Kandy-Ella, arguably the world’s most scenic train journey! Take someone in this train journey and he or she will love you for life. And that’s what Nathan did when Z took him in this train journey. The first time we went to Ella was in a small goods train with one or two passenger compartments. This time, we reserved our seats in Colombo-Badulla Podi Menike train, popular as ‘the blue dragon’ among many. Sri Lankan trains have funky, hilarious yet fabulous names. Let’s talk about that in another post! (Also read: Why train is the best way to travel)
The train journey is nine hours long. Yet, along the way are cascades of waterfalls, tea plantations, herds of cattle, mini mountainous houses painted in bright pop up colours to keep you glued to this picturesque journey. We sat by the door, letting our feet out and often wondering that we were brought into some sort of a surreal heaven. (Also read: Off the beaten path: a stay at The Weir House)
And after 9 hours, we got off the train at Heel Oya Station, a tiny but beautiful, vintage-ish station before Kital Ella and Ella. From there, we took a tuk tuk to our destination as instructed by Simon before the journey. And then we arrived at Amba Estate – our home for a few days. And if we could, we’d call it home everyday.
Amba Estate is a beautiful guesthouse complex with a tea estate and a farm that support the local community and focus on self-sufficient and sustainable living. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Heel Oya (30 minutes from Ella) yet Amba is a hidden gem, away from the hustle-bustle of Ella. It’s as if the entire journey of nine hours is compact in one beautiful estate.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Baloo, Gus and Tiger, furry friends who call Amba their home. Baloo is the resident pooch, only a few weeks old but he’s a hefty fella who’d take your heart away. Gus is a fox-like nutter with so much life to him. Tiger’s the tiniest fella but the toughest of them all, and apparently Baloo’s companion, too.
Then, we were welcomed by Cindy, as Simon was away on a trip. She’s the most amazing host one could hope for and we bonded with Cindy in no time.
Our room at Amba was in the main building, an old tea bungalow. The main bungalow has four rooms. Ours had two twin beds. Each with comfortable mattress and soft duvets. And in one corner, there was a big wooden almirah. It’s as if you paid a visit to your grandma’s old home in Sri Lanka. Inside the living room, there were a few glass vases adorned with heliconia flowers. Tiny keepsake boxes and metal tins, kept on wooden tables, with painted embroidery-type patterns. Remember sugar plums, it’s the the little things. Amba is detail-oriented and we love it.
On our arrival, we have a cup of lemongrass iced tea, produced by Amba itself. And then we head to a viewpoint, a small walk uphill which gives you a breathtaking panoramic view of Ella and mountains beyond. Baloo guide us to the top, and sit with us, gazing at the beautiful nothingness as if it was one beautiful movie. Growing up, often, as kids, we dreamt of living the mountain life, even if it’s for a few days. And here, we are, today!
You, the person you love and an adorable pooch with the backdrop of the giant Ella Rock. If only our eyes could film what they see, it would have been one amazing movie. In a far corner, are layers and layers of mountains, mist-laden, and the sun bids goodbye for another day in paradise, painting skies above in soft hues. Days like these are what we live for.
As the dust settles, we walk back downhill with Baloo. Along the way are trees filled with Sri Lankan Pera, hailing from Guava family. It’s the first time Nathan ever had Pera and he’s overjoyed! Amba Estate has a big Pera and Lavulu plantation and the team are experimenting on new products based on these two Lankan fruits.
Dinner is served at the big dining table inside the main building. Everyone sits together to engage in a meaningful conversation. There’s no better way to bring strangers together than culinary experiences, right? And Amba does it the best! The dinner table was full of mouthwatering food prepared by Nalini and plenty of smiles. Dinner here is a three course menu. The first night we got Sri Lankan vadai as starters. It was followed by rice and curry with plenty of curry dishes. For dessert, we got a curd pudding with a ginger biscuit base. Nalini’s food is absolutely delicious. Nalini worked as a tea plucker in the estate. When Amba didn’t have a resident chef, the village ladies suggested Nalini as the best cook in the village. And that’s how she started her work as the chef at Amba! Her food is amazing. Despite that, she’s the sweetest lady you could ever meet. It’s lovely to see how a little compliment about her food brightens up her face as well. Besides, she introduced us to guava curry. Yep, we aren’t kidding. Being Sri Lankans ourselves, we’ve never had a guava curry before.
Oh, and we discovered Icelandic chocolate was pretty much the world’s best (according to Cindy). Have you ever had them?
The next morning we woke up to Amba breakfast. Beautiful country side farm breakfast. Fresh bread, baked right at the house, soft and creamy, accompanied with delicious passion fruit jam, ginger jam and marmalade. Amba has a small shop with their products like tea, jams and mosquito repellents made with Sri Lankan herbs. If you ever want to take a bit of Amba back home with you, that’s the place you want to visit. Fresh fruit, village curd mixed with Kithul treacle were followed by pipping hot dosai with sambal. And you get a good cup of freshly brewed morning chai, too. All home grown, fresh, organic food!
Soon after our breakfast, we hiked to Eagle’s Rock with Cindy where you get a beautiful panoramic view of Ella and beyond. In our previous trips, we’ve visited Ella before but Amba, hands down has the access to best hikes and viewpoints of Ella. At noon, we walked to Upper Ravana Falls with another guest who was staying at Clove Tree Cottage which belongs to Amba. You walk through Pera and tea plantations and cross a wooden bridge to get to these glorious waterfalls. Upper Ravana Falls are simply majestic. Make sure you bring your swimming costumes here. You can take a dip in this majestic natural bathing pool.
Our stay at Amba was one of the best trips we’ve ever had and if we could, we’d go back in a heartbeat. There’s so much to do in and around here and Amba partners are planning on making a retreat where you could stay one or two weeks, with yoga, meditation, homegrown tea and island’s some of the finest homegrown food. In future, there’ll be gorgeous open air cafe upon Ravana Falls to sit back, relax and watch the clouds go past Sri Lanka’s pristine mountains at Ella.
And with that, there’s nothing that you would not love about Amba: a gorgeous farm house stay with homegrown food and freshly brewed tea, breathtaking viewpoints and majestic Upper Ravana Falls. All mingled with love and care of the hosts, and the local community. Amba, a beautiful, beautiful home (away from home.)
Amba Estate focuses on self sufficient living, community development, environmental restoration and promoting mental well-being. There are three guesthouses at the moment: Amba Farmhouse (3 double bed rooms and 1 twin room), Eagle Rock Villa, a private home with 2 double bed rooms and 2 twin rooms, and Clove Tree Cottage with 1 triple bedroom, 1 double bed room and 1 twin bed room. Amba suggests you to reserve the whole house so you have all the privacy. But if you want, you can book one or any number of rooms as per your wish as well.
Things to see and do: At Amba, you can go on a tour around their organic farm and see the process of tea making and join a tea tasting session. You can hike to Eagle’s Rock, the viewpoint at Amba, Upper Ravana Falls and Ella Rock.
Excursions: You can take small trips to Lipton’s Seat in Bandarawela, Adisham Bungalow in Haputale, Buduruwagala Temple, Dova Temple and the covered bridge at Bolgoda.
How to get there: If you are using public transportation, train is the best way to get to Amba, nine hours from Colombo and six hours from Kandy. Make sure you reserve your tickets prior to your journey to avoid any hassle.
You can drive your own vehicle up to Amba or if you are coming with a driver, Amba can arrange driver accommodation with three meals a day.
We would like to thank Amba Estate for organizing our stay with them, but as always opinions are honest and entirely our own.