It’s day 4 and we are going to continue the cultural triangle to Kandy. I want to photograph more elephants. Lots of them, I love elephants so we decide to stop off at Pinawala where I heard they take them down to the river where they bathe and it is a wonderful sight.
It’s quite a drive and we arrive later than anticipated. The elephants are already in the river. As we walk down the main street of the village somebody pops out wanting us to pay, we do, but I think the fee is too high for watching them in a public place. $15 per person! It does include a trip to the elephant orphanage who organize all this. Only the bathing is worthwhile. Sadly, it has become a tourist trap although the elephants do look well cared for. I did take some really nice shots and I think other photographers would enjoy the experience.
We stopped off on route to our first tea factory. It was a little disappointing but we were thirsty and it offered a cup of tea. We arrived in Kandy at dusk and drove around the lake to our hotel which was a beautiful old colonial house. The bedrooms rather lacked the colonial splendour of the common parts but it was cool, quiet and comfortable.
For a photography tour I don’t think that Kandy warrants a lot of time. I have already been a number of times, the lake is lovely and there are some superb colonial buildings but Sri Lanka has so much to see that a short visit is sufficient.
Our plan is to drive to Nuwera Eliya where we will board the train to Ella. Our driver will pick us up and there and take us to a bed and breakfast where we will spend the night. We begin to panic on arrival in Kandy as we are told that ALL tickets are bookable in advance which was not the information we were given. I rush to the advance ticket counter where a beaming young man tells me how lucky I am as I buy the only remaining 3rd class seats for the 3.5 hour journey. I make another note that all tickets for my photography workshops will be bought in advance.
We eat a massive and delicious breakfast at 6.30 in the pleasant dining room of the hotel anxious to set off as early as possible in order to have time to take pictures all along the route, which is beautiful. Our driver, who by now is not in our good books, loses more points as I have to call him twice as he oversleeps and ambles over to the car 45 minutes late.
Once on our way, it is very picturesque as we climb higher and higher, we are in tea country and it is luscious and green. I spy a pretty little church and yell out for the driver to stop. To my delight as I start to walk over to it, a class of young children with their teachers from an adjacent school run towards it so I talk to them and take pictures before we continue onwards and upwards. I want to stop quite a lot, there are people picking tea, their bright clothes like dots in the greenery.
The names of famous tea plantations start appearing and we decide to visit one of them. We choose Mackwoods as we are told the Queen drinks it! The machinery is all extremely ancient but seems to be mostly automated. I am a coffee lover myself and not particularly fond of tea but tasted some that were indeed better than anything I had tasted before. I do just want to say that what you drink and what you buy are two completely different products! BEWARE before you buy! Either they sell you old tea or something else but no way were the teas we bought the same as the ones tasted there. On another note, I found the local coffee in Sri Lanka delicious. I can’t survive those early mornings without it so always pack ground coffee and filters in my luggage almost everywhere I go.
We arrive in Nuwera Eliya which is under a blanket of cloud and take a quick look around. I make a note to stay longer next time and we continue to Nanu Oya, which is where the station is, a further 8 miles from the town. We arrive in plenty of time.
The station, like so many stations in old colonial countries is wonderful. There are loads of people sitting around, whole families with babies and young children sitting on luggage waiting. The train coming in the other direction arrives and I take loads of pictures of the hustle and bustle of people getting on and off. The guards office is straight out of the 19th century and like a museum. I ask if I can go in and take pictures and they nod their heads. The original old wooden ticket machines and ledgers are still there. I get engrossed taking pictures and then suddenly our train arrives at the station.
Our third class carriage is at the opposite end of the train to first class. It is full of families who bring out rice packed in banana leavesand within minutes a number of vendors rush on and serve various sauces and spices and the carriage is filled with the aroma of curry. We look on hungrily as all we have is a bag of crisps and some bananas. As the train moves off there is a party atmosphere in our carriage. It must be somebody’s birthday, there are balloons hanging from the ceiling, it’s very joyful and the children scream with pleasure each time we go through a tunnel.
I end up standing in the doorway, leaning out taking pictures of the train as it winds around and of the spectacular scenery of valleys and mountains. Most of the people in the other carriages in front of us are foreigners. We are pleased to be with locals. The train makes several stops and we buy some delicious spicy fried pasties from the vendors who rush on at the stops. The journey goes by very quickly and soon we are in Ella. I have taken tons of pictures. Travelling by train offers so many photo opportunities particularly if you are travelling with locals, which is always my intention. I always try and include at least one in a photography workshop in Asia as they are so colourful and a great opportunity to practice several photography stills.
Ella is also different from anywhere else we’ve been, and once again I am impressed by all that Sri Lanka offers. The final part next week!