Friday, 21 October 2016

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya: The best journey in the world?

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya - 21st October 2016

There weren't many reasons why we felt we should return to Kandy from Anuradhapura but there was certainly one good one. We had heard that the train journey that linked Kandy with Nurwaya Eliya a town in the mountain tops of central Sri Lanka to the south of Kandy was incredibly beautiful and voted by some as one of the most scenic in the world. Basically we had no choice in the matter, we had to take the train!
We arrived in Kandy on the bus where we headed straight to the train station to buy tickets for the next day as the trains to our destination left early in the morning. Excited to make the reservation we waited impatiently in the deathly slow queue before immediately being told they were all sold out. I was bitterly disappointed because it meant having to spend another day in Kandy, something either of us wanted to do, but as we turned to go we were informed that if we came early the next morning there may be some available. It was explained that they always leave one or two available to be bought on the day of departure and other people may cancel their previously bought tickets. What time was early? About 6am. eek. With raised hopes we headed to our hostel.

This time our we didn't stay with Ifti who lived too far out of the city but instead in a hostel close by but straight up a steep hill adjacent to the station, a place with according to the tuktuk driver was still "very far" a phase we had heard many times before and many more times since. The hostel was basic but it looked out over the city had an impression panaroma of the twinkling lights at night. It was just a shame that our room happened to be a damp little box that faced into the mountain. But it was fine because it was cheap and we didn't have to be there for long. 

Traveling in style. 1st class baby.
The next day we woke, or probably Sarah woke and then had to wake me up, we crawled out of bed and before the sun was up we were out the hostel, in a tuktuk and on our way to the station. SUCCESS! We bought the tickets. We were unsurprisingly some of the first people in the station but still the only tickets left for the train that day were first class which were 10x  more expensive than any other ticket but still cheap by UK standards and the advantage was in first class you were guaranteed a seat which was not necessarily the case in the other classes where your ticket bought you entrance onto the train but not a place to sit.

When the train arrived a few hours later, pulling into the station, its carriages cleaming shiny and blue we hopped on board and got comfortable making sure to enjoy the extra expensive plushy cushioned seats we'd been given. The carriage was quiet and airconned with tinted windows and a tv showing a kids film; very nice indeed but in actaul fact not really what I wanted. There was a saving grace however, because as health and safety laws seem to be uniformly lax across most of the Asia we were able to sit on the footplate of the train. With the door open and the legs dangling over the edge, the wind in my hair and watching the world go by I traded in my first class armchair for the cold hard metal floor and thats where Sarah and I spent the best part of the 4 hour journey. It was absolute bliss.

Best seat in the house
The locomotive slowly chugged along the single track (which explained why there weren't many trains a day going back and forth), constantly on a slight incline and never going more than 20 or 30 mphs. As our altitude increased, the cool air grew cooler until we were driving through the clouds and as we did we saw the tea planations rise out of the misty mountainsides and valleys that frame the train track. Having spent the last 4 months in Spain and India we had only experience varying degrees and types of baking heat since the previous spring but here as the journey progressed we started to feel the sting of cold air. Not just a cooling breeze, not just a cooled airconned room, no here the air was genuinely cold. Man, it felt good.
The planations and tea fields extended out in all the directions we could see until our entire world became either train carriage, sky or tea bushes. What more could an Englishman want. Then whilst sitting peacefully watching the verdent vista grow greener and greener I was suddenly disturbed by the train driver who motioned to the few of us that were sitting around the footplates to get up. I was immediately sadden as I figured he wanted us to return to our seats but rather this hero of a driver invited us into engine cab because he wanted to point out the view of a waterfall that we were approaching. This cheery gentleman clearly enjoyed his job and I have zero doubt as to why he would. 

Four hours later we sadly arrived safe and sound in Nurwaya Eliya amongst a climate described by the locals as "English weather" - glad that stereotype has made it around the world - and more tuktuk drivers wanting to charge us exorbitant prices because our destination was once again "very far". We got the bus into town. 

People keep asking us what is the best thing we've seen or done on our trip. For me this remains in my top few activies. I would recommend anyone to go to Sri Lanka just to experience this central region of the island in all its beauty and the train journeys on offer here.
Thankfully there was more amazing stuff to come.

Until then,

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