Driving over the Top of Sri Lanka

The mountains of central Sri Lanka rise like alluring misty visions from the flat farm lands that ring the island.

There is nothing gradual about them…it is a sudden, continuous steep climb to the tea towns at the top and a rapid, tortuous descent on the other side. Fabulous for driving!

Approaching from the north east, our first stage was to leave the rice paddies and the climb to Kandy up the famous 18-switchback-road.

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From there the climb continues gradually but relentlessly along continuous hairpin turns skirting 5 mountain valleys with spectacular vistas to approach Kandy valley. For me, the driver, the vistas are flashes of grandeur between clogged traffic – I can’t afford to divert my attention for a second and there is no shoulder to pull off onto. I ask navigator Annie to keep snapping photos.

Stopping in Kandy, we parked the car for 2 days. Driving and parking in Kandy borders on impossible, so we tuktuked around and found many things about Kandy to be beautiful. But then it was time to move on.

We headed towards Nuwura Eliya, and it seemed urbanization stretched for miles until suddenly, there was no human habitation.

We climbed continuously, and stopping for lunch, assessed the hanging valley just ahead? Where on earth did the road go??? Was there a tunnel? Nope. Now the climbing really began – narrow little road, constant twisting and steep inclines, buses rushing up behind to overtake us, buses roaring down at us in our lane at the turns..it was nerve-wracking but thrilling. I feel so alive when we’ve survived a day like that!

Nuwara Eliya was a huge disappointment – dirty and cold and dated.

There are fine tea plantations set amongst poor villages, and the sense of exploitation hangs over the tea and tourism industries.

I thought the blossoms were the best part of Nuwara Eliya, and Annie was inclined towards to golf course…. but it was starting to rain…and turning colder!

Two nights huddled under huge comforters were enough for us!

At the top of Sri Lanka’s mountains, for hikers and outdoors enthusiasts there are great trails and parks to explore. Unquestionably, there is great natural beauty throughout the highlands – cascading waterfalls, bottomless valleys, prominent peaks, scarlet flowering trees, terraced tea plantations, endless and total green scapes.

But we had to focus on our rally road, shifting to low gear so as not to tax the gears going up or burn out the brakes going down. Annie – keep snapping photos please.

I had all manner of distractions…

Eventually we arrived at Ella, a main street of restaurants for tourists who take the train trip from Kandy – billed as one of the most spectacular in the world. We have concluded that the drive from Kandy to Ella and beyond is one of the more spectacular in the world too!

We still had miles to go, so switching to low gear, we began the massive descent to the coast on the south side of the mountains. In a few places, we were convinced we’d taken the wrong road when around a corner, the 2 lanes became only one with jagged shoulders and muddy puddles. But a few kms further on, it was back to 2 with painted lines – still no shoulders. It was always very challenging to find a stopping place.

Down we went, Annie counting stupas 101, 102, …

Down and down through constant hairpin twists and congested villages and suddenly, it was over.

Flat rice paddies and lakes stretched before us and we were on our way to the beaches of the south.

We’d covered approximately 400 kms, climbed up to 1870 meters above sea level at Nuwara Eliya, then descended like rally drivers. And our brakes were still intact!

5 thoughts on “Driving over the Top of Sri Lanka

  1. 18 Bends Road. Wow! It makes the Crookedest Street in the World in San Francisco seem like amateur hour! 🙂 Sage Scott, the Everyday Wanderer

  2. Fun post. Brought back memories of being in Sri Lanka. we hired a driver–weren’t ready for the adventure of driving the roads and all the passing and beeping.

  3. You are brave to drive around in Sri Lanka! I am from India so I know crazy driving but even then. The 18 Bend Road sure is something. Also, I agree with you about the tea plantation and exploitation comment. This is something you find even in northeast of India as well

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