Riding the mountains of Ella | Sunday Observer

Riding the mountains of Ella

 The Nine Arch Bridge that tourists find irresistible
The Nine Arch Bridge that tourists find irresistible

Tourism in Sri Lanka may have taken more than a hit after last April’s Easter Sunday bombings, but if one enchanting location in the island appears to be still bustling, the mountainous region of Ella in the Badulla district can take full marks on the brochure. Among its many enticing locations is the hideaway Flying Ravana Mega Zipline or thrill ride said to be the longest and fastest zipper in South Asia covering a distance of nearly 600 metres, done in 30 seconds. The Zipline is not for the faint-hearts and once done the craving can be for more swooping rides on the cable above a thick canopy of vegetation. Overseas tourists outnumber the local adventure seekers for whom there is no age restriction and is left entirely at the discretion of the rider or glider.

The staff are extremely friendly as they help tourists with the safety harness and helmet at the visitor centre before they are taken to a high altitude platform from where two gates fling open and the ride begins.

It’s all a brilliant aviator’s view of the surrounding mountain massifs and what can be surveyed below for a stunning 30 seconds, while the end can be like a bird of prey swooping onto its target with a precision strike. Thrill seekers can hit speeds of up to 80 kilometres an hour and are well taken care of from start to finish. But Ella is not just a place for adventure tourists only. With its mild climate, lush green hills and valleys and an abundance of bird life for the ornithologist, Ella has something for everyone from where forays can be made to nearby caves and waterfalls, trekking trails and mountaineering or unwinding with a chilled beer through the cold nights.

Another attraction is the Nine Arch Bridge, the only one of its kind in the island where tourists wait for the train to pass providing them with photographic stuff that could find a place in any of the world’s top shelf traveller magazines. On some days foreign tourists outnumber the locals and king coconut vendors cash in to sell their watery nuts. Some foreign tourists stay as long as two weeks savouring Ella, hiking through wooded hills or rock climbing and then return to their hotels or the many guest houses to spend the chilly nights unwinding with a beer or two, and for the more discerning, their favourite brand of scotch or rum. Visiting pubs after sunset is yet another night-time attraction with cricket World Cup fever catching on and hotel staff and waiters having to serve their customers as well as keep a close tab on match proceedings.

Some foreign tourists group together in the evenings for a session of booze and music strumming their guitars playing Western or folk songs reminiscent of a bygone era, and still kept alive and even relished by the younger generation who find it irresistible. Hotel keepers and restaurant caterers say there is no season for tourists in Ella unlike in neighbouring Nuwara Eliya that blooms and blossoms just once a year in April.“What foreign tourists want is peace and relaxation to feel at home away from home, and they find it here in Ella.

“They like the local food and drink and no one disturbs them,” said a hotel keeper tapping his foot to the music churned out by a group of Westerners.To cater to an expectant higher influx of tourists, more hotels and guest houses are under construction in Ella and its surroundings.

Scooters can be hired for daytime excursions across Ella from where one-day sojourns by vehicle can be made to places like the world heritage site of Horton Plains where stag or sambhur roam in the distance and red rhododendrons bloom in the month of May making it a sight to behold.

The Ambewela dairy farm, famous for its special breed of black and white cows and stud bulls which is like a stolen piece of New Zealand and the nearby Catholic Adisham monastery in Haputale where Benedictine monks reside, are what distinguish Ella from the rest of the scenic spots in the country.