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  • Writer's picturebella-illenberger

Sri Lanka - Horton Plains, Kandy& Cultural Triangle

Updated: Feb 1

We buy tickets for the train direction Kandy which is a very popular train ride to do especially if you are on the hunt for the perfect Instagram pic. We choose to get the second class unreserved tickets which mean you don’t have a seat but have to stand or sit on the floor. We are lucky to get a space right at the door so we can stand and enjoy the view

Um 8.30 steigen wir in den berühmten Zug Richtung Kandy. Obwohl wir ein Ticket zweiter Klasse genommenen haben, sind sehr viele Touristen im Abteil, die offensichtlich nur hier sind, um ein Bild von sich aus der Zugtüre hängend zu machen. Wir stehen in der Tür und müssen alle paar Minuten Platz machen für das nächste „Model“. An der nächsten Station steigen die meisten wieder aus, um mit dem Taxi zurück nach Ella zu fahren — eine seltsame Entwicklung.

Another pre sunrise alarm is set to go to the Horton Plains the next morning. The Horton Plains are a plateau set up on the top of the mountains at just over 2000m. After we climb the narrow and winding road up through eucalyptus forest the trees suddenly break way and we are presented with a breathtaking sunrise. We arrive at the Plains and start our hike through thick mist which is slowly evaporated by the rising sun in our backs. We hike through wet native jungle forest and reach our first stop, the World’s End Drop, the edge of the plateau which suddenly falls away and offers views far over the surrounding peaks and valleys.


Dressed nice and warm

Morning dew

World's End Drop

We have a quick breakfast and continue, now out of the forest along the flat grassy plains spotted with rhododendron bushes which will start to bloom in March/April. We pass rivers, natural pools and waterfalls but unfortunately swimming is forbidden in the park. Instead of booking a Tuktuk for the approx 15km stretch back out of the park we decide to carry on by foot and do not regret it. The afternoon mist rolls in and we are plunged into a dark and very moody surrounding. We spot some deer grazing in the distance and an indian brown mongoose. We also come across three rangers with a camera to be envious of, telling us they spotted a leopard and her two half grown cubs on that exact spot the day before. We hike a little faster and more silent from there on, peering into the forest and glancing over our shoulders as we go, half fearing, half hoping to spot a hopefully not so hungry leopard. Sadly, we don’t. Back down the serpentine road into the valley we come across a family of purple-faced langur who seem as interested in us as we are in them. A detour to Devils Staircase Waterfall and back ends our hike with an almost 40kms and we collapse into bed, legs shaking but with a beautiful experience to remember.

Typical Horton Plains Landscape

Rhododendron Bush

Tempting Water

Afternoon Mist rolling in

Hiking back down

Purple Faced Langur

We jump back onto the train for our destination of Kandy, the last capital of the ancient kings era of Sri Lanka. We explore the city and spend a day wandering through the Royal Botanical Gardens with huge collections of palm trees, bamboo, succulents, orchids and many other species.

Ein Stück weiter stolpern wir in ein Shopping-Center und in eine Welt, die so gar nicht zum Rest der Stadt passt und die die Einheimischen vorsichtig erkunden. Wir sehen Menschen, die zum ersten Mal einer Rolltreppe begegnen und die ein Aufseher zum ersten Schritt ermutigen muss. Im obersten Stock befinden sich eine Reihe futuristischer VR-Fahrgeräte, vor denen sich große Gruppen Schaulustiger versammelt hat. Ein Sri Lankaner sitzt in einem um 360 Grad drehbaren Stuhl und sieht eine Achterbahnsimulation durch die verschneiten Gipfel der Alpen, die ihm hörbar einiges abverlangt.

Royal Botanical Gardens

From here on we take a local bus up to Habarana, which is in the center of the Cultural Triangle, an area in the central north known for its many World Heritage cultural sites of ancient cities.

Eigentlich wollen wir mit dem Roller schon vor Sonnenaufgang in Sigiriya sein, aber wir werden ausdrücklich vor den Elefanten gewarnt, die sich morgens und abends gerne auf den warmen Straßen aufhalten und auf Störungen aggressiv reagieren. Online lesen wir über einige Fälle, an denen Touristen wie auch Einheimische in dieser Gegend bei Konfrontationen mit wilden Elefanten tödlich verunglückten. Wir fahren also erst um 7.30 Uhr los und die Spuren der Tiere sind auf den Dschungel-Landstraßen allgegenwärtig, ihr Geruch liegt in der Luft.

Sigiriya steht für „Löwentempel“ und liegt auf und um einen markanten Monolith, den man schon aus weiter Ferne sieht. Die Anlage ist über 1500 Jahre alt, unten lag eine Stadt mit Gartenanlagen und Springbrunnen mit einem ausgeklügelten Wassersystem, auf dem Felsen waren die Palastgebäude vor Feinden geschützt. Zwischen zwei mächtigen Löwenpfoten beginnt die steile Treppe nach oben, der Aufstieg über das wackelige Gerüst ist heute schon abenteuerlich und die kleinen in den Felsen gehauenen Stufen deuten darauf hin, dass er früher noch deutlich halsbrecherischer war.

Sigiriya, Ancient Rock Fortress

Lions Gate, original steps can be seen in the white part of the rock, just above the darker paw

Irrigation System Pools


Am Nachmittag sehen wir uns Ritigala an, eine Klosterruine, die vom Dschungel überwachsen ist. Mit dem Roller folgen wir der Route vom Google Maps über kleine Lehmstrassen und Dörfer. Wir sind eindeutig im Elefanten-Territorium, denn die Häuser und Felder sind alle von Elektrozäunen und Warnsytemen aus aufgehängten Arrack-Flaschen umgeben. Zwei Locals begegnen uns auf dem Weg und nach einem kurzen „No. Danger. Elliphants“ wird uns von unserer Route abgeraten und sie weisen uns den richtigen Weg. Wir erreichen Ritigala zum Glück sicher und ohne Elefanten-Begegnung.

Ritigala Ancient Buddhist Monastery

We stay in Habarana but move accommodation and book into a little freestanding wood hut which is built onto of a mud-hut structure. We are quite far away from Habarana Town, and bordering Huluru Eco Park, known for its wild elephant population. We are surrounded by nature (and critters) and enjoy sitting on the balcony of our little house, overlooking rice fields and on towards the jungle, listening to the cries of peacocks and other birds. Our host is adamant in briefing us about the fact that elephants do roam here especially at night and that we are not to go „Jungle-side“ as we explore. We stick to the fields and along the train tracks which runs along the jungle. Until the wind turns and the smell hits us like a brick. Elephant. We turn on our heels and march back the way we came, out of the jungle.

Between the house and the national park is a little hill with huge boulders that form a lookout over the jungle. We make it a custom to sit here for sundowners and listen to the jungle wakening after sunset. The darker it gets the louder and more chilling the sounds get, long howls and sharp cries, squawks and finally, the screaming of a very angry sounding Elephant.

Our Accommodation

Resident Hornbill

Market Goods

View into the Junlge

We spend a day exploring another ancient city, this time Pollonnaruwa, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century. The area is so big that you have to rent a bicycle to be able to see all the different sights. Unfortunately it is bucketing with rain but we manage to catch a few dry minutes to snap some photos and just succumb to being drenched.

We are loving the „Safari Culture“ in this area and book two more Game Drives in the bordering National Park „Hurulu“ in which a local heard of elephant migrate through during the months of December and January. The first drive is shockingly flooded with jeeps, as we experienced in Yala, and even though we spot many elephants, it is hardly enjoyable with the noise and chaos of the 50+ other jeeps rearranging themselves to offer their loud and shouting tourists the best view for a selfie. We talk to our driver and persuade him that we enter the park in the morning, before the 2pm rush in which most jeeps enters because supposedly the elephants are most active in the afternoon. We are made aware that we might not see elephant in the morning but we explain that it is more important to us to have a peaceful time in the park and concentrate on the surroundings and other animals and birds. We leave at the break of dawn the next day and are lucky enough to bump into a big heard of elephants with their young and spend a peaceful and quiet hour watching them silently move through the bush and the babies mock fighting each other. As we hoped, the competition of finding elephants fades and our guide takes his time pointing out elephant tracks, beautiful rock and tree formations and birds to us along the way.

We come across another little group of elephants and are 100% happy with the decision to have taken the risk and set of earlier. This will most likely become more and more known in the years to come and the blissful morning hours will be a thing of the past. It’s a problem in organization. Everyone with a jeep in whatever condition can offer game drives to negotiable prices and most of the jeeps only have 2 people, even though there is space enough for up to 8. Thus the amount of cars in the park could be easily halved if there was a central platform to book your tour and for the cars to be filled up, with more expensive options for those who want a private drive.

Walked up a little Koppie for a view

Yesterdays rain leaving puddles

Sri Lanka Green Pigeon

Mock fighting

Picturesque Peacock

Very nervous Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka's National Bird

Mom and Baby

Our time on Sri Lanka is coming to an end and we have 2 more days in the capital of Colombo before we catch out flight to Bangkok to start the next leg of the trip, the north and south of Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia…

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Feb 01

Fascinating tonread your blog while sittingbin Zim 😃 Thrilling accounts as well as sublime photographs from you both ! A perfect collaboration, well done 🤗💖 🙌


Jan 31

Wie immer ein super Bericht und tolle Fotos! Besonders auch die Früchte auf insta. Schon gleich die ersten 4 Wochen vorbei - nicht zu glauben!


Jan 31

Die Elefanten sind offenbar die dominanten Lebewesen auf Sri Lanka – das möge so bleiben. Danke für die eindrucksvollen Bilder und Berichte. 🐘 🐘 🐘

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