– Photos and text by Jordan Hammond
After visiting Sri Lanka in late 2016 when my photography career was only just beginning, I had always wanted to return. Sri Lanka is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in Asia; not only of the landscapes, but also the people, food and fascinating culture. It carries the charm of India without having the intense assault on the senses that many experience there. After a memorable first trip, I couldn’t wait to go back.
We’d planned to visit Sri Lanka for 10 days, aiming to cover the majority of tourist spots on the standard backpacker route, plus a few extras. The 10 days proceeded to take us through downtown Colombo, the rock fortress of Sigiriya, and the hill stations and tea plantations; before ending with a few days on the picturesque sandy beaches of Sri Lanka’s south coast. It was the best trip of the year, and I can’t recommend visiting Sri Lanka enough.
We missed much of the north of Sri Lanka during our first visit, so our first port of call after a relaxed day in Colombo was Sigiriya, known for the ancient rock fortress. We arrived late in the afternoon after a 4-hour drive from the capital and took a tuk-tuk to a viewpoint at the bottom of the rock. I had seen photos of a lake at the bottom but the lake was covered in weeds when we arrived — just our luck! The sunset was beautiful nonetheless, and it made for a different perspective.
The following morning, we woke up early and climbed to the top of Pidurangala rock, only to be greeted by a thick cloud. As such, we were barely able to even see our hands in front of our faces. The view is supposed to be amazing, however, and is well worth the early wake-up call — just be sure to check the weather before you embark on the hike. We decided to wait the bad weather out at the hotel, and at about 4pm, the cloud cleared and it looked to be a good sunset. We didn’t leave ourselves enough time to climb the rock before sunset so we decided to drone it instead.
The view from above is breathtaking, and you can get a sense of the complexity of the fortress from a birds-eye view. A quick dash back to the hotel and we were in the car on our way to Kandy and ready for the train journey to Ella — an experience we had been looking forward to with much anticipation.
The train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most scenic journeys in the world, meandering through tea plantations and the beautiful hill country of central Sri Lanka. Due to pre-bookable tickets selling out a month in advance, we decided to drive the first part of the journey to Nuwara Eliya and board the train there so that we wouldn’t potentially be standing on an incredibly bumpy train for more than five hours. After all, on such a short trip, time is of the essence.
We boarded at Nuwara Eliya instead, which is known as Little England, and were lucky enough to get reserved seats. It was a miracle that we were able to buy these tickets and secure seats in the first-class carriage, as the unreserved section (where we were supposed to be) was jam-packed with people, and we wouldn’t have been able to take the photos we wanted.
Still, despite having great seats, I spent most of the time with my head hanging out the window and the vistas were so rewarding. The leg between Nuwara Eliya and Ella is by far the most beautiful of the journey, and we spent the best part of two hours waving at the locals standing on the side of the tracks and enjoying the views. Just before sunset, we arrived in Ella.
The following morning in Ella, we woke up as early as we could muster and hiked up Little Adams Peak. I say “hike”, but it’s more like a relaxing walk up the steps to the top, and the views are simply magical. We were lucky to get low clouds surrounding the hills on our morning at the peak, meaning the sunrise was spectacular. We stayed at the top until our hunger pains got the better of us, and walked back down in time for breakfast.
That afternoon, we walked along the tracks from Ella Railway Station to Nine Arch Bridge, where you can get a great view of the very same train you had taken to get there. The bridge is nearly 100 years old, and was built with only stones and cement, and no strengthening material to support it. We missed the first train because my camera bag rolled down an incredibly steep hill. I watched in horror as the contents of the bag dispersed across the slope but fortunately, it finally caught in some plants before the hill dropped off vertically. So we waited for the next train, some three hours later.
The train kept getting delayed, so when we finally heard the horn to signify its arrival, we were ecstatic. The photos were incredible, and some of my favourite from the entire trip.
After Ella, we made our way down to the southern soast, ready for some well-deserved beach time.
Our final stop on our whistle-stop tour of Sri Lanka was a place that is close to our hearts. We first visited Dalawella in 2016 and befriended a local family who owned a cabana on the beach. We have kept in touch ever since and surprised them with a visit this year, which was the highlight of our trip. There is no better feeling than waking up on the beach every morning and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean every night.
The coastal area around Dalawella is also a great place to explore, and I would definitely recommend taking a day trip to Galle to visit the fort and markets. Spend the rest of the time relaxing on the beach and swinging on a rope swing, which has become famous in recent years thanks to the boom of social media.