Train Ride From Kandy-Ella
My friend Harrison and I recently travelled through Sri Lanka, covering as much distance as possible by straddling motorbikes, cramming into sweaty buses and holding on for dear life inside urban tuk tuks. But the most foreign transport experience we had was on the mountainous train ride from Kandy to Ella.
Unable to make reservations before-hand, we arrived an hour early (10:10 am) to the station. We got our second class ticket for the very reasonable price of 250 Rupees ($2.30 AUD) and despite the trains tardiness, we boarded in high spirits. Boarding was a shit fight, as soon as the train slugged in, the one hundred plus people waiting clambered aboard. There was no way of knowing which carriages were second class and which were third, additionally most of the passengers waiting were tourists too, so I was confident they had no idea either.
Most of the seats were taken by locals and we nervously edged through a few carriages hoping the next would reveal two free seats, but our search yielded no fruit. Amidst all the sticky confusion, backpack whacks and travellers yelling at one another in miscellaneous European languages, we settled our bags next to the toilets., glumly accepting the reality that our 8 hour ride will be spent on the floor.
Then the train began to move and the doors remained open, something completely foreign to myself, so naturally I gravitated towards it. I was able to swing most of my body outside and feel the cool alpine breeze caress my face, hair and torso. The inherent danger of hanging out of a moving train is not lost on my psyche; my adrenal glands contracted every time we approached a tunnel or bridge. Later, I saw many Sri Lankans hanging out the train the entire time regardless of tunnels or bridges. I assume they did so since they’ve done the trip many times and know there is a safe distance between themselves and any objects on the side.
In complete awe of our surroundings, Harrison and I had lost the desire to find a seat, but after two hours of hanging out the side door, enough people had disembarked for us to find one. In a bitter yet comical twist of fate, we sit down for less than a minute and get told to disembark and take a bus to the next station because of track work.
A similar scene to boarding the train arose outside the station in Hatton. All the tourists were confused because there was very little information about which buses to take. Everyone was pushing and cutting the lines to get a good seat on the bus; backpacks and suitcases made it even harder to negotiate the tight space. The searing heat clouded my judgement and the combination of my 14 kg rucksack and denim jeans made me perspire like crazy. So we bypassed all the struggle and got a tuk tuk to the next station where we were the first to board the train and sit on the right hand side (the side with the best view according to our tuk tuk driver).
The train slowly chugged on through the lush jungle, like a mechanical caterpillar, passing over towering ravines and gushing waterfalls. This part of the journey climbed higher through the mountains, and a chill wrapped over the train, with the setting sun many passengers dug into their rucksacks for warmer layers.
Higher altitudes meant sweeping panoramic views of the valleys beneath the train. Tiny towns dotted the valley side, nestled in-between farmlands, connected by a single road that snaked in and out of view. Swinging out the door this time mirrored the sensation of standing on a cliff edge. However the difference lay in having a sturdy structure to anchor my body weight, minimizing the slip anxiety to refine the experience as a pure, rushing, thrill.
When the sun completely set and darkness washed out all the views, we were only half an hour or so from Ella, arriving around 7pm. The train ride from Kandy to Ella is notorious for good reason. You’d be pretty stretched to find another train ride that has the adventurous element of swinging out the door and million dollar views for $2.40.