Getting to the heart and soul of hilly Sri Lanka
In contrast to that mass of humanity, the hill country’s third great site, Horton Plains, is a secluded national park set on a curving plateau 25km from Ohiya, a spit-size village adjacent to the train tracks, where any of the guesthouses will arrange transportation to the park. There, thick emerald forests give way to wild grasslands reminiscent of the African savannah. At a spot known as World’s End, the plain suddenly drops off altogether and the view opens up through the mountains, stretching down 900m to the verdant tea plantations below, on clear days even revealing a sliver of the Indian Ocean 160km away — each geographical element of this remarkably diverse island suddenly lined up together.
Yet for all of the natural beauty of the hill country, its most memorable aspect may well be the journey itself. Waiting alongside the train tracks as the perennially late locomotive rumbles into hearing distance long before it arrives. Sitting on the edge of an overcrowded train car, feet dangling over the side as the green mountains take over and the picturesque coastline fades away. Grabbing lunch from salesmen who push their way through packed cars, offering hot samosas (deep fried pockets of pastry stuffed with chickpeas and vegetables) wrapped in someone’s reused geometry homework. Settling into a seat as day turns to night and twilight adds a mischievous element to the ride, with a burst of hooting and hollering breaking out each time the train passes through a darkened tunnel. When it emerges, flashes of lightening illuminate the hills and valleys — lighting up Horton Plains, the peak of Sri Pada and the never-ending tea plantations.