After I managed to drive on every possible road south of Kandy it was time to find new routes I did not try in the last week or so. Well, I definitely found my most memorable adventure in Sri Lanka.
Horton Plains National Park is roughly 50 km south from Nuwara Eliya and instead of being nicely flat in a valley it lays on top of a mountain at 2000meters. Another uphill for Bip Bop and more prayers from me not to fall into the abyss. I also had many ideas and thoughts about the park none of which was even close to reality. As with all national parks in Sri Lanka you cannot just wander around as you please. I had to pay a hefty entrance fee and I was restricted to a nicely sign posted path. There is a 9-km round trip within the park to cover all the attractions. I could have hired a guide to show me around but I thought I’d manage without one. Obviously, I would have heard a lot of interesting facts about the park and its birds and fauna which I would have forgotton as soon as I left it, but I chose to walk around by myself and listen to the birds and other tourists’ chit chat.
Around halfway through and after passing many trees and rocks I arrived to the main attraction. I was told to get there early in the morning to see the ’must see view’ as from noon onwards mist obscures the ’must see view’. It wasn’t true at all. At least not in my case. I guess the guides just want to finish early in the day so they came up with this nonsense. I arrived to the World’s End just before noon. The national park is really flat but as it lays on top of a mountain, I think it’s called plateau, it comes to a sudden end with a sheer drop of 900 meters. That’s a long way down. In clear weather it’s possible to see for miles even as far as the sea. Nope, I didn’t see the sea. All I could see was the back of other tourists. They were everywhere! So I sat down and waited almost an hour just to get to the end of the ledge. Once they all left I really wanted to sit and dangle(?) my feet at the World’s End but my plan was put off by a nicely positioned barbwire. I could have just stepped over it but I thought there must be good a reason that it was there. Probably to annoy me. And probably to stop kids from falling off the cliff. No, they just get tangled in it. But it was fun to watch others take nice photos of themselves and happily wander off. I only found out later that there was a path next to the ledge leading to a relatively unspoilt spot. Next time….
Right after I was burnt red by the sun I left the end of the world and carried on walking to find the Poor Man’s World End. Yes, there is another end of the world for the poor. No idea where the name comes from but it’s true that you only get what you pay for. The view was less attractive and you would only fall 300m before you hit the ground. Being poor sucks. Even at the end of the world.
On the way back there was another one of my ‘favourite’ attractions. Waterfalls. Yayyy! Baker falls, which was named after a British explorer, or as I like to call him, colonialist, is a 20m high waterfall right in the middle of a rhododendron forest. Really pretty. And you only need to wait 10 to 30 mins to have a 13 second of ‘only-you’ moment without any tourists trying to poke your eyes out with a stick. Seriously, sit the fuck down and try to enjoy the moment. Just for once!
The whole park could be done in 3-4 hours and it’s definitely worth the detour or the trip. I wish It was possible to wander around freely, have a picnic or something. I was planning to stay for the whole day even for the night but obviously it wasn’t possible. The whole park is guarded and it closes just before sunset. I guess they don’t want anything to happen like 30 years ago when somebody accidentally set the whole park on fire…
As it was only early afternoon when I left the park and since I had a reservation in Nuwara Eliya I returned to my beloved town. Again. Tried to see the glass half full this time so I ditched Bip Bop and walked around the huge artifical lake in middle of the town. It was ok. Watching and hearing fellow tourists screaming while driven by madden jetski drivers around the lake was really funny. I even had a few selfies with local kids and families.
In the evening I returned to my favourite and only tolerable eatery in town and had a lovely pizza with Bill. I met Bill. The pizza place is really small, only has like 3 tables, and it was packed so I had no other choice but to sit with Bill. Which is fine. His name was Bill. I know it’s his name but I really had to try not to laugh for the first 20 minutes. Why is it funny? May I have the bill? I know it’s a silly joke and I shouldn’t joke with other people’s name but I always wanted to have a joke in a restaurant with a guy called Bill. Can I see (the) bill? And I would present Bill. I think it’s funny. And I couldn’t think of anything else while we were chatting. I mean it wasn’t too hard as he did the talking. He talked a lot. But he was really intelligent and good to listen to. He was an art director hunting for new talents and shows to take back to England. Yes, he was from London. I tried to find a moment to tell him about me being a photographer and needing a place to exhibit but he was going on forever. Still, had a great night. Naturally, I drove him home once he found out I was a tuktuk driver and not a photographer.
In the morning I packed my bag and with the biggest smile on my face ever I left Nuwara Eliya and headed towards Ella. To another tourist honey pot. Another must see. I agree. It’s a magical place. Not the town itself as it’s basically a watering hole for tourists but the surrounding area is really enchanting. Right after I left I couldn’t get rid of the thought that I should visit a tea factory since I was surrounded by never-ending tea plantations. Honestly, I’m not into tea. And a tea factory? How interesting can it be? The tea plant or whatever they call it gets harvested by slaves, bagged by slaves, dried by slaves, bagged again by slaves and then shipped. Voila! I guess there is more to it but I can hardly believe it’s more complicated than that. It’s not NASA. I could kill an hour by visiting a factory so why not. I chose one of the biggest and most interesting (by a guidebook) factories. After 10 minutes in the factory I was back in the parking lot talking to a driver, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. Top tip. Don’t buy coffee in a tea factory. First of all everybody thinks that you’re an idiot second of all the coffee most likely tastes like shit. I learned more about tea production and the life of the Tamil people working on the tea plantation from the driver in the parking lot than in the factory. I guess if I had stayed longer I could have found out more but as the guide was talking in German I didn’t understand much. Why not English? Because I didn’t want to pay for the visit so I snuk in and joined a random group. I also learned some interesting stuff about the cashew nuts. From the driver and not in the factory. It turns out that the fruit can be eaten as well but it’s only possible right after the harvest. That’s why the fruit never gets exported and it can only be bought right from the farmers. Shit, now as I write about it I completely forgot to go to a cashew farm. Next time…
After the factory visit I really wanted to get to Ella the same day. Nope. I didn’t get to Ella. Not for another 3 days. What happened? Haputale happened. Haputale is the most charming village I encountered in Sri Lanka . Not much is going on there. It only has a few houses, a bus station, a petrol station, a liquor store and a market. That’s it. But the village is on top of a mountain ridge between other mountains and tea plantations. The setting is just perfect. The weather is the shittiest. As it isn’t surrounded by mountains or anything taller than a tree the clouds are coming and going as they please and getting rid of some water as they go. In one second, I could get soaking wet and almost frozen to death and in the other I was completely dry and sunburnt. Sometimes you have to suffer for some fun. But that’s not why I like to remember this village. Let’s start at the beginning.
My accommodation was the best so far. The view was amazing. I had a balcony overlooking the mountains and the tea plantations. It was right in the middle of it. I just had to hop off the balcony and I could walk for hours in the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. But it took me a painful hour to find it. Google maps pinpointed the location but it was just not there. I just couldn’t find it and noone heard about it. So I was walking up and down in and out of private gardens and other places. My only option was to check the photos on Booking.com and try to identify the house by it. It was between a green and a red house and had a blue balcony. So I started to look for green and red houses. It was a nice visual riddle to solve. After an hour I found the house. Or at least I saw the house from a distance but there was no road leading to it. So I was circling around it until I found the shortest way. But it was through a half-built house. Fuck it. So I climbed down on the scaffolding and entered the hotel through its half ready kitchen. The chef or whoever he was there looked at me a little bit suspiciously. I quickly explained that I was looking for a hotel called Il Vino and I wasn’t about to steal the bananas. To my relief he understood my intention and I was shown to my room. Great. Now I have to get back to Bip Bop and find a parking place.
I’ve no idea why I left the house the way I came and not through the front door but it seemed the best idea at the time. I thought I would find the road leading to the front gate. No. I couldn’t find it. So once again I climbed back through the kitchen and asked for help. This time I left through the front door but I had no idea where I was and where I could find Bip Bop. It was a real nightmare. I believe I have good orientation skills but never once did I find my way back to that hotel for the first try in 3 days. Never. Fucking. Ever. I even told the owner that he should signpost the hotel as it’s really hard to find. He said it was really easy to find. Yes, for you it’s easy. You live there!
Anyways, the place or rather the view was worth every trouble. Let’s move on to the other story.
One day when I took Bip Bop for a ride, as I was walking by myself and I felt she was left out of the fun, one of the clouds had enough of keeping all the water and just started to release everything it had collected. For real. It was a real downpour. I was lucky as I was protected by Bip Bop but some of the locals weren’t so blessed. As I was driving around a small family waved at me. Since I’m not a real tuktuk driver I didn’t stop. But after 50 meters or so I stopped and went back for them as I just couldn’t leave them there in the pouring rain. They jumped in without saying a word. A father, 2 of his daughters and his sister-in-law. With big smiles and relief they thanked me for my kindness. I told him I wasn’t local, which I think they guessed, as I just wanted to let them know that I had no idea where they lived. The father pointed forward so I just started driving. Once in a while he said left or right and after like half an hour we arrived to their home. The neighbours were laughing as soon as we stopped as they couldn’t believe that a white guy drove their friends home. His wife came out too and invited me for tea. I couldn’t say no so I went along.
They lived very modestly in a small house next to the plantations. Nothing fancy but clean and welcoming. I was sat down in the biggest chair and was offered some biscuits. The father sat left to me on a stool while his three daughters on my right on a sofa. The grandmother didn’t sit down. She was just standing in the doorway looking at me. There was a random boy there too. After 2 mins I could tell that one of the daughters, around 10-11 yrs old, fell in love with me. She was either hiding behind a chair or running around and smiling. The others noticed too. They were laughing and saying something to her to which she was frowning. They didn’t speak much English so we sat quietly and smiled once in a while just to ease the tension. In about 5 mins the tea arrived and finally we could be further relaxed. Not much happened. We just sat there. The father really liked my sunglasses and asked me how much they cost. Well, I had to think really hard as I couldn’t tell him that the plastic thing on my head was worth 3 months of hard labour for him. So I divided the price by 10. It was still unbelievably expensive for him. He just couldn’t believe it. He asked me to take a photo of him with the sunglasses as he would never be able to afford it. Taking photos of him proved to be an icebreaker so I carried on taking photos of all of them. As the tension slowly disappeared I found out a few facts and interesting insights of the life of the Tamil people which I have already written about.
Once we ran out of tea, biscuits and smiles I felt it was time for me to leave. On the way out I asked the mother and the little daughter if it was all right to take their photo. Just the two of them. That photo is my all time favourite from my Sri Lankan trip. It holds all the good memories of that day. It might even be better than the Holy Triangle. I feel so much happiness just to look at it. It reminds me of how nice and beautiful they were. Not just on the outside. I could really feel that they loved each other and lived peacefully even if they basically had nothing and no chance to change anything. His daughters will most likely be working on the plantations. Nah…
Once I got back to Colombo I printed out the photographs and I sent those back to them. I hope they received them. And I’m more than 100% sure that I will return and visit them again. I’d like to know what happens to them. I’m grateful for the rain for raining. I’m grateful for the road for taking me to them. And I’m grateful that I listen to myself and I stopped and went back to pick them up.
Last but not least I met a nice couple at my accommodation who became my best travel buddies in no time at all. It was by accident. Although we shared the same balcony and lived next door to each other we didn’t really pay attention to each other. Until one day I went into their room by mistake instead of mine. It was soo early I wasn’t fully awake and I tried to get into their room with my key. Happens. I apologised as many times as I could and we kinda left it there too. We had breakfast together but we didn’t converse much. They left, I stayed. Then we met again in Ella… but I leave that story for my next post.
On my last day in Haputale I did some trainspotting as I wanted to have a photo with a train chugging through the landscape. I got up early to get up to the mountain before the morning train, hence my visit to the wrong room in the previous passage. I arrived early and the train was late so I had to wait for a while but I could have never asked for a better view. I could even see the World’s End from there. Looked better this way.
Once I took ’the not so perfect’ shot I decided to walk along the tracks to the next station and get the train back to Haputale. It was a small station so I got all the local eyes on me. A little kid even sat next to me and asked if I had a ’cool pen’. So I gave my best pen to him. And my coke too since he was eager to drink it. I could buy another one. I wanted to buy a ticket but I was told that the station was closed and it would reopen again once the bell tolls. I had no idea what that meant but I waited patiently. In about half an hour a guy appeared with a bell in his hands and started to shake it. We could buy tickets now. Great! All in all there were like four people at the station. We all gathered around the ticket counter and tried to buy a ticket. In Sri Lanka noone stands in a queue. Even if it’s more than 100% that you get your ticket in time everybody crushes around to buy a ticket. They just like it that way. Naturally, we all got our tickets and in 5 minutes the train arrived.
Thanks to all the guidebooks about Sri Lanka that section of the route is the most crowded train rides in Sri Lanka as it has the best view and the most unforgettable train journey of all time. That’s all true. It’s the most crowded and unpleasant train ride ever. You would never forget about it. I guarantee that! Everybody was fighting to take a picture of the view which is truly amazing but you would get the same view if you were walking on the tracks. Which I did for a few days. But still. You must ride the train to Ella! I was so happy to get off that train.
So that’s Haputale. It isn’t well known. It’s not even in the guidebooks. Maybe that’s why Haputale is the best village I’ve been to in Sri Lanka….
In my next post I finally arrive to Ella and both me and Bip Bop get hammered. Seriously!