Lonely Planet describes Ella as "everyone's favourite hill-country village." This is both enticing and detracting, for the LP has a way of letting little secrets slip and a mudslide of backpacks soon follows. For now Ella is just clinging to its charm, but go now, for the concrete tumours of unregulated development are spreading at an alarming rate. Almost all of the guesthouses, hotels and cafes have been built in the last five years, since the end of the civil war reopened the country to independent travel. The train journey through the hills is Sri Lanka's most scenic, and the tiny station at Ella came into focus as travellers stopped off for a few hours in the cool air before catching the return train to more developed centres such as Nuwara Eliya or Kandy. Some decided to stay over, and a thriving travellers town, reminiscent of the lowlands of the Himalaya, has sprouted forth. The first sign that this is something different from a provincial Sri Lanka village is our first sighting of a laundry service, and cafes offering espresso, burgers and pizza beside cheap curry and roti.
We stayed in a fantastic guesthouse with ringside views of Ella Peak, Little Adam's Peak and the hairpin bends descending to the coast. Watching the buses and trucks negotiate the turns below while drinking local pekoe leaf tea was captivating entertainment. Ella is walking country and we made the most of the cool, fresh air to test our flat-country legs; between plucked tea hedges, through eucalyptus forests reminiscent of home, down rainforest tracks hungry with leeches, and along the railway line with staccato steps. Anywhere but the road, for even here the buses and trucks thunder past belching black smoke and stressing the eardrums.