Do as a Local, Walk the Railway Line From Ella to Demodara in Sri Lanka’s Beautiful Hill Country.
When my son was little, his grandmother told him to say, “The devil made me do it”, whenever he was in trouble. What, you might ask, is the connection between walking a railway line in the hills of Sri Lanka and a grandmother teaching her grandson how to get out of trouble? Read on to connect the dots and discover a path less travelled.
When staying in Sri Lanka’s pretty hill town of Ella with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister decided it would be an adventure to walk the 3 kilometres along the railway line from Ella to the iconic Nine Arch Bridge. From there, we would choose whether to walk back to Ella or continue a further 3.5 kilometres along the railway line to Demodara train station, catching the Kandy-Colombo train back to Ella.
With all in agreement and knowing the expected time the train departs Demodara, we set off at 8.20 am after an early breakfast for our possible 6.5-kilometre walk.
Just after stepping onto the railway line near our hotel, we were confronted with the sign, ‘WALK ON THE RAILWAY LINE IS PROHIBITED’. I immediately decided that when stopped by the railway police, I was going to tell them, “The devil made me do it”. I wonder how well this translates into Sinhala or Tamil? If that didn’t work, I was going to blame my sister, the hotel manager, and guidebooks because they all suggested this escapade – a “must do” in Ella, to do as the locals do.
I stopped worrying about ending up in a Sri Lankan prison when about 5 metres further down the line there was a sign advising that walking the railway line was dangerous. Evidently, the authorities had given up telling people that walking the line was prohibited. I relaxed. ‘Dangerous’ I can handle, but ‘prohibited’ went against my ‘good’ girl nature.
However, ‘dangerous’ became a not-so-friendly companion again upon entering a tunnel that was impossible to see any light coming from the other end. Blindly feeling my way through the tunnel with my feet against the railway track, I wondered aloud what action should be taken in the event of a train coming whilst we were in the tunnel. Luckily, my brother-in-law had been thinking ahead and consulted with our hotel manager to find out when we might come face-to-face with the train from Kandy on the Nine Arch Bridge.
Feeling relatively safe in the knowledge I was not about to be squished by a train, the walk through the tunnel became a devil-may-care adventure filled with excess adrenaline running rampant through my body. I wasn’t convinced I was doing something entirely legal in a foreign country.
I may not have felt quite so safe and would definitely have run out of adrenaline had I known the tunnel exits right on Nine Arch Bridge.
The Nine Arch Bridge, a popular tourist attraction, spans a deep gorge and is surrounded by a vision of green, with tropical forests interspersed with tea plantations. And so-called because it has nine arches or spans. Very imaginative! At 91.44m (300ft) long, 7.62m (25ft) wide and 24.38m (80ft) high, this railway bridge is deemed to be an engineering marvel as it is made entirely of rocks, bricks and cement without a single piece of steel. Not knowing anything about engineering, I must concur with the experts. The bridge’s height and all those arches, plus the environment in which it exists, make it an impressive bridge and worth plugging as a tourist attraction.
We had timed our arrival at the Nine Arch Bridge to watch the 9.15 am train from Kandy cross the bridge.
Everything you read about Sri Lankan trains advises you they rarely run on time. However, this one was on time and came down the line just after we crossed the bridge. Stepping off the tracks, I expressed our expert timing with an enthusiastic wave to the driver and all the passengers.
The Nine Arch Bridge is the midway point between Ella and Demodara stations. Having gotten this far, we decided to continue our walk along the railway line to Demodara to catch the 10.40 am train back to Ella. Now I was on a mission to reach Demodara in time to catch that train as I was not walking the 6.5 kms back to Ella.
Please Note: The Sr Lanka train timetable has altered since I visited Ella. The 10.40 am train I caught now leaves Demodara at 10.55 am, and the changed timetable impacts the arrival time of the earlier train at Nine Arch Bridge.
We made it to Demodara by 10.20 am but weren’t allowed to purchase our train tickets immediately, being told to wait until 10 minutes before the train was due. No explanation was forthcoming as to why this was so. However, as Demodara was such a pretty station, with its many potted flowering plants lining the platform, we were happy to wait to be ‘allowed’ to buy our train tickets. When I did front up to the ticketing window, I thought I had misheard when asked to pay 30 Sri Lankan rupees (the equivalent of 30 Australian cents) for three one-way tickets from Demodara to Ella (10c each). I was so impressed with how cheap the trip was that I also bought my sister and brother-in-law their tickets.
The train was practically empty. Not what I had expected, which made choosing a seat difficult due to too much choice. Which seat would give me the best view of the scenery as it passes by outside the window? Ultimately, I chose to stand in the doorway like a local.
The train ride, although short-lived, was fun and the highlight of my day. Anyone would think I have never ridden a train before!
Guidebooks publicise the walk along the railway line as a must-do activity in Ella. However, we came across no other tourists except at the bridge itself. Is it too far off the beaten track for most tourists? We were the only non-locals walking the line. I had to smile whenever we passed a makeshift stall by the rail tracks – Sri Lankans cater to people’s needs wherever they can!
To my surprise, the walk was effortless. It was flat all the way, and you get into a rhythm as you lope from sleeper to sleeper. The endless views of tea plantations, tropical vegetation, valleys, and mountains made for a pleasant walk. And the company was good too – not one disagreement!
Visiting the Nine Arch Bridge is touted as a must-do attraction in Sri Lanka. You can get to the Bridge by taking a tuk-tuk from Ella or walking through the jungle. Or do as the locals do and walk along the railway line. Take the path less travelled.
Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in January 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.
© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.
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