Monday, November 9, 2015

Ella to Kandy, Sri Lanka: Train Ride of a Lifetime

Perusing online message boards, everyone universally raved about taking a train through the hill country/tea paradise. The train from Ella to my next destination was 7 hours (I was headed to the city of Kandy, which they call a cultural capital of temples and other stuff), I was thoroughly excited about taking the train. Seriously, people are beside themselves about this train ride. It's apparently the most stunning/picturesque ride ever.

The Life-Changing Train Ride:
  • I'm not sure I need to describe a train ride, so I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves. All I can say is that I've never seen such stunning, life-changing views in my entire life. It was like a postcard for 7 hours straight - and the most amazing part was how much the scenery changed as we moved through the country. The most breathtaking scenery of my life included:
    • Countryside/jungle (huge rainforest-looking jungles of trees)
    • Breathtaking high-altitude views of valleys and tea fields
    • Little villages and towns tucked into gorges and fields
    • Straight-up mountain/forest, a la Colorado's mountains
    • Tons and tons of waterfalls, rivers, lakes, etc. 
    • Local people going about their everyday lives - ladies picking tea leaves, men bathing in rivers, children heading home from school. We went through so many towns!
    • Anyhow, I loved every second and now I am going to photo overload the journey
Tiny, adorable little Ella train station

Mountain views down into the valleys were ridiculously gorgeous

Just drying clothes on the tin roof, of course
Tiny house in a tiny town

We're crossing a bridge! Trains are the best because you can hang out of the windows/doors (and people do), and nobody cares. Pure lawlessness.

Tea hills and green as far as the eye can see
Overlooking a valley
Pano of a little tea village
Entering the Colorado-like forests


The sides of a bunch of mountains - and you can barely see it, but tons of waterfalls near the back!

Another tea town

I can't stop taking photos

Little village

And tea grows in such nice, cute little rows!

Ladies picking tea!  They carry these huge rucksacks and hang them on their heads 

Up-close of tea-picking ladies

Just a woman waiting for the train to pass, with an abandoned train shell in the back #NatGeophotographer

Waterfalls! There were so many of these that I just stopped taking photos after awhile

Can't. Stop.

One of my favorite parts is how mist clings to the sides of some of the mountains

This photo fails to show how high up we were, but we were super super high. Which made the views that much more gorgeous

Local women chilling by the side of the tracks

This river isn't that pretty, but there were tons of much prettier ones I missed out on because my phone almost died halfway through from all the photos

The outskirts of a city. I love how colonial jungle these houses look

Ah, now we're approaching a real city

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • I swear I did other things than just ride the train. The train was actually going somewhere. I finally arrived in the town of Kandy - but can't make myself add a "What It's All About" section about it.  Kandy is a cultural town that was the last ancient capital of the kings in Sri Lanka. One of its most famous sites is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, which is purported to have a tooth of the Buddha, and it is one of the holiest sites for Buddhists.
Kandy streets - so colorful!

Kandy Lake - man-made by some king who insisted it be built
And some very holy tree people were praying at 
And here is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth - where Buddha's tooth may or may not be. You can't see it anyways, and only 13 times a year, they unveil the box it's in (but won't open it). So there's debate on whether or not the actual tooth is inside or if it's a replica to keep the real one safe
Police guard: "Oh madam, your skirt is much too short to enter the temple."
Me: "But my skirt is well below both my knees! How long does it need to be??"
Guard: *points to ankles*
And that is how I'm the proud new owner of a sari skirt!

The entrance to the temple has painted depictions of the festival they throw once a year where they parade the tooth through the streets on elephants. These paintings are all new because some crazy blew up parts of the temple in 1998

The entrance has pretty carvings. And also, use Skype.

Here is where the tooth is kept! Under wraps, of course

Gold lotus flowers on the ceiling

Here's where Buddhists from other countries have donated Buddhas to the temple, since it's so famous and important. There's Buddhas here from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Cambodia, etc.

And the creepiest part - this is an elephant that carried the tooth for special occasions. He lived to be 86 years old and was a favorite of many kings - so they had him stuffed when he passed away. And now he's on display.

  • After a thoroughly interesting tour of the temple, my new sari skirt and I had tea nearby, then took an evening train back to Colombo for my early AM flight out the next morning.

I love kids in uniforms in other countries

Another torrential downpour ushered me out of Kandy. Everything in backpack = wet. Time to invest in a cover maybe.

Leaving the Kandy train station. I love this building too!

Arrived in Colombo during sunset. I will miss you, Sri Lanka sunsets

Final Notes on Sri Lanka:
To be honest, when I landed in Sri Lanka, I had no idea what to expect (also had done sub-par research, so that's kind of a given...).  But the country ended up blowing me away with its depth of culture, incredibly kind people, wide range of landscapes, and super-majestic scenery. Who knew such a small country could have such stunning beaches, but also amazing mountains?!  There were a million more cities I heard about in my time in Sri Lanka that I wanted to visit but didn't have the time to (Siggiriya, Koggala, Mirissa, Uda Walawe National Park, Yala National Park, Polonnaruwa, etc.) - did you know that in their national parks, you can go on safari and see elephants and/or leopards?! Ugh, I would have loved to do that too.  I loved this country, and loved that I added it to the itinerary.

Next up, Nepal!

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