Ella Rock

Srilankan New Year: a Seven-League Boots Trip

by Mani Mughal
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Introduction

Being a mixed European-Lankan couple sometimes means specific compromises. Like travelling around Avurudu. Sandya basically needs to celebrate this in the family context, while I am not very fond about all the ceremonial mumbo jumbo. Like having to wake up in the middle of the night because some Astrologer has decided that that is this year’s auspicious moment to cook some milk 😉 Hence for this trip, some years back, we both arrived around April 10th and I would do a one-week backpacking trip to see some old friends. And so it happened, planned carefully because of the challenges with public transport around Sinhalese-Tamil New Year. Hope that the audience also learns a bit more about that…

Bentota 

Until this time we had stayed in quite a few upmarket places there, like Vivanta, Serendib (now Avani), Ceysands and Bentota Beach (now Cinnamon). But for a backpacker trip, it was perfectly suitable to opt for a place with better value for money. And Little Paradise hotel did not disappoint – excellent breakfast, large rooms, small but lovely pool and a surprisingly good location all at 1/3 of the price level of the beachside resorts. 

Little Paradise

Little Paradise, Bentota

Before booking however do check its latest reviews on e.g. Tripadvisor; this trip was a few years back and afterwards it seems it has had some worse times but is recovering now.

In terms of public transport, I opted for the bus, as it was afternoon and then trains from Fort and even Maradana are jampacked. There were many buses going south, but I managed to get a seat and some space for my luggage trolley too. Got off at the National Holiday Resort part of Bentota, and with some help of a friendly local (well until he insisted on a large fee…) managed to find the hotel hidden in a maze of streets between the A2 road and the railway track. Getting dinner on 11th was no problem, on 12th however all independent restaurants had closed for a week but I could get good food at a restaurant from a guesthouse nearby. The beach was wide and relaxed as always, and surprisingly quiet for the tail of high season. 

Bentota Beach Sri-lanka

Bentota Beach

Seven league boots Avurudu transport 

Getting to Tissa in one day on 13th sounded challenging. But luckily some friends at Tripadvisor confirmed that all trains run a normal Sunday schedule on 13th and 14th. Which proved true; at Bentota station is a large place with all train times, and interestingly enough a few long-distance trains were listed there for which even on the SLR website it tells that they solely stop in Aluthgama! And the reality here proved closer to the truth than the website 😉 Anyway the train was 2/3 full, mainly with locals, so I had a good seat towards Galle. Where I met an old friend, Mr W, and had promised to spend some time at a bus stand café with him. 

Waiting for the, probably quite rare, bus connections to Matara-Tissa. Line 32 normally takes 5 hours to reach Tissa on this traffic-packed road, and due to Avurudu, the bus stand was almost deserted as I had feared. But yep, sorry for my friend, five minutes into our meeting suddenly a bus 32 arrived from Colombo. So I grabbed it, and hope to see Mr W soon next time….

The ride itself was surreal; as they say in European mythology it was like walking in seven-league boots. Left Galle around 11 AM, and arrived in Tissa 2.30 PM passing the nice coastline and the Hambantota salterns [Photo3]. Auspicious time was late that afternoon, and apparently the driver and conductor of this private bus wanted to be with their family in time. Our average speed was around 70 km/h, double the normal speed on this road. Hardly any traffic (as everybody was in their home village), hardly passengers waiting at bus stops and bus stands to embark, and no reason at all for the driver to insert the usual ’ 5-minute commercial breaks’ to wait for more passengers at each popular stop. I think we equalled or beat our family record for this distance. (Which was some time earlier due to a sudden sad death in the family, and driving this road in the middle of the night…)

Hamban Salterns

Hamban Salterns

Tissa 

The trip had no plans to see Tissa sights; e.g. because planned arrival was 5 PM (not 2.30 PM), and because we had seen Yala and the temple areas around it several times already. So the time was spent on a nice lakeshore walk and pool swim from Lake Wind hotel. One class above Little Paradise in cost but a good midrange place, decent dinner restaurant and stunning location. 

Next morning for buses plan-A was to find a northbound bus at Tissa bus stand, and plan-B to take bus 32 to Weerawila junction and then line 31 directly to Ella. Luckily plan-A was enough, and I quickly found a bus to Thanamalwila. Afterwards to Wellawaya and Ella, every time with seats and space for the luggage; on 14th bus frequency actually was better than on 13th.

Forgot to tell that on 12th I had phoned another friend, Mr S from Wellawaya, that I would be passing by on 14th and might meet him at Wellawaya bus stand. Hence once I was on the first bus I tried to call him, but no connection and the best I could do after about 1 hour was leaving a voicemail. And as fate with meeting friends this trip had it, he finally called back when I was in …. Ella. “Sorry Erik, in my remote farming corner near Wellawaya mobile coverage is bad so I only got the voicemail hours after you had called and I had signal again’. This too is still Sri Lanka…

Ella 

I reached Ella around 3 PM, and clouds were already rolling in from the plains. Here I won’t name the guesthouse, as sadly I had to leave a quite mixed review for it at Tripadvisor and the booking site. The location, however, was as stunning as most of Ella: on the east side, facing Ella Rock and in the distance, Ravana Falls. 

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

And the walk to it through a shortcut route also crosses a nice small stream which merges into the Ravana Falls river. It was not too long a walk to ‘main street’ where the bus dropped me off and was later in the afternoon I found an excellent backpackers dinner place at Dream Cafe.

After getting back to the guesthouse I found that wifi at the rooms was lousy, but in the restaurant downhill, it was good. So I brought the laptop, joining in with a few other tourists there doing samethe . When the light rains turned heavier and lightning started, the host came with the usual Lankan reaction ‘folks turn off your laptops as a lightning strike can blow all stuff up through the power lines’. And our laughing response was ‘well all laptops here are UN-plugged, hence no risk for us. But the serious risk for you as your WiFi router is connected both to power and to phone lines. It’s you that needs to unplug’. Which he did 😊

Bottom Line

Hope that from this story you learn something about Avurudu and how it impacts Lankan society and tourism. And maybe also something about high-tech and low-tech in Lankan mobile phone coverage and wifi…

 PS Which means that in the end the owner was also right, but for a totally different reason: without his WiFi our technically perfectly working laptops were of not much use, and had to be shut off also due to the lightning…”

Further Reading

Information on Avurudu and other public holidays

https://docs.google.com/document/d/15uHmvsypE30dr2fsUQIYD4YnBszUxS-zGh5rMHzZxHs/edit?usp=sharing

Information on Sri Lanka public transport

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JX9TDMmp3CE9zQL5tjPwkm_CmVB6IyD99XlPoNhgx6U/edit?usp=sharing

Information on the inland towns visited

https://docs.google.com/document/d/15gJpjglr8xiVoBoGYly54iXimuQtzgUECmElyrDw-ak/edit?usp=sharing

And on Bentota

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sMlet-7Qz7ncYWd5PbGEjKogwFzErA06Cl_DRSx406U/edit?usp=sharing

About the authors

Sandya & Erik are travel nerds. A mixed European-Lankan couple, they split their time unsurprisingly between bases near Colombo and in Europe. And have travelled throughout the lovely island numerous times. Google if you have a strong urge to find a way to contact them directly.

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