Train travel is a luxury we enjoy so little in Ontario. Our world is so frustratingly behind, and will probably never catch up. In Sri Lanka trains, are a huge part of life. There are train tracks criss-crossing the country, especially on the west coast. Taking the train is a journey in itself. Doors open, windows open, aisles jammed, people selling food and drinks are walking up and down the aisles, shoving their way through in a bizarrely polite fashion. There is a certain disappointment when you get on the train, only to realize there are no seats left. Most of the trains are “non-reserved seating”, meaning that there are no assigned seats. Oh and they sell an unlimited number of tickets for each train.
Soon you accept your fate, that you’re going to be standing (or balancing is maybe a better word) in the aisle for the next 8 hours, guarding your backpack and feeling like a sardine. Or a canned peach, for our vegetarian readers. But then you can stay by the doors, which are wide open for the entire trip. Suddenly you have a place to sit, feet outside the car and down on the steps. There were signs at the station and on the side of the train that riding on the steps is illegal, but everyone around you is doing it so you go along with it. Or you can stand, leaning out the side, just watching out for tunnels. Its an experience much better than having a seat, and its one of those things that makes you realize how far away from home you are.
We took the train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya, a journey of around four hours. This particular line is supposed to be some of the best scenery in Sri Lanka, with the train going through the mountains and tea fields.
We paid for second class, but ended up in third class, in a relatively empty car where we had the doors mostly to ourselves, and could switch seats freely. So for the less than $2 per person, we had some of the best seats you can have for a sunny morning.
The train line winds slowly (often at only 15 km/h) through the highlands and tea plantations of central Sri Lanka. Its one of those times we wish we had a Go Pro, because we would love to relive the next 4 hours.
Nuwara Eliya was a bit of a disappointment, really the first in Sri Lanka. Its supposed to be called the “Little England” of the island, but we saw no colonial flare. Maybe weather, the non-stop rain and temperatures less than 20 degrees C had something to do with our little enthusiasm. Our main draw there, besides the spectacular train ride, was to go hiking in Horton’s Plains National Park and to see the famous “World’s End”. Horton’s Plans National Park is some of the highest forest and grasslands in Sri Lanka, at an elevation of around 2200m above sea level.
The hike has two distinct sections. To get to the World’s End we went through a cloud forest, full of trees completely covered with moss. Supposedly there are monkeys with heavy fur who live there. The temperature drops to freezing at night, which we would never had expected anywhere in Sri Lanka. We were there around 6:30 and it was really cold, and constantly misting or raining.
After Horton’s End, the path goes out onto the grass lands. The grass is tall, and the land is rolling. The mist made it seem otherworldly.
Katie had to be in Colombo on August 6 to catch a flight, which was a bit sobering for everyone. There was debate about how to spend our last few days, as our flight required us to be in Colombo on August 8. Dominik had one more day than us. We were all tired of the cold weather, and we needed to find laundry (nothing dries when its 100% humidity). As it turns out, its possible to go by train in a day from Nuwara Eliya to the city of Galle, on the southeastern coast of the island. We had not originally intended to go there, as we suspected it was a bit touristy. But it worked well for everyone’s remaining time, so we embarked on what proved to be a extremely tiring day of travel involving no less than 3 trains and multiple tuk tuks.
Galle is great, and we would have really missed out had we not made it down south. We stayed in a little beach suburb called Unawatuna, around 5km outside of the city centre. We took the bus into town to go wandering in the walled part of the city. Once an active fort, it is filled with colonial buildings converted into restaurants, shops, and museums.
Unawatuna is two-street town, crammed with beachside hotels and restaurants. Its the low season, so its relatively quiet. But its easy to see how this place would be jam-packed once monsoon season is done. By sheer luck, we found out that we would be in Unawatuna during the start of a Buddhist holiday. The street outside our hotel was transformed, as people built temporary wooden stalls in front of homes and restaurants. Strings of lights were run overhead much of the street. On August 7, the first day of the festival, we found that most restaurants closed up, which seemed strange given the massive influx of people to the street.
Throughout the whole town there is constantly Buddhist prayer music playing over loud speakers. It started this morning, early. And now its still going strong, 15 hours later. We are writing this blog to the tune of it.
- Doug and Emily / August 7, 2017 @ 9:17pm / Unawatuna, Sri Lanka @ Happy Coconut Villa