its name as thick plumes of cloud rolled through the valley, obscuring visibility one minute, then clearing to reveal endless views as far as the eye could see the next. The heavy rainfall over the previous month had turned Baker Falls into a beautifully powerful force of nature. From a distance, it appeared that the waterfall was moving in slow motion, blurred almost. As we got closer, the power of the falls was all-encompassing and the spray from the falls soaked everything, cameras included.
After only two days in Nuwara Eliya, it was time to move on. Once again we jumped on the train and continued our journey through the highlands of the Central Province to Ella. The small town is the bustling epicentre of the mountainous region, and the main street is alive with vibrant smells and sights. High up in the hills, our homestay boasted uninterrupted views down the valley and beyond. We spent three wonderful days in Ella exploring the surrounding hills, and each morning I would wake at 5 am just to watch the sunrise from our balcony.
Our time in the mountains was nearing an end as we planned to spend the final week travelling along the southern coast, surfing as we went. The Southern Province is home to some of the finest beaches, and best breaks in Asia. And so, we caught the bus south. The public bus was one of the scariest journeys of my life- reckless speeding, double overtakes on blind corners and no limit on the number of passengers that could be squashed onto the 30-year-old bus- it was interesting, to say the least. Nonetheless, we arrived safely in Weligama where, unbeknownst to us, we would spend the remainder of our trip. The gentle pace of life, constant waves and abundance of beautiful beaches to explore in the area made it impossible to leave until the day of our flight. We spent the final week of our trip riding along the coast on our rented motorbike, exploring hidden beaches and surfing at sunrise and sunset.
Our time in Sri Lanka was relatively short. Although, I think a month is sufficient to experience the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people. The varying landscapes were incredible- from the rolling hills of the highlands to the secluded coves on the coast, Sri Lanka is a feast for the senses.