Travel Blog Part Five: The Hill Country, Sri Lanka
Moving on from the Ancient Cities we took some time out from the hurly burly of life on the road with a week on the quiet and lovely Mirissa Beach. Hey, travelling’s hard work sometimes…!
From the south coast we travelled up into the Hill Country – a mountainous area in the southern central part of Sri Lanka with peaks up to 2500m in height. I love mountains! They are my favourite landscape of all to photograph and I’ll NEVER understand the acquaintance of a friend once overheard to say that she wasn’t interested in trekking in Nepal because she was from the Lake District and had seen enough mountains!!! It beggars belief, as the saying goes.
The hill country doesn’t just have mountains though, it’s basically one massive tea plantation. Lovely neat tea bushes cover seemingly every inch of farmable land creating charming scenes reminiscent of ‘The Shire’ from ‘Lord of the Rings’. And all that yummy, yummy tea! (See image, right). Mountains, tea, LOTR – excuse me for a minute while my mind wanders to a wonderful daydream where I’m watching ‘The Return of the King’ in a video cafe in Pokhara whilst drinking cup after cup of tea…
Back to reality – the first place on our agenda is Nuwara Eliya; very popular with Sri Lankans, and often referred to as “Little England”, seemingly by someone who hasn’t actually been anywhere within a thousand miles of the UK… Although there are the shadows of a resemblance to me it’s a version of England that might have been the creative collaboration of Disney and Tim Burton; twee in the extreme but also somehow just very wrong. Interesting to visit though, with some really great walks.
It’s lovely and cold there too – how can it only be 100 miles or so from the brainboilingly hot Mirissa? It’s a welcome chance to get our long sleeves out for the first time, freeze dry our mozzie bites and take some bracing strolls through the hills.
The busiest train on Earth (that was a fun hour and a half!) delivered us to Haputale. This place has a lot of potential on a clear day – on one side are views 1500m down to the south coast and to the other, tea-covered hills marching into the distance. Sadly Haputale seems to receive less direct sunshine than Pluto and I was craving the sight of the sun by the time we moved on to Ella.
Ah Ella, what can I say? You gave us some great weather just when we thought the Earth was to suffer the same fate it does in that film ‘Sunshine’ (the one where the sun has gone out and the Earth is dying a slow, frigid death). We climbed up the nearby Little Adam’s Peak – see above left (no preparation for the real thing!), walked through yet more tea plantations and indulged in a little Premier League football in the local equivalent of a sports bar (Arsenal lost 2-1 to Man U. Booooo!). Possibly the most fun we had was on a walk that took us along the train tracks. It’s something that is just so not done at home that it feels incredibly naughty. It’s perfectly safe in reality. Apart from the fact that you could virtually out run the trains here, you can hear them coming from miles off and all the locals do it so it must be OK! Admittedly there was one hairy moment where we had to cross a bridge then walk through a short tunnel but I’m still here to tell the tale…
And so we come to today – I’m sitting in my hotel room in Dalhousie writing this blog and nursing a rather sore knee. This morning we climbed Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) – the real one this time. It’s a tidy 1000m up, catch the sunrise, then stagger the 1000m back down in the best fashion you can depending on your age/fitness. On arrival at the top I realized I’d bug*ered up my right knee. Poor Rich looks like he’ll be carrying the bags again for a while and I had literally only just recovered from that fractured rib!
Over the course of the last 2 months in Sri Lanka I’ve had, at times, to resort to drastic measures to secure the picture I want; anything from crawling under a locked church gate to climbing over a rubbish tip or scrambling across a roof – all in the name of getting the perfect view. For this picture of Ella Gap fate handed me a much more convenient deal; this image was taken from my hotel balcony. Each morning the alarm would go off at 5:15am and all I had to do was pop my head out of the window to see what the weather was doing, then walk onto the balcony and set up the tripod.
But although the sourcing of the image was straightforward this is actually a very difficult subject matter to photograph. The photo you see above would have been impossible in the days of film – only the magic of Photoshop allows you to see Ella Gap in it’s full sunrise glory. The reason is that there is a great deal of contrast between the bright sky and the dark foreground and hills on either side. In many landscape images a neutral density graduated filter can be used to balance this difference, and I use them all the time, but this will only work if the horizon is basically straight. Here we have a kind of U shape and the filter simply won’t help. The only solution is to take a set of images at different exposures and then blend them together. In this case 4 different shots were combined using layers and masks in Photoshop in order to create the finished product.
Is it cheating? Maybe, but many landscape photographers do it and the result is certainly more natural looking than some of the unutterably horrible HDR creations you see these days…