IT may be a tedious cliche, but sometimes, the journey is as rewarding as the destination.
Traveling around Sri Lanka by car or bus is well and good, but the country’s rail journeys are some of the most scenic in the world.
It’s easy to book ahead from any station but there’s no need to book the tourist cabins; instead, travel in second class – it’s half the price, nearly as comfortable, you get to meet fascinating locals as well as eat snacks from the vendors who wander about the carriages with their fried fare.
Here are a few routes to earmark on your next trip out.
Colombo to Galle
Acclaimed writer Paul Theroux was a great lover of this beautiful stretch of rail by the sea. In the sequel to his classic travel book ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’, the journey is a high point in an account often riddled with dark references to the raging civil war within the north of the country.
In ‘Ghost Train to the Eastern Star’ he writes:
“I remembered this as one of the most beautiful journeys I’d taken on the Railway Bazaar – one of the loveliest railway lines in the world, at sea level, right next to the beach, traveling along the glittering shore, the blue sea and the palm groves, all the windows open, the ocean breeze blowing through the coach.”
Bring along a copy of the book for company for a bit of literary immersion as the white-sand beaches whiz by.
Ella to Kandy
The tiny station at Ella is a true blast from the past, looking more like a model train set then an actual train station. But the funicular fun begins when you wander down the tracks at Nine Arch Bridge.
Watching the rickety train pass over this architectural gem nestled in vertiginous slopes is a pre-trip highlight. Try to stop snapping for a while as you wend your way through verdant tea plantations, past sheer mountains and quaint villages. Top tip: Sit on the right side of the train for the best vistas.
Take a few days to detour to Nuwara Eliya. Depart at Nanu Oya where the toy train breaks through the mist into a bucolic village setting. A visit to the oh-so-posh Hill Club is de rigueur for those who still appreciate the concept of dressing for dinner.
Kandy to Colombo
More tea plantations and flower strewn mountains fly by on the final leg of the journey. Don’t be disheartened as the once-in-a lifetime photos fade to urban landscapes once the train draws towards the city.
Take some time to appreciate some onboard snacks. Apples with chili powder and fried chickpea fritters come cocooned in newspaper to be savored before you alight into the exciting milieu of the capital.