The long train journey
Ella, Sri Lanka
It took half an hour in a tuk tuk to get to Peradeniya train station (500rp – £2.50). The mornings traffic held us up slightly.
The station was rather smaller than I had expected and very old and cute! Being built in 1876! Exactly how an English train station was a long time ago – even with a weighing scales from Birmingham, England.
There were 2 platforms and not hugely clear which one we needed. The points controller man was allowing people up into the points room to look at the levers and the map. There were a lot of levers. How cool!
We arrived by 10am, ready for our 10.54am train. Although it wasn’t actually listed on the departure board – rather odd. I had prebooked first class tickets online. They had cost £8 each for the 6 hour journey. At the time (i.e. When in London and paying £20 a day to use the train to work) I thought that sounded like fantastic value for a 6 hour train. But now I’m here, I can see that 1,700Rp is actually quite a lot for a first class ticket.
The station was great – several trains came and went in the time that I was waiting.
Although the station did full up with a lot of white middle aged / pensioners and mostly English. White people outnumbering locals quite considerably.
What I found odd about them, was that none of them had any luggage with them. Initially I thought perhaps they were on a small day trip by train. But then it became clear that actually they were travelling by train, but their luggage was being taken by their driver in a car to meet them at their next destination. Wow.
But 11.54am came and went. And no train arrived. 12.54pm. Still no train. No announcement. At 12.30pm the train finally pulled up. An hour and a half late.
The train was initially disappointing.
When I had booked, it was supposed to have had a mini outside area for standing and watching the view. But we didn’t have one. Instead I was sat by a glass window that didn’t open. Not great for photo taking.
On the plus side, the seat was very comfy and massively roomy. But still, I was a bit annoyed.
It was a little like being on a plane – we had a waiter who brought around wet wipes, sweets, lunch (rice and chicken), tea, afternoon snacks….! All included in the ticket.
The views were lovely – we were, for the most part, travelling along the edge of the mountains. With views back across the mountains. Covered in tea plantations.
We passed workers picking the leaves, school children waiving from the roads and houses, waterfalls, across bridges and through forests and tunnels.
Once we reached Nanu Oyu – the jumping point for Nuwara Eliya, the entire carriage (granted all tourists) left.
We were the only two people left. This is a popular place for tour groups.
But we were carrying on to Ella.
But now slightly wondering if perhaps we should have followed the crowd – hoping we weren’t missing out!
As we were the only ones left, we had a free reign of the carriage and moved to seats where the windows opened. Much better photos. And so much fun leaning out and waving / taking photos down the train!
The ‘waiter’ was really friendly and was chatting away, although I only understood about half of what he said. He asked if I liked travelling in the engine. I assumed he meant up by the driver, rather than inside the metal box engine. So I said I had never done it. He asked if we would like to. So of course I said yes, not thinking any more of it.
A few stations later, while stopped – ‘quick, quick’! We were hurried out of the carriage and ran up the platform and into the driver area! As soon as we were up there, they blew the whistle and pulled away from the platform. I didn’t realise we would be travelling up here (just maybe having a look!) how cool!!!
The driver was very friendly and explained all the switches and gauges. The train was made in the USA and the gauges in Switzerland. He has been driving trains for 45 years and always the same type – they are very old.
He will be taking the same train back along the same route tomorrow, the return journey to Colombo.
We had noticed that at some platforms, the drivers assistant hangs out of the window, holding out a large loop. On the platform there will be a man to catch the loop and another man passing a new loop to the driving assistant. I asked what these were – he said its a safety measure so that there is only ever one train on certain areas of track between stations (one lane) so that there are no accidents.
It was great fun being up there – views along the track in front winding around the mountain edge.
But at the next station we headed back to our seats – despite the drivers protest that we could stay longer!
It was now getting dark and the sun setting behind all the tea covered mountains. So the last hour of the journey was in darkness. And it was cold.
We finally arrived into Ella station at 7pm. 2 hours late.
There were lots of tuk tuk drivers waiting and we were soon off towards our guesthouse. I really enjoyed the train ride. Even though it was rather long!!
Ella town was cute – a small single street of lit up restaurants and mini shops. Very backpacker-y. But we headed off away from the town and up into the hills. I was a bit worried about how far away we were heading, along very narrow, bumpy, muddy country lanes! But we arrived in one piece.
The guesthouse is right next to a waterfall – we could hear it, but not see it. And beautifully decorated. The owner was lovely and said she had put us down for dinner tonight – which was handy as we didn’t spot any restaurants nearby!! Dinner was served with the other 8 guests around a dining table and the food was delicious! Vegetable fried rice, deviled prawns, deviled fish and salad. So tasty. I’ve been seeing ‘deviled’ food on many menus – I think it must mean a bit spicy, bit tomato-y. And pudding of a set mousse, first time I’ve had pudding here – so good! I was so full!! And time for bed. Bit odd that 2 of our windows don’t have curtains.