The best way to travel around the island of Sri Lanka is by train. At first glance most would presume that the paradise island is rather small…fact – it’s not! We took the train from Kandy to Ella. After travelling around Asia now for over 3 months i thought i had seen everything that a journey could possibly throw at you. Needless to say i was completely wrong.
Kandy – Ella. Our 8 hour standing journey.
The trains were on strike and there were no reserved tickets available. A reserved ticket normally at least guarantees you a seat on the train. A journey that was going to take us 8 hours, we decided we really wanted a seat. We arrived at the train station at 7am on the day of our departure. The train was due to leave at 8.43. This gave us heaps of time to get that ticket, get there before the crowds and hopefully grab a seat.
We paid just 260 rupees ($2.25) each for our tickets. This bought us 2nd class, that was he best available. There were still no reserved seats available so we had to line at the platform and hope that we would be able to access the train quickly and claim one.By 8am the platform was busy. We were at the front of the tracks. This made us think that we would be sure to get a seat. As the train arrived at the platform it was already heaving. The seats were full with people gathering in the isle and doors. Everyone pushed and run on. At this point there was no such things as manners, it was push, shove and push again. We only just made it on. By just – Richard was hanging out the door with his backpack hanging off his arm, still outside. We were off.
The doors do not close, they are left open the whole journey. I had never seen so many people crammed into one place. For the trains in Sri Lanka there is no such thing as sold out, they just keep selling the tickets until the train goes. We were shoulder to shoulder with everyone. Our luggage crammed in between our feet whilst we had all lost control of any personal space. This was insane.
As the journey continued the rain set in, making richard soaked from the open door he was just inside of. It got cold, the floor started puddling. Somehow there were people pushing though the carriages selling food and drink. By this point a nice stiff drink was extremely needed, but not available. Tea it was then. The samosas were yummy too.
Further down the track about 2 hours into our 8 hour journey we had a group of 5 locals jump onto the side of our door. They were hanging on whilst chucking large metal gardening tools onto our feet. They were gardeners catching a ride to the next stop. Close, personal and muddy.
The worst was at around the 5 hour mark. At this station the station master decided we would be fitting more people onto this already over flowed train. He pushed and shoved. Everyone inside commenting. We had zero room to move. He then continued and pushed a whole chinese family on to join us. By this point it was impossible to keep your feet planted on the floor. This was hell.
From someone who gets travel sick, anxiety and is claustrophobic this was my worst nightmare. The only place you could move slightly was by hanging out of the train door. I stood on the edge holding the handles and planted my feet on the ladder outside the train. This was insane. The feeling of stretching tho was surreal.
The scenery along the way was stunning. We were set with fog and rain but its beauty still shon through. After 8 painful hours we arrived in Ella. Even leaving the train everyone were pushing. There was no order or patience. It really was the most insane journey of my travels.
Tips for train travel in Sri Lanka.
Do your research
Book in advance if you can
Pack as little as possible
If you cant get a seat, get near the door.