The trip planning was slightly muddled. We had decided what we wanted to do at the start, and at the end, and we had to work out a way to meet in the middle. We tried to plan to do the walk up Adams Peak but wed not been able to book a hotel near there for sure, though this wouldnt have been any problem. In the end we took a fancy to an interesting road near Belihul Oyu serendipity indeed, as this was the highlight of the cycling.
We booked all hotels in advance though this wouldnt have been necessary. Hotels on the coast seemed to be getting booked up but the ones inland were not all full.
It has to be said that the weather we had was not as good as expected.
There are busy main roads and less busy roads and quiet narrow roads. Roads can be new and smooth or half destroyed by floods or landslides. Sometimes we found it hard to plan a route without including some main road but perhaps a longer and better thought out tour could have done so. It appears that some organised tour groups use main roads. It would have been great to find routes linking tea-estate tracks, but these arent mapped and may be private.
Route-finding was often tricky as the invention of the signpost is treated with some suspicion. Fortunately Sri Lanka is liberally supplied with helpful people at every road junction.
The food is good. The default curry and rice lunch is a number of varied vegetable curries; you can have meat or fish as well. Breakfast local-style is string hoppers (rice vermicelli) with potato curry and dhal.
Sigirya and Polonnaruwa
In the afternoon we rode to Royal Cave Temple. Theres a small modern temple near the road and from here theres a wonderful lost-world climb up jungle-covered flights of steps between rocks, up to a brick-built reclining Buddha. From here its possible to clamber to the summit though we didnt try this because it was a little wet.
We did the somewhat scary Sigiriya rock fortress the next morning, and rode to Giritale in the afternoon. The obvious route is to pick the minor road through Gallinda that meets the A11 just east of Habarana. This is not signposted and you have to ask, and you have to ask more than one person. The minor road is lovely and narrow and quiet; the main road to Giritale new, smooth and tolerable as main roads go but a little more of a chore than a pleasure. It is fairly flat here.
Fri 4 Jan 2013: 47km, 212m ascent. Hotel Deer Park.
Sat 5: 43km, 188m.
Matale and Kandy
From Giritale theres a minor road through Elahera, flat at first following a canal and climbing towards the end where it meets the main road at Naula.
There are plenty of places for lunch on the main road.
Sun 6: 82km, 696m
Mon 7: 59km, 616m
We had a so-called rest day and the weather decided to be nice. Villa Rosa doesnt have a pool so we had to go cycling. We muddled our way to do the three-temples loop : Galadeniya, Lankatilake, Embekke. I do not really know exactly where we went and I would not recommend our route because it was far from optimal. I suspect whatever you have to do involves some element of infuriating or tedious main road. Once you find the temples road it is a pleasant ride and the temples, all 14th century, are worth seeing and are not much visited by foreign tourists.
Tues 8: 53km, 601m
Kandy to Belihul Oya.
Weds 9: 59km, 1320m
Thurs 10: 59km, 1123m
Norwood to Balangoda was a long ride on a delightful quiet narrow road through tea estates and small friendly villages. There was some sort of festival on, and lots of people, mainly schoolkids, were heading down the road. One older man said something to us, which rather worryingly sounded like youre going the wrong way. Ever since the end of the Kumaon trip weve been acutely nervy about going a long, long unsalvageable way down a road to find it impassable. For a long bone-chilling time after Balangoda we saw no motor traffic. It was not raining all that much now and the scenery was big and very green tea clad hills and it was a rather nice quiet road, though for once perhaps we would have liked to see the odd car. A cruel steep finish took us to the summit, and a truly marvellous long descent first through forests and steep cliffs and then tea estate slopes, extensive views over foothills, a descent we replayed over and over in daydreams the next day.
We had lunch at the main-road junction and rode a few more km on the main road to the Landa holiday house before Belihul Oya. This is a gorgeous quiet spot, a new place with 5 rooms with balconies overlooking mango trees and a stream below. There wasnt an awful lot to do here but it was a great place to do nothing.
Fri 11: 57km, 817m
Our rest day came with some halfway convincingly unrainy weather and we pootled up the lane towards Galagama falls, discussing Time and Work in England during the Industrial Revolution. We didnt see any falls but the scenerys dramatic enough and we climbed 1000m.
Sat 12: 24km, 814m
As I said earlier the planning was somewhat thrown together. We had first intended to arrange do the walk up Adams Peak, but to do it properly this would involve walking up so as to see the dawn and although that sounds lovely, before dawn is actually night. Also, there are leeches.
But we had found an alternative more suited to cyclists and those fond of sleep. We had come across some tempting images on Google Earth and fragmentary information about an interesting road going up from Belihul Oya, described as a jeep road of seasonably variable passability. The rough guide map marks a white-road from Belihul Oya towards Ohiya and we imagined this was it. The map also marks a yellow road taking a different route. We called this yellow-road the "main" road and assumed it was new and had tarmac. In the planning stage we had already booked a hotel near Nuwara Eliya, and we found a promising place at Belihul Oya. What we didnt think about was whether it was feasible to do the ride in one day. We just forgot to do this.
As usual we didnt take it for granted that any road was passable and we asked at the hotel before we left. Although they assumed we would go back through Hatton, they gave the impression there was no obstacle to the more northerly route.
Then the tarmac stopped and we had some sort of brick paving for a while, and then I think it turned to dirt; I cant remember all the things this road did, because it did all sorts of things. It climbed and zigzagged, and at an especially steep and slightly vertigious section it turned into boulders. Occasionally there was a bit of tar but no way was this road becoming more convincing. We crossed a side ridge and the road cornered a valley and here we saw some local tourists on a camping trip. Further up there was a poor-looking village, with no vehicles except for a derelict van.
Ahead was the still impressively high wall of cliffs. We stopped for biscuits and tried to guess where the road went and it wasnt a happy prospect. Any gouged line in the trees that might have been the road invariably featured some landslidey sections. There were still a few tyre marks on the road even up here, which left us with some hope, because something must have come along here from further away from the village.
We reached a pass and from here could see the road dropped very steeply into a dense mist. We didnt like the look of this we were expecting to have an uninterrupted climb (though to be fair these hardly ever exist and we know that) and we didnt want to risk a long descent that might be wrong. Moreover it just didnt feel quite right. We turned back and tried the other way.
This time the mist was less and we could see a ridge beyond, and villages on the ridge. The descent was a few sharp bends below a steep rock cliff, then a slow climb again. After the start of the village we saw what we werent expecting : white people, a tour group. They said they were walking down the road from Worlds End. They said it was steep (bad); the guide said it was 3km (good). We followed what seemed to constitute the road and climbed interminably. We kept imagining the vague lines in the forest were the main road was above us but we were always proved wrong.
We did not pay much attention to the village nor the road that continued although the scenery really was very nice but the village did not have any biscuit shops. The track got us to the top of a ridge and shortly after did indeed meet a fine tarmac road. Which climbed and climbed through beautiful pristine forests unsullied by biscuit shops.
Also you have to pay to enter, and that means paying just to go along the road. Not only is there an entrance fee but a service charge and 20% tax on top. This is very annoying, all the more so when the officials are reluctant to give change and spend hours faffing about with special forms in triplicate to permit us to ride 5km along a road, when you really cant afford to lose any time. It was now 3pm, with something like 40km or more to the hotel and an unknown and possibly significant amount of climbing to come. We had not yet had lunch. The 40km wouldnt have taken too long if we hadnt had several morally unavoidable delays. We saw three cyclists mending a puncture and no way can you not stop to chat. They were Russians on their way to Haputale. They said there were four more in their party each of whom we encountered riding solo in the next few km, each of whom we felt it would be unfair not to greet. Then there was a visitor centre, which had food, and we certainly had to eat. Then the scenery became irresistably alluring and distractingly photogenic; it paraded unforgettable sights of fairytale ridges and Adams peak beyond, demanding a photo, and half a mile later, demanding another, and another.
Sun 13: 85km, 2494m. Hotel Langdale.
The next day the weather had really changed to full sunshine. We swam in the pool and we ate cake. We went for a little ride in the local tea trails.
Mon 14: 6km, 205m
The last proper day of cycling we rode to Ella, to stay at the fabulous Planters Bungalow just downhill out of town. Nuwara Eliya is disorientingly English-looking. There werent many options for the ride and its just the main road to Welimada. We tried an alternative, descending 300m on a superb smooth road only to find a road-closed barrier. Mostly it was downhill. Bandarawela is huge and busy. Beyond there the road was ok. Ella is a gringo hangout; we had a juice at some Jamaican-themed place full of self-absorbed white people. Ella gap is a spectacular ride down and Planters bungalow is a fantastic place to end the ride.
Tues 15: 91km, 1314m
We got a taxi to Galle. Its not too long a trip the road to the coast is quiet. The government is ploughing a lot of money into the south-coast tourist infrastructure. We drove along fragments of a vast new dual carriageway and passed an airport under construction.
There are express buses on the wide new motorway which goes to Colombo almost. It was easy to put the bikes on the bus but they stop somewhere outside the centre. We had assumed there would be taxis at the bus station but it isnt a bus station and there are no taxis. We rode into the city centre and part of the way out somewhat desperately and at last found a pair of tuk-tuk drivers willing to take us to Negombo.