The Mountains Called...

Ceylon Safari Jun 22, 2022

On 05th of April 2022, out of the blue, unanswerable messages started to pop up, in the rather silent Ceylon Safari’22 official WhatsApp group. Questioning the unstable situation in Sri Lanka and it ended with yet another question, ‘Is social media banned in Sri Lanka?’.

Well, that was Sebastian from Romania. Concerned and curious as always hahaha. One of the many who we feared would never set foot in Sri Lanka. It was the day following the social media ban and island wide curfew. The day two enthusiastic foreign participants decided to cancel their participation. The day Ceylon Safari’22 would’ve heard its last heartbeat.

‘Can’t predict anything, we might have to call off the project’, was Vice President of International Service Avenue Rtr. Chamod Gihantha’s heartbreaking response, after five months of rigorous project planning. Everything seemed to collapse, including his dream to witness the project blossom after many wasted efforts in the past two years due to COVID-19.  

Meanwhile, the dollar crisis, fuel crisis, power crisis and political crisis along with many other crises snowballed into a general crisis in the island, only changing the situation from bad to worse. With low spirits, we were left with no choice but to activate our last resort. We personally asked each chosen foreign participant whether they would be willing to join the tour amidst all chaos and uncertainties. Surprisingly, we received loud ‘YES’s from three adventurous participants! That was enough fuel to spring Ceylon Safari’22 back to life hence it was officially decided to safely execute the tour with necessary precautions.

After a mini celebration, as the affair coordinator (Not that kinda affair you think!), the one who communicates with all tour participants, on 7th of April, 2022 (Literally 2 days prior to the trip) I released the good news mentioning everyone to start packing their bags. Thereafter, peaceful/ violent protests, skyrocketing inflation rates, kilometers-long fuel queues, hours-long blackouts, curfews or even if the world fell apart, Ceylon Safari’22 was ready and set for action. (Nothing was going to ruin my first semester vacation alright!)

Fast forward to 10th of April 2020, a rainy yet exciting Sunday, where we finally met face to face at Fort Railway Station, waiting for the first phase to kickstart. After some chit chat, the choo-choo night mail train left for Ella.

Slowly, the interior got colder and colder as the train followed the misty mountains and rocked us to sleep. With sleepy heads we opened our eyes the following day to witness one of the most rewarding sights ever. I kid you not, staring at the window was like watching an exotic movie. It was THAT entertaining. Peeping down I thought I saw teeming white rivers but nope, it was a thick curtain of mist, a cloud forest!

The sun levitating from the horizon almost felt magical. Wish it could have slowed down though. Then we mischievously yet cautiously stood, sat and gossiped on the footboard of the train (only if my dad knew!) to feel the warmth in the chilly breeze. Needless to say, this scenic sunrise at Ella was sufficient therapy to mentally prepare myself for the next semester.

Before we could say goodbye to the view, we got off at Demodara Station and walked along the railway track to Nine Arch Bridge. As we passed sprouting waterfalls amidst lush green forests, I managed to recall some forgotten French whilst chatting with my sweet French guru Rtr. Laure Le Roux from France.

After walking through a train tunnel with friendly bats, we finally reunited with Rtr. Michelle Jaramillo from Columbia and her escort, Mr. Worldwide Chamod Gihantha at Nine Arch Bridge. After hearing Michelle’s travel adventures and sipping a fresh king coconut at Nine Arch Bridge the crew walked. And walked. And walked. Aaaannd finally walked to our little home, the AC bus. It was indeed a wild warm up exercise for the next hike to Ella Rock. Luckily, since I was fasting due to Ramadhan I dodged the hike and joined my partner in crime Linoja, where we ended up testing TikTok in the middle of nowhere hahaha!

In the meantime, the resilient hikers said, “තව ටිකයි, තව ටිකයි'', and somehow managed to witness the breathtaking panoramic view at the summit.

An extravagant lodging with a picturesque balcony in the blurry hills… sounds fancy right? Well, that was the treat for all tired hikers, when we arrived at Bandarawela. Temperature? I don’t know. I was shivering as always from head to toe, whereas many like Linoja, Namina didn’t even need a sweater. Anyway, after a lateee latee late lunch facing the dark city, while my stomach was grumbling, I vividly remember how my roomies, Michelle and Laure were so exhausted that they even forgot their dinner and fell fast asleep.  

The following day was a dream come true for all tea addicts as they witnessed how plucked tea leaves were transformed into their morning tea sachets at Dambatenne Tea Factory. Consequently, we had a soaring tuk tuk ride through lavish tea plantations in search of Lipton’s Seat. Unquestionably, along the way our eyes were glued to the soothing landscapes that looked like paintings.

At Lipton’s Seat, the grandeur of upcountry was endlessly illustrated through the spectacular views, which everyone utilizes as the stage for many Instagram worthy pictures.
As usual Michelle, who simply can’t stop hugging whoever happens to cross her path, tried hugging old Uncle Lipton too. The other ladies of Ceylon Safari’22 followed her footsteps in misbehaving a lil bit with the old lad along with dozens of hilarious pictures.
Next, presenting to you our Mr. Prez Bimsara Somarathna, performing classical “රතැඟිලි දිගුකොට තේ දළු නෙළන…” moments. After which the crew had a freshly blended, warm cup of tea, facing the Ceylon Tea plantations itself, and set off to the next destination.

The architectural masterpiece located in the tranquil Haputale hills, Adisham Bungalow was journeyed eventually to mark the end of sightseeing for the day. Unfortunately, upon arrival at the accommodation, there was an unexpected blackout which lasted for hours, but no one was inconvenienced by this because our “mi amor” duo Laure and Michelle transformed the dark atmosphere to a memorable DJ dance party!

With “bună” or hi in Romanian, which I learnt thanks to Rtr. Sebastian-Ioan Giupană, the final day of phase one started off en route to Ambewela. We peacefully traversed the Ambewela Farm and observed the manufacturing process of dairy products. The team gazed at the serene green grassy mountains with grazing cattle while having a fresh cup of milk and delicate cheese (Except for me hehe). Nevertheless, it was another therapeutic moment to cherish.

The next stop was a not-so-late-lunch. Oh, it was spicy though. Never going to forget how Sebastian bravely tried chilli paste with rice and curry, kudos to you! However later we saw a slightly red Sebastian with a running nose, which is another story. Ultimately, “Little England” or Nuwara Eliya was toured while visiting two splendid waterfalls, St. Claire’s and Devon Falls.
Finally, to mark the end of this exhilarating phase our co-chair, official photographer and the collector of bills Namina Wijetunga delivered a sensational speech sharing his personal experience, which echoed in the heart of everyone in the bus.

One would say this journey was all about camaraderie, another may say adventure or maybe tranquility, but for me it was different. Regardless of our cultural, religious, academical, geographical differences and age gaps we grew as one big family. It was unity at its pinnacle.


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