Kris and I just returned from Colombo where we did some Christmas shopping. This time we went by train, thus completing our sampling of the various ways to get to Colombo and back. Previously we had rented a car and driver (about $40 each way) and had taken the so-called “air con, intercity express bus” (about $2.50 each, each way). A first class ticket in the observation car cost us about $3.60 each, each way.
Now Colombo is 115 kilometers (71 miles) from Kandy and all three methods take approximately the same time, two and a half to three and a half hours. We got up early in the morning to make the 6:15AM intercity express train, so our travel time was on the low end of that range.
Our train was of older stock. We rode in the first class observation car. The observation car is the last car on the train. The seats face to the rear and there are two, large, picture windows giving a rearward, panoramic view. There are also the usual side windows, so one has pretty much a 270 degree view from ones seat. There is a single center aisle with two seats on either side of the aisle, so one is never far from either the windows or the aisle. Seating is assigned when you buy your ticket and you generally need to purchase your ticket in advance if you want to ride in the observation car.
The observation car has definitely seen better days. The only word to describe the level of cleanliness was “dingy.” The seats did not leave stains on ones clothes, but I unwisely steadied my legs by digging my knees into the seat in front of me and came away with marks on my pants. The curtains were ratty and seemed not to have been cleaned in awhile. Even though they call this “first class” there was no air conditioning. This was not a big problem as all the windows open and there are three oscillating fans mounted above the aisle along the length of the car.
The ride was as rough or rougher than the train ride we took in Vietnam from Hanoi to Hue that I blogged about earlier. The car often lurched from side to side throwing me against Kris. Bumps in the vertical direction led to nearly undamped vertical oscillations that continued for quite some time. Our first encounter with one of these coincided with Kris pouring herself her first cup of coffee in the morning. Lover of coffee that she is, she rode the wave, her hand swinging up and down to keep the cup steady and she did not lose a single drop.
But even considering the down sides, we decided that the train was the superior means of travel between Kandy and Colombo. With the car or the bus, one travels on the highway from one town to the next constantly keeping your eyes on the traffic or the visual overload of the many advertisements that crowd the margins of the road. It is a decidedly ant-like view, mostly of the businesses that have grown up along the highway. But with the train, especially the first hour out of Kandy, the view is dominated by the countryside. And the train tracks hug the side of the formidable hills and give vistas out over the valleys below. The mountains are shrouded in mists, perfect for a watercolor painting. Everything is so green that Sri Lanka might well take away from Ireland the designation as the “Emerald Isle.” Next to the view of the Indian Ocean from the Lighthouse Hotel near Galle, the view from the train gave me a sense of just how stunningly beautiful Sri Lanka can be. (And, oh my God, I just realized that I never posted about our trip to Galle! I am horribly behind…)
Closer to Colombo, one gets some very nice views of paddy fields with the green, green rice plants, the always orderly and often intricately terraced rice paddies, the oxen used for plowing, cows grazing in the company of their symbiotic cattle egrets. The egrets are either down on the ground near the cows legs waiting for the slowly moving cows to flush tasty insects from the grass, or sitting on the cows “shoulders” looking down from this perch, searching for frogs and bugs to eat while keeping their feet warm and dry.
We also had a team-building exercise with the other passengers in the observation car on the way back to Kaandy today. I was snoozing and was started awake by a commotion among our fellow passengers. The train was passing under a thunderhead and it had started to pour rain through the open windows. Semi-frantically, the passengers rushed to lower the windows. A few of us, i.e. me and some Sri Lankan children under the age of 13, had no clue how the mechanism worked, but set about pushing, pulling, prying at levers, all to no avail. Fortunately there were experienced train riders who lowered their own windows and then moved to calm the newbies, i.e. me and some Sri Lankan children under the age of 13, by demonstrating how really easy it is to lower a train window with just a few basic actions.
Time for bed.