Transport in Sri Lanka is a bit of a nightmare whichever way you choose to do it, and there are only two choices; road or rail. If you go by road you have a choice of bus or taxi (or Tuk tuk of course, but not for long journeys). Taxi’s are expensive. Buses are cheap. Both are really slow, because the roads are small and full of holes. Train, on the other hand is slightly more fun.
One reason I quite like the trains is it feels a bit like stepping back in time; many of the train stations still look exactly the same as when they were built back in the late 1890’s/early 1900’s I think. There are rest rooms for gentlemen and ladies, as well as one for ‘clergy’.
|Ella Train station|
|Galoya Junction, with waiting train for Trincomalee|
The ticket office consists of a little wooden framed window, and a bloke with a big book.
|Inside the ticket office.|
|Station Masters office|
There is a rather grand looking station-masters office, as well as an office with a contraption called a tablet machine, which as far as I understand it tells the people at the station (via a system of bells, and an old telephone) when the next train is coming in. I asked how old one of these was, and was told that it was made in London and was over a hundred years old!
|Tablet machine, over a hundred years old.|
The trains are slightly more modern (they are big dirty diesel things) but I wouldn’t like to say how old.
|Specially reserved seat for Clergy|
The main reason I prefer the trains though is because they don’t close the doors, so you can, quite literally, hang out of the doorway and look at the view, take photo’s, wave at people, get fresh air etc.
|Open door of first class|
The trains don’t go very fast, not much more than 20 or 30 mph I would guess, so if you do fall out you may actually survive the fall (as long as you’re not going over a bridge at the time). The main thing that appeals to me about this is not the risk element - it’s not particularly dangerous, but it’s just that you’d never be allowed to do this at home – there would be some sour faced jobsworth there to prevent you (even if you could open the doors during transit).
|Hanging out the door, great views...|
You can usually have a choice of 1st 2nd or 3rd class, which vary of course in comfort and price. The best place to get the train though is up in the hills, as there is just miles of jaw droppingly great scenery to look at, whilst hanging out of the door. And every time you go through an tunnel all the kids on the train scream at the top of their voice, just to hear the echo. You can even get a first class ‘observation coach’ up in the hills, which goes at the back of the train and has an extra big window on the rear of the carriage.
The other thing I love about railways here is not just being on the train, but that you can walk along the track to get from A-B. Strictly speaking it’s not legal; I did see a sign (in Sinhala, Tamil, and English) saying trespassers would be prosecuted, but it looked as though it may have been left over from the British period, and anyway no one was paying any attention.
|Trespassers will be prosecuted, perhaps.|
|Man with kitchen sink on his head.|
This is made fairly clear by the fact that there are small café’s where you can buy tea and biscuits set up all along the line, as well as people’s homes which are built (in some cases) just a few feet from the tracks. Again, this would never be allowed back home because the dreaded health and safety zealots would be on to it in no time.
In a way, I think the railways quite neatly sum up most of what I like about Sri Lanka; one the one hand there is a slightly English feel to it all (an echo of colonialism) combined with a complete disinterest in rules, regulations, health and safety, time keeping, and a general lack of urgency about anything at all.