Ella, The Land of a Captive Princess – අසිරිමත් ඇල්ල

Replete with Ramayana legend, the mystical hills of Ella are sure to share a piece of their folklore with the worthy traveller…

Ella, The Land of a Captive Princess

Ella, The Land of a Captive Princess

The Ella Gap is no secret destination for many Sri Lankans. Charms of the hill station with its breathtaking view from the British era motel aptly named ‘Grand Ella’ have impressed travellers for decades. However for many, Ella is but a stopover whenever on a longer journey, a short break for a refreshing cup of tea incorporated with images of a magnificent vista as a backdrop

Ella, however, offers much more for those who prefer a laid back holiday. From adventurous hikes along the verdant slopes to a casual walk along the railway track, if there was one word to describe the place, it would be “charming”

The fall

Ella, literally meaning ‘waterfall’ as its name suggests, is associated with one of the best known cascades in the country. The Ravana Ella falls is one of those rare treats for any traveller, with its ideal location along side a main road. The breathtaking majesty of the fall would usually be enough to enchant even the seasoned traveller, yet the legends and stories associated with this fall make it one of the best documented natural wonders of the country, firmly enshrined in folklore since time immemorial

The story of Rama and Sita is said to be older than recorded history in Sri Lanka. Whether it is the stuff of legend or has basis fact, the story is full of romance, valour betrayal and intrigue. According to the legend, the Indian princess Sita is abducted by the powerful ruler of Lanka called Ravana, and kept in captivity in the central hills of the country

Ravana, though depicted as a demon in the epic myth, has it that Sita was not harmed during her capture. Rama the hero of the epic and believed to be a reincarnation of the deity Vishnu is later convinced of the purity of his spouse even after the long years in the captivity of the demon king Ravana

Ravana Ella is firmly rooted in this ancient legend. It is named for the Lankan King Ravana and the story goes that Sita was held captive in the vicinity of the crashing cascade

Other more colourful stories also suggest that Sita herself bathed at the waterfall with her maids. Whether one wants to get lost in the mystery and wonder of ancient folklore or not, the fall bereft of legend and mystical allure is still a marvellous enough sight

Dropping in three distinct steps from the Ella gorge to the plains below, Ravana Ella is one of the widest cascades in the country. It still is surrounded by lush vegetation and wilderness, with little disturbance to its natural beauty. Except for adventurous local tourists who try to scale the precipice, some times at their own peril, there is little that has changed in the scenery of this most celebrated fall in the region

The cave

Travelling from Ella on the Wellawaya road, a small sign board marks the turn off to the Sita Cave, considered to be the abode of the princess in the Ramayana. The legend of the epic battle between Rama and Ravana goes that the Lankan King took his royal captive and fled to the Uva region from his capital of Ravana Kotte believed to be somewhere near modern day Nuwara Eliya, when Rama invaded the island along with his army. Here, it is said that Princess Sita was kept captive in a cave. Today that cave could be visited after a short hike of around 500 meters

The cave itself has very little evidence of the royal captive it is said to have imprisoned. However there has been a little archaeological work carried out at this place. Just as other caves with similar colourful legends have revealed far more scientifically important information regarding early human habitation of the country, the Sita cave might be such a treasure trove given that it is geologically a medium sized structure which would have been easily capable of sheltering several dozen primitive humans, long before the arrival of Sita. There might be little sign of Sita inside its dark hollows, but the cave named for the Indian princess offers a wonderful hike through shrub forests with some great views of the Ella Gorge along one of its precipices

The road

The A23 better known as the Ella-Wellawaya Road is considered by some as the most scenic motorway in the country. Whether that is the case or not, it can definitely be said that the road offers some of the greatest contrasts in scenery in the shortest distance. If one starts the journey from the Ella end, a couple of kilometres along the road, the Ella gap comes into view. The best place to observe the gap is from the Grand Ella Motel. From its gardens one can even see the southern seas on a clear day and the flat plains of Wellawaya and beyond. Commencing at Ella, situated roughly 1000 meters above sea level the road makes a rapid decent to Wellawaya which is just a few meters above sea level, all this in a span of 30 kilometres. Along the way, the road winds down the Ella Gorge passing the Ravana Ella falls. Starting from the cooler climes of the central hills the road takes you to the dry and arid plains of Wellawaya

The track

First day Cover of 2014 stamp celebrating the engineering marvel of Demodara Bridge and Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata

The engineering marvel of Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata

The upcountry railway track holds a charm that is all its own. A few of its great engineering masterpieces are just a few kilometres along the railway track from Ella. The six kilometre walk from Ella station to the next stop on the line at Demodara is a lazy but fulfilling adventure. Along the way, there are a few railway tunnels and some amazing bridges, all built during the British era. The most grandiose bridge among them is the Nine Arch Bridge, the longest spanning railway bridge on the upcountry line. The Demodara station itself is an unique piece of engineering unparalleled anywhere else in the country. Better known as the Demodara loop the station is in fact situated right on top of a tunnel

The track which goes through the tunnel then ascends in a loop to the Demodara station. This feature however is not visible when travelling on the train and is better fathomed when walked along the track itself. After reaching Demodara the best way to get back to Ella is to catch a train from Badulla, failing which there are three wheelers and buses on the main road which would take you back to Ella

Where to stay

Ella remains a sleepy town, sparsely populated and quiet to the point of being vaguely spooky at twilight. The place has a few decent accommodation options with the best and most sought after being the Grand Ella Motel, the rest house which put this sleepy town on the tourist map. Several other decent hotels have sprouted alongside the main Motel. Ravana Heights and Alta Vista are few of these places which offer decent accommodation at reasonable prices. There are also several other family run businesses.

By Theja De Silva
The Nation EYE

Also See

Map of  Ella

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Travel Directions to Ella

Route from Colombo to Ella

Route from Galle to Ella

Through : Ratnapura – Balangoda – Beragala – Haputale
Distance : 198 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : See on Google Maps
Through : Tangalle – Hambantota – Thanamalvila – Wellawaya
Distance : 239 km
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : See on Google Maps
© www.amazinglanka.com
First Published : March 24, 2009
Last updated: September 21, 2014
Posted in Destinations Tagged with: , , ,
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