Slow train to the highlands


The Kandyan View Holiday Bungalow provided a European breakfast – it was uninspiring and unsustaining but we had little exertion planned for the day so it didn’t matter too much.

The staff drove us to the station where we were pleased to see that our bikes had been dispatched overnight as planned. But were they sent to the correct destination?

Kandy Railway Station

We ate some dhal wade (rhymes with buddy) from a street vendor, a Sri Lankan version of falafel with a tangy SL spiciness, just the right crustiness and a moist centre.

We thronged the train with the rest of the passengers when it arrived but didn’t secure a seat. We stood at the end of our carriage with excellent views out the open doors on both sides.

The train rattled and rolled its way through the jungle, paddy fields, many towns and over and by large rivers before starting its long slow climb into the highlands.

There were signs reserving seating for clergy, pregnant mothers and differently-abled people. We didn’t qualify but were quick enough to grab a seat after an hour or so. It would have been a long trip standing all the way.

We saw no rail staff on the train but hawkers were continually walking up and down the aisle with large baskets of all sorts of snack foods. There was no junk food, no soft drinks, no sweets but there was fruit (both familiar and unknown to us) and Sri Lankan delicacies: baskets of wade, samosas and savoury doughnuts (ulundhu vadai) – all strewn with large, dried red chillies that made an appetising visual presentation. There were peanuts, popped corn and tea and coffee from large vacuum flasks.

Basket of wade (snacks)

None of this food seemed mass produced nor commercially packaged. Some resourceful Sri Lankans make a living reusing A4 office paper and printed school work sheets by folding and gluing them into bags for hawkers to sell their wares in.

Unfortunately, we blew our last small denomination notes on a couple of coffees and deprived ourselves for most of the trip as we didn’t have the heart to present a R1000 note ($10). Making change is a perennial challenge in SL and we need to get better at managing our cash.

Eventually, a man handed me a samosa. It wasn’t clear whether it was a sample or not but he asked for payment and walked straight into our trap. Out came a R1000 note and we had him. He couldn’t complain and went off on the scrounge for change. We could then indulge ourselves.

The tea plantations started at about 1000m altitude as did the eucalyptus trees which have escaped from plantations. They grow very straight and tall and are considered a pest.

Tea plantations and pest eucalypt

After about 4 hours we left the train at Nanu Oya in the clouds and rain at 1800m surrounded by immaculate tea plantations and market gardens.

Our bikes were there for us. We waited for a pause in the rain and then headed off on a 7km, 300m climb through intermittent gusty rain to Nuwara Eliya. It’s strange to see all the gum trees growing here. At about 2100m Nuwara Eliya is reputed to be the highest town in SL. The weather has packed in today and doesn’t suit our clothes.

Our route:

One Response to “Slow train to the highlands”

  1. Herman Vandecauter Says:

    Nice trick the R1000 note! One has to be prepared for it.

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