Ridin’ That Train – Sri Lanka, Part 3

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.

The bus is faster than the train, so its mostly just tourists standing on the platform waiting for the 11:30 to arrive.

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.

Tea plants make it look like everything is covered in a green blanket.



Managing to line up three of us.
We stopped for a while beside a train headed in the other direction.
These girls were passing time by singing the Hokey Pokey.


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.

Within a minute of starting our hike, we came across a sambar (a type of deer) eating right beside the path. It quite literally emerged from the mist like something from Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t scared of people at all, and just carried on its business.
Behind the scenes.  The sambar was the cause of much excitement


We left for Horton’s Plains at 5am, since we were told the early morning heat would burn away the cloudy and rainy weather.  After a 90 minute hike, we reached the World’s End, the top of a cliff with a drop of nearly 800m straight down.  Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t cleared once we arrived.  But there was something unusual about staring into the clouds and not being about to see the bottom. You can just make out the beginnings of the next mountain through the fog on the left-side of this photo.
It cleared very briefly, just to give us an idea about what was out there.

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.

This was about as clear as it got.  It must look fantastic on a clear day (if such a thing exists)
Baker’s Falls, a stop on the path back.

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.

A second class gent, according to our ticket anyways.


Behind the scenes of our dramatic selfie.

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.

A local cricket game being played in front of the fort walls.
And inside the walls, cricket practice.  The Sri Lankans love cricket.  The meshed area is a batting cage.
The Dutch Reformed church, constructed in 1755.
The fort was first constructed by the Portuguese, then fell under the control of the Dutch who built much of the modern structures.  Finally it fell into British hands, until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948.
The streets are narrow, crowded, and chaotic.  Its a little overpriced, but undeniably an interesting place to spend the day.


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.

This man was stacking watermelons, presumably to sell them to everyone at the festival.  He really wanted us to take a picture of him and his watermelons, so Doug jumped in, followed by the man’s son.
The main street got crowded as the day went on.
The beach in front of the temple is where we found all the action.

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.

Every once in a while the crowd would part for a group of musicians leading a larger group through the crowd. The larger group was carrying offerings and collecting money to donate at the temple.
They sell everything at the endless stalls.  Do you want a poster of the Buddha, or maybe just of a random baby? This is your place.
How about a new tattoo, right on the beach?  This festival is great.
  • Doug and Emily / August 7, 2017 @ 9:17pm / Unawatuna, Sri Lanka @ Happy Coconut Villa







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