I love trains and so when I went to Sri Lanka, I visited as many places as I could by train, and sometimes by bus.
I started in Colombo; went down to Galle to see the fort and lighthouse; to Anuradhapura with its temples and stupas; to Pollonarawa with its ancient sights; to Sigiriya, or Lion’s Throat; and Damballa with its caves full of Buddha murals and statues.
So far so good.
As I was planning this trip I had read something about a huge festival in the city of Kandy. The festival is called Esala Perahera, and one website mentioned that it is the biggest festival of its kind in South Asia.
I felt quite lucky to be able to book a room online at the colonial era Queen’s Hotel. With a copy of my reservation in hand I walked up to the front desk only to be told that they had no record of my reservation; they were fully booked; and every hotel in the area was fully booked.
I usually try to keep my cool, but I decided to pitch a fit. They gave me a room in the attic. At first I was not at all satisfied with this room and I’m not picky about hotel rooms: for me it’s just a place to sleep after stomping around all day taking photos. But this room was filthy and the Victorian bathtub was probably made early in the reign of that particular monarch.
But I was in luck. This ten day Esala Perahera festival culminates in a huge parade with thousands of participants: dancers, torch twirlers, bowl spinners, drums and other instruments, elaborate costumes, and at least fifty elephants all covered in exquisite fabrics and brightly colored lights. The main event is when the sacred tooth relic of Buddha which is normally kept in the Temple of the Tooth is carried in a golden “casket” on top of the last elephant “dressed” in gold.
And it just so happened that this incredible parade passed along the street on which the Queen’s Hotel sits. And it just so happened that I could open up one of my windows and sit there watching the parade from one of the best seats in Kandy!
The next day I made my way to the train station in Kandy to catch a train to Peradeniya Junction, only ten minutes away, where I would change to the scenic train to Nanuoya. The ticket taker at the gate pointed to the right and I got on the train.
I noticed another train further to the right: it soon pulled out of the station. The train I was sitting on didn’t move: I just figured, “Hey, this is Sri Lanka. We’ll eventually leave.”
I soon found out I was sitting on the wrong train. I had missed my train to Peradeniya!
I ran to the train station office and spoke to the station master. The first thing he did was to call the Peradeniya station. Then he told me to take a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) to get there. Fortunately the tuk tuk driver spoke fairly good English and was a fast and safe driver. We made it in time for me to catch the train to Nanuoya. The driver even waited on the platform to make sure the train arrived and that I got on it. Nice driver and nice station master.
The last car on this train is an “observation” car. It had comfortable red fabric-covered seats facing large glass windows at the back of the car. Most of the people in this car were from Sri Lanka: I think they might have been a family traveling together. At one point one of the young women in the group walked around offering egg salad sandwiches to other members of her party. Then she offered one to me: how nice. One of the men pointed out a waterfall to me. I was really starting to like the local people!
The train climbs up through the mountains past tea plantations: this is where the world-famous Ceylon tea is grown. We watched people picking the tea by hand: it looked like back breaking work. It made me think about how much hard work goes into every cup of tea.
I disembarked at the Nanuoya Train Station and took a bus to nearby Nuwara Eliya, which means “City of Lights.” It’s a small hill station that was popular during the British Raj because of its year round cool climate. I thought the climate was perfect, but I noticed that the locals were all bundled up.
Just beyond the town is Single Tree Mountain. I climbed a long but not steep trail through tea plantations and got a closer look at the tea bushes on the way up. At the top of the mountain there were stunning views of Nuwara Eliya and nearby Lake Gregory.
This train ride, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, and all the other places I visited in Sri Lanka made this one of the most memorable trips in my life!
About the author: This post is brought to you by Edward from Srilankavisa.org. Srilankavisa.org was founded in 2012 by migration lawyers. Srilankavisa.org is responsible for the Sri Lanka visa application process for its clients. Edward is an enthusiastic traveler who has been to 97 countries. He loves photography, tasting new food and experiencing different cultures.