Ella, with a name like that how could it not be beautiful? It is not! but Ella is not about the town, it is about the scenery and is a place to hike and take photographs of the landscape. It is in a valley surrounded by mountains with paths so steep that a car cannot get up them. There are forests and waterfalls, tea plantations and farmland and this is what you come to see.
We discover that our carefully chosen homestay is situated at the top of one of these narrow lanes. We abandon our driver who is delighted and opt for a tuk tuk into which we pile our luggage and ourselves. As we climb higher and higher amongst the jungle we marvel at the lush green surroundings and just as a waterfall comes into view he turns left and there we are.
Our hosts are Australian, the view absolutely spectacular and the room large and comfortable with huge panoramic windows (that are better kept shut at night because of the monkeys). We immediately go for a walk, I have my canon with 70-210 zoom on one shoulder and my little fuji XE2 with a wide angle lens around my neck. As we follow a narrow path, along the side of the mountain, loads of little ones criss-cross the terraced farmland below. We meet various locals along the way who smile and point and finally accompany us to the waterfall which we learn is called Rawana, by the route we took it was actually quite a hike! I take lots of pictures of the landscape and local people walking along the train lines on the way back. Night falls just as we arrive back.
The following morning, after another walk, we enjoyed the most utterly delicious breakfast whilst sitting on the terrace overlooking the mountain directly opposite the waterfall. We are surrounded by huge, dewy leaves from the thick tropical vegetation around us. Superb. A tuk-tuk is called and we join our driver who is taking us to Galle, our final stop on this preparatory photography workshop.
The trip to Galle is punctuated with stops, first around Ella and often to photograph more playful monkeys, waterfalls, towns and villages. At last we see the turquoise and blue Indian ocean and the massive ancient walls of Galle appear in front of us.
There are photos to take on every street corner, in front and inside it’s magnificently restored Dutch colonial buildings, churches and mosques. There are people everywhere, street vendors, locals and Sri Lankans from all over the country.
We check into our hotel and make the most of the late afternoon light to take pictures around the lighthouse and the dozens of people milling around the walls waiting for the sun to set. I see some people sitting on the steps of the great Mosque. The muezzin calls and I hurry off to take pictures of the setting sun.
There are wedding couples everywhere. I nod and ask if I may take a picture as I see the photographers at work. A couple in a stunning outfit pose outside the lighthouse just as it gets dark and I take some wonderful shots. Elsewhere and the next day I wonder at the expense of these weddings with many guests in beautiful clothes, their receptions in the best hotels and note that several photographers and videographers with assistants are hired for each wedding. There are drones, computers, lights, reflectors and generators, resembling a film set rather than a wedding. Perhaps I should become a wedding photographer in Sri Lanka!
It’s true that many of the historical building have been turned into hotels, guest houses and restaurants but Galle’s charm cannot be denied and I end up taking masses of pictures all very different from anywhere else I have been to. Along the coast are the famous stilt fishermen’. They sit on a cross bar attached to a pole that is skewered into the sand a few metres out from the coast. They too make for interesting and varied pictures. Unfortunately, the good weather doesn’t last and I am denied a sunset as I find some of them along the coastal road from Galle going eastwards.
My photography road trip to Sri Lanka is almost over. Going over my many photos I see that I will have a serious editing job to do on my return. Finally, from all that I have seen and done, my copious notes, the exchanges with other travellers and the all the locals I have spoken to I will make up an itinerary for a photography workshop. I hope you join me!