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It was about 9 AM when we reached the starting point of the hike, and of course we were too late for any hike, as first hikers were already starting to return, and so were also the clouds. But still, we had about 1 hour of good light for more birds.


Horton Plains

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Long line of cars parked along the road

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Sri Lanka White-eye

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On the trail

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Green Forest Lizard

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Some wild flowers

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Resident Sambar Deer

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Although we have been clear that leopard is not our main target, it could be visible in the looks of both the driver and Prasanna that they were keen to show us one. As the shadows started to become l

Bigger than Barking Deer is the Sri Lankan Axis Deer, or Ceylon Spotted Deer. This male was a majestic exemplar.   Bigger mammals also means bigger raptors. Close-up of a Crested Serpent Eagle.

Lizards are always interesting photo subjects; the problem is, some of them will display all their colours while others will try their best to use their camouflage as best as they can.   Green Fores

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On our way back we stopped at Pattipola 1897 m asl where the before mentioned railway station is, for a well deserved coffee break.


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Driving slowly down towards Nuwara Eliya we made a few more stops for birding, with not that good results results, but either way, we have enjoyed this tour very much.


A wind farm in Sri Lanka

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More tea plantations

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Me and Nimal

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In the afternoon we took our car to the town of Nuwara Eliya, to try our luck birding in the Victoria Park. One thing has to be said. Foreign tourists have to pay for everything, even to enter the local parks (OK, locals have to pay also but their prices are only a fraction of what foreigners have to pay). I mean, I do understand to pay a ticket to visit the botanical garden, or national park, but to pay the entry ticket for walking through Tivoli in Ljubljana?!

 

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Anyway, we were told that here is the best chance to find Indian Pitta; none decided to show themselves to us. From the look of the birds one can easily understand that Nuwara Eliya is a cold place.

 

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Indian Pond Heron

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House Sparrow

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Sri Lanka White-eye

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Common Myna

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Oriental Magpie Robin

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Another flower shot to add more colours tot his report.

 

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We had the late lunch/early dinner in a small diner in town. Nothing to write home about, but we also did not have any side effects so I have to say the food was OK. One more night and we were ready to leave what at the end was the only slight disappointment of our travel in Sri Lanka.

 

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Gilgamesh

"The very attractive building" as you described is part of the temple, a place of worship for Hindus. The top structure is called 'Koburam'. Most temples have this structure.

 

All the photographs were wonderful and a very nice trip report.

 

Enjoyed seeing the street scenery too. Lots of fascinating details for me. Was that Tea factory still in operation?

 

Are you sure it was Durian fruit and not jackfruit, which is very popular in Sri Lanka.

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@@Gilgamesh

 

Thanks for your description, and please excuse my ignorance :( .

 

The one on the way up to Kandy, it looked not in operation. But have not stopped to inspect it. There were others along our route, in similar "shape" but were operational. And of course there were also those more modern ones. We have skipped any tea factory tour, as I have seen it in Malaysia already.

 

Yes, I am sure it was durian, We have seen many stalls along the road selling it. As in Malaysia also in Sri Lanka vendors are being "forced" to sell it outside of populated areas. And Zvezda did not allow me to even stop by, less so to buy one and to put it in the car :) . And I am quite sure also kissing her would be out of question for another 12 months :P .

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Gilgamesh

There's nothing to excuse, your description was fine. I just knew more about it and thought I'd mention it. No offense taken at all.

 

I've only heard about Durian fruit on the food channel, where this guy who eats anything (I mean anything, bugs, fermented foods of all sort, weird local delicacy etc.) cannot stand Durian fruit. I've never smelled it or tasted. From the sounds of it, the price you'd pay is too steep to try....good call, my friend. :)

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8/8 - 11/8 – Nuwara Eliya & Ella (continued)

 

 

The morning of our departure welcomed us with a bright sun and warm weather so our mood improved. Our first stop was at Hagkala Botanical Gardens not far from Nuwara Eliya. It is one of five botanical gardens in Sri Lanka, and it is positioned at the highest elevation. Made on the slope of the hill it has very nice walking trails. Birds were absent but monkeys were present in force. Also interesting was that a newlywed couple came there to get their wedding photos done in really nice environment.

 

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The Purple Faced Leaf Monkey (aka "brkonja") is what many are visiting this botanical park for. It is a special subspecies (yet I cannot tell the difference between different subspecies).

 

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And our first sighting of a snake. A long one, but probably non-venomous, probably an Oriental Rat Snake.

 

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In addition to Purple Faced, also Toque Macaque can be found here. Very playful monkeys, they certainly are.

 

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Continuing our drive we lost some altitude quite quickly. Ella lies at 1041 m asl, about 840 m lower than Nuwara Eliya. While the Nuwara Eliya was damp and cold, Ella was sunny and dry. Our room also looked much more inviting, with a nice balcony overlooking Ella Gap. The name of this homestay is Lucky Star Ella, and as many other homestays (i.e. locally owned accommodations of various size) started with renting one spare room in the main house, then constructed a separate building or adding more rooms to the original one, depending on land availability. This one also was a »work in progress« with 4 more rooms just finished, and they were both bigger and more modern equipped that the one we got. Yet, here we did enjoy our room, and specially the balcony and the whole host family. Again I have parked the car and did not use it till our departure.

 

Our room

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View from the balcony

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Garden view from a nearby lodge

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Ella Gap

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Yet another tea plantation

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Main activities here are hiking up to Little Adam's Peak, and to Ella Rock, and to Nine Arches Bridge. We haven't done any those hikes ourselves, yet we did walk down to Ella town (and used tuktuk for return) and also hiked the road from our house, for birding purposes. Ella is also the train station on the "must do" train ride from or to Kandy. As a "hiking metropole" Ella attracts mainly younger folks, and backpackers. The vibe is so much different than the vibe in Nuwara Eliya.


One of many relaxed cafes

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Arriving by train

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Ella train station

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Arriving by bus

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Yet another PO box

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Rare colourful sunset in Sri Lanka

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The whole time the weather was perfect. We have very much enjoyed our time in Ella, exploring around, taking many photos, meeting some very funny fellow travellers, and have enjoyed excellent (and expensive) cappuccino at newly opened Barista Lavazza in town (lately we have found this also in Galle). Although we have not even tried to hike any of the local attractions, two days have passed by quickly. It was one of those stops that, although without any special highlight, will remain as a memorable time spent close to nature and locals.

 

Sunrise was as good as the sunset

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Acrobat on the wire

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Scally-breasted Munia

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Train to Ella

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Walking the road

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Another acrobat on the wire

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Zvezda has had her duties

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Brown-headed Barbet

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Grizzled Giant Squirrel

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Sunset over Ella Rock

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I'm truly enjoying this report, the birds, the animals (that Purple Faced Leaf Monkey is beautiful), the general views, sunrise and sunsets, the glimpse of a place and people so far away, so exotic...

Driving seems "challenging", I'm not sure we would be so adventurous....could you visit with several bases where you would spend 3-4 nights in each place and pre-arranged transfers between them?

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@@xyz99

 

Using car&driver is by far the most used way to travel in Sri Lanka. And yes, using a driver for one-way leg is not only possible but also better than have the same one the whole trip.

 

They will all charge per km, with a minimum daily km (100-150 km). Plus you need to pay for the driver's room&food. Many bigger hotels and lodges has driver quarters, and their room&food is already included in the price of your room. Others not, and a separate 2500 LKR per night has to be given to driver. He will then arrange his own room&food. The usual price per km on round trip is 50 LKR/km, and 80 LKR/km for one-way transfers. For one-way transfers you do not need to pay for the room&food even if you will arrive late night at your destination.

 

Out of 20 days rented, our car was unused for 8 days; and on a similar itinerary as ours, using one-way transfers is surely more affordable than having a driver for all 20 days. There is a web site that has a "calculator" to find which one is better:

https://srilankacaranddriverhire.com/trip-cost-calculator/ . On that same web site there are some really good advices also. It was not available when I have prepared my trip. Not that I would change my mind about self driving ;) .

 

Every lodge manager/owner/host will be able to find you a reliable driver (as much as a Sri Lankan can be a reliable driver on the road :D ) so yes, using separate drivers for each leg would be my recommendation if not willing to drive yourself.

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Great info, @@xelas and very encouraging. It seems much more doable than a self drive, I am not as brave as Zvezda :)

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Peter Connan

Really liked today's posts Alex!

 

I see Zvezda could easily become a wedding photographer too (not that I had any doubt about that anyway). And the view from the balcony! Wow!

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12/8 - 14/8 – Tissamaharama / Yala NP and Bundala NP



Leaving Ella we felt a bit sad, not only because we had such good time there, but also because we knew we were leaving behind cool nights and were entering into the hot&humid parts of lowland Sri Lanka. On the other hand, we were thrilled to meet our new friend Prasanna again, for two very busy days of safari with birding.


Last morning these two photos were taken. The dove and the girl ... both so gracious. Lankans are taking care of their hygiene, although tap water is not available at each village. Along this road, they have still used the "communal washing point", not only to wash the clothes but also to bath. And all over Sri Lanka we have seen folks or washing the clothes or themselves in lakes, rivers, canals, ...


Spotted Dove

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Local girl

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Our drive was downward all the way. Some sections were steep, and others road was still not enlarged, but generally our drive was without any problems.


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We have stopped at Ravana Falls, as many others. Quite a busy place, some folks were taking time to refresh themselves in the clear waters, others were just hanging around.


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Tissamaharama is certainly a more modern town of those we have seen. It caters mainly for those foreign tourists that are visiting either Yala NP either Bundala NP ... or both, as we did. Our hotel, Neem Villas is located outside of town, and close to Tissa Lake. It looks like Tissa Lake is a popular spot for locals; we have seen plenty of smaller buses parked along the road, and people having picnic along the lake. The lake itself is quite big,


View of Tissa Lake

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The room

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The toilet

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The garden

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The pool

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Each country has its own "toilet specifics". Some places in Costa Rica requires that toilet paper is not flushed down but thrown in a basket. In Malaysia a water jug/pitcher was standing by. And in Sri Lanka, there was a hose. At first I have not used it (toilet paper was always supplied) but later on, I have found it quite useful!
Edited by xelas
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After checking in, there was still time for short drive around the lake, in search of local birds and other photo opportunities. It was a hot and sun shined bright on a very white and very large Thissamaharama Stupa, so we decided to stop there first. Also here shoes has to be taken off, and hats also. Although the structure is really big, there is no inside hall or room, only shrines on the outside perimeter.

 

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After this brief cultural visit we have jumped in the car, increased the A/C to full power, and drove around the lake, looking for some refreshment. I was ready to follow this herd of water buffalo ... they obviously knew what was the right place to be :) !

 

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Next stop was by a tree with Grey Langur monkeys. The light was as harsh as it can be, yet Zvezda was able to get some decent shots.

 

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Rice fields everywhere you look.

 

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And for the end of this day, another photo of Green Bee-eater.

 

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@@xelas

I am really enjoying your report - the cultural sites, normal life, landscapes and the wildlife. Keeping giving us the details - it brings back a lot of memories. The view from your Ella room is superb.

 

 

@@xyz99 whn we went (a long time ago) we did a mixture. We we did some bits with one way transfers and we also hired a driver and vehicle for a few days when a "circuit" made sense around some of the cultural sites. We had used him for a day trip, liked him and the way he drove and then booked him for a few days.

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Thanks Tony, sounds like a good mix. We use transfers arranged by our lodges/hotels when we feel we don't really need a car each day, and just hire guides for the day when we feel we need them. We did this in Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras...but we've never been in Asia (yet), thus my ignorance in the area. But I'm learning...I think a SE Asia trip is in our future :)

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pedro maia

I hadn´t made any comments yet but I´m following and enjoying a lot this report.

 

Sri Lanka is on my "radar" although not as a priority but if I get to go there I´ll seriously think about self drive, which is a must for me and before this TR I didn´t think it was really a good option in Sri Lanka.

 

Alex, your wife´s photos are great as usual, not only the ones with wildlife, such as the sloth bear and the ellies which are among my preferred, but also those with roads and local life.

 

I get the impression that in Sri Lanka you don´t see the absolute poverty that (I think) is always present in India, is that correct?

 

Looking forward to the following chapters.

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Thanks for kind words and for following this TR, @@pedro maia ! Indeed, I have not noticed poverty as such in Sri Lanka. Also Zvezda, who has been to India, and have experienced what poverty looks like, said that they are very different countries in that department. It must also be because we have not been to the north, where recent war and tsunami have taken the tallest toll. But in general, poverty for sure exists but is not manifested as strong as one would expect.

 

The road infrastructure is improving by each year. And since local drivers (except bus drivers) do keep their speed below 60 km/h at all times, driving might look confusing at times but is not dangerous, as even the most critical situations are developing like in a slow motion, compared to European traffic.

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12/8 - 14/8 – Tissamaharama / Yala NP and Bundala NP (continued)

 

 

Yala NP is probably the most (in)famous of all National Parks in Sri Lanka. For sure it is the most visited one. Not only by many visitors overnighting near it, but also by those that came from nearby beach towns. Being at the gate/ticket office well before 6 AM is almost obligatory, and after we arrived, the reason for this became apparent. It must be that our driver sent one of his young cousins to stay in line already at 5 AM as we waited only about 30 minutes before entering the park. We have been picked up by our own naturalist Prasanna (who came all the way from Colombo to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with us one more time) and by his driver at 04:30 AM in the morning!

 

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Again, we had requested that searching for leopards should not be our priority here as well. Prasanna, who in the last two weeks has acquired a certain love towards birds, supported our idea. And thus, we spent another long, and during the midday also hot, but lovely day driving slowly around dirt tracks that criss-crossed the park, stopping at every photo opportunity. Already entering the park, and while others were speeding by, this lovely bird of prey welcomed us in a soft light.

 

Crested Hawk Eagle

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And at the first waterhole a striped-necked mongoose, the largest of the Asiatic mongoose family.

 

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Every small pond, lake, tank, etc has had something to keep us entertained. Like this Intermediate Egret having a breakfast:

 

Arriving at the table

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Looking at the menu

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Getting the ordered

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Frog-to-go

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Gray Langurs parading in front of our car:

 

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Edited by xelas
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