Archives for posts with tag: train

galle (1 of 10)Travelling by train is always an adventure! Even if it is just the slow train from Palavi Junction to Colombo!

This is a route that I’ve taken several times over the last few months, and it always starts the same way – with an apology from the ticket clerk because there is no 1st or 2nd class – only 3rd. Which is not a problem for me – but as I’m pretty much the only foreigner on these trips, I guess they expect that I would like to travel something other than 3rd class.

For 110 rupees (less than $1) I get at least 4 hours of entertainment, sitting on a bright orange, hard plastic seat in a carriage that has not been cleaned since the windows were left open during the last storm! It’s important to sit at a window that does open – this is the only cooling provided. It’s only about 120km but travel (by any means) always takes a long time in Sri Lanka – you really do learn to appreciate the journey rather than just thinking about the destination.

This is certainly no express train! With stops in every town along the way – and at least once each journey, because of the single track, the need to switch back to let trains going north through – it is very slow going!

The country side changes – from the lagoon views south of Palavi; to rivers and farming land; then as we get closer to Negombo and the airport, all the towns begin to merge into each other as we enter the sprawling metropolis of Colombo.

But it’s the people that are interesting to watch – and as the only white face aboard, I certainly know I am being watched too!

There is a large Muslim community in and around Puttalam where the train originates – there are always fully robed women with their children. The children are shy but interested – getting them to smile is a treat! Encouraging their mothers to smile is a small victory!

And then there are the other travellers – business men; families visiting each other; people with shopping or business to do in the bigger towns. I always seem to have more luggage than everyone else even though I’m only going to Colombo for a couple of days! As we near Negombo, the train fills up with school children – in pristine white uniforms and black shoes – and workers using the train for their daily commute. Some are ‘brave’ enough to sit next to me for a chat – always asking where I am from (Australia – ah! cricket!) and whether I like Sri Lanka.vardai-1

It is also interesting watching the various sellers and buskers/beggars make their way through the carriages. Peanuts, samosa, prawns, egg rolls, pineapple, vardai and water – all available in handy snack sizes. Blind people singing, people with physical disabilities begging, salesmen with toys and books – all trying to make their living day by day. For some reason on this train, all the doors connecting the carriages have been blocked and closed off – the only way to change carriages is to alight at a station and climb onto the next carriage – sometimes it can seem a long way between stations when the singing is particularly off tune!

It is never a very peaceful journey – with such old carriages and ricketty tracks, it is nearly impossible to read or doze. Once, the train was trying to make up time and we were all bouncing off the seats as we went over a bridge – I burst out laughing which brought out a few smiles from my fellow travellers.

The one thing I always find stressful about this trip – and I have to work out a way to manage it – is the arrival at the main Colombo station, Fort. As we arrive (always late) the platform is crowded with people waiting to board for the next destination. And the throngs begin pushing to get on as we are still trying to exit. I’ve been caught in many a tussle to and fro as the bottleneck quickly forms at the door . No matter how prepared I am for a quick exit, there seems to be no way to avoid it!

Once I make it through, slightly battered and bruised, and find my ticket to give to the clerk so I can exit the station, the next issue is to find a tuk tuk that will either use the meter, or charge me the standard price, not the inflated price! Ah, but that’s another story for another day…


I’m now in Kandy, and everyone around me is preparing for the 2 day New Year celebration later in the week. The streets were so crowded today that every corner was blocked with pedestrians trying to get through with their shopping!

Yesterday was a travel day, as I made my way from Galle in the south, to Kandy in the hill country. 120 kilometers to Colombo by bus, and then another 120 by train to Kandy. Doesn’t sound that far. Well I got the bus from Galle at 9am and arrived in Kandy at 4pm. Because of the roads, and the amount of traffic, you have to plan very differently for travel in Sri Lanka. But it all adds to the adventure!

Two things happened that still make me smile as I think of them.

After getting the luxury A/C minibus to Colombo, I found myself at Fort Station – Colombo’s main rail terminal. I knew there was a train mid-afternoon with 1st class as well as an observation carriage and I thought that would be a nice change after traveling 3rd class the other day – and the air conditioning wouldn’t go astray either! But after a bit of back and forth between various counters I discovered there were no reservations available for the 3.30pm train. The attendant suggested I get the 12.40pm train in 2nd or 3rd class – but I needed to decide then as the train was about to pull in! So yes! Why not?

Walking onto the platform amidst the crowds, I asked a young guy who was changing track numbers for a nearby information board, which end the 2nd class carriages would stop. He indicated not far from where I was standing. As the train pulled in there was a surge of people pushing and shoving to get into the doorway and to find a seat! Next thing the guy who had just helped me, leaped ahead of everyone and seemed to jump over seat backs indicating that I should follow him! I made my way, slightly slower, to find him guarding a window seat for me – he had opened the window and also found a spot for my bag. I can’t believe how quickly it happened! And I’m not sure where I would have ended up if he hadn’t done that! It was more than worth his tip! And even as I think about it now I burst out laughing!

Of course we sat there for another 15 minutes, and the train continued to fill up. It was so stifling hot in those carriages! Sweat running down my back, and everywhere I put my hands, another damp patch would appear. Everyone sighed with relief as we finally pulled out of the station and the overhead fans began working and we had the natural movement of air from all the wide open windows.

I hadn’t eaten much the day. The original plan had been to eat lunch between the bus and the train. About half way through the 3 hour train trip, as we were winding slowly through the hills, getting higher and higher, the traders began to make their way through the train. With 4 spicy samosas, a bottle of water, and some Indian-style sweets that the gentleman next to me shared. What a simple lunch but what a delightful way to be enjoying it! The samosas were wrapped in the re-used pages of a child’s math notebook – as they were calculating how to turn fractions into percentages.

I have a few days in Kandy, and then hope to get across to the west coast. But travel may be difficult over the next few days as everyone goes home for the New Year celebrations, and many things close or have altered schedules. So we’ll see how it goes! I’ll keep you posted.

Ah! What a delightful change Galle is after Colombo! Although to be fair I only really had one day in Colombo.  But on the other hand there is many a person that recommends skipping Colombo all together when coming to Sri Lanka!

I love traveling by train. And whilst Sri Lanka doesn’t have an extensive train system, some key places are accessible by train. So I opted for the train from Colombo to Galle. But even that wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought. Half of the line from Colombo to Galle is under reconstruction. So rather than look at other options, I decided to catch the train half way, and once I got to Kalutara then I’d work out how to get the rest of the way!

Because of the limited train service I travelled 3rd class. And considering the Lonely Planet recommends that solo women travelers do not take the train at all, I was a little apprehensive (as in other parts of the world, women traveling solo can experience problems here). But after meeting a mother and daughter who were traveling the same route, I had a safe trip, enjoying sitting at the open window, as we followed the sea south. This was certainly no inter-city express – we stopped at stations every 5 – 10 minutes all the way, barely getting up to full speed in between!

I met the delightful Mr Suji (more about him later) as he was finishing his shift at a beachside resort just before the last stop. He helped me negotiate a tuk-tuk to continue the journey – taking advantage of this option to get where he needed to go too!

But 2 hours in the back of a tuk-tuk on a relatively busy road takes it toll. And whilst it is nice to have the constant movement of air, the layers of dirt and grime that came off me once I arrived were incredible!! I began to question my adventurous determination – why didn’t I just take the A/C bus all the way?! Coming into Galle we made our way through the new city – with its bustling bus station, touts looking for unsuspecting travelers, a busy market, and the cricket oval where the 1st England/Sri Lanka test match was held last week. It was hard to believe that the city was decimated by the tsunami 7 years ago.

I am staying in the fortified old city of Galle (Galle Fort) – surrounded by the fort wall on all sides, and beyond that water on 3 sides. Arriving as 1000s of students were being dismissed, all traffic routes become one way, and could only leave the Galle Fort area not enter it. So I walked through the gate, and surrounded by the girls in their pristine white uniforms, instantly felt the stress of travel and uncertainty fall away.

Galle Fort is full of traditional homes built from the only material that was available – coral. Many are being lovingly restored with dark wood and brass fixtures, each painted a different beachy hue. The area has a large Muslim population – many things close or partially close on Friday. There are galleries, and restaurants, and guesthouses. And in the midst, the locals going about their daily lives – warehouses, training barracks, law courts, small businesses and manufacturers.

Once the sun’s strong rays begin to lessen at the end of a day, everyone heads to the walls of the fort – to play cricket, fly kites, enjoy an ice-cream, take the breeze, or steal a moment with aloved one – culminating in a beautiful sunset.

Yesterday was the full moon, but arriving on Thursday, the moon was still fairly impressive! I was watching the sun set to the west, but looking back to the east, the nearly full moon was rising, and the surrounding clouds colored by the opposing sunset.

Life seems more relaxed, it is easier to get about, people are welcoming; I can see why for some it is their only destination in Sri Lanka, and for others it becomes their home. Wherever I travel I ask myself whether I could live there – and it is a resounding ‘yes’ for Galle.

Thinking about my trip to India, just over a year ago…

Arriving at Kolkata’s Howrah station, I immediately got caught up in a sea of people with packages and parcels of all shapes and sizes, all trying to find their train, their carriage, their seat. Attempting to navigate my way through the bustling station to the correct platform, checking the recently pasted reservation list, seeing the 1000s queuing for a train that snaked the length of the platform, I eventually gave in and sought out the kindly porter with his telltale crimson turban and grey beard.

Jogging to keep up with him, I lost count of the number of carriages and classes that make up the Indian train system! Reserved or unreserved, AC or non-AC, sleeper or chair, 1st, 2nd, 3rd…  But he knew exactly where to go, settling my luggage and me safely into the 4 berth compartment that I shared with 2 businessmen.

This was the Coromandel Express, 27 hours from Kolkata to Chennai. After 10 days in the mayhem that is Kolkata, photographing the work of an organisation that supports the education of 1000s of disadvantaged children, this was my time to stop and breathe and reflect…

To intermittent cries of ‘Chai-chai!’ and ‘Samosa-samosaaah!’, I watched the ever-changing landscape. From slums along the railway line, to never-ending green plains; from industrial areas, to cool oases of palms, I transitioned physically and mentally to the relative calmness of the south.

I emerged from the station at Chennai, recharged, ready to embrace India again, eager to continue my adventure.