Sri Lanka: The Train & Nuwara Eliya

Greetings, Friends and Family! I am writing from the comfort of my couch here in Kuwait, with sunburned shoulders, sore feet, and 800 more pictures on my computer than when I left. As much as it is good to be back in my own home, I have to tell you, I would leave it all for a minute to move to Sri Lanka. It was truly my version of paradise.

Imagine… rolling hills, mountains, rainforests, beaches, monkeys, birds, lizards, music, dancing, (beer), smiling faces, women in skirts and men in tank tops, coconuts, trails to the peaks of mountains, waterfall swimming holes, and color, COLOR, COLOR! So much color, everywhere you look. That is the thing I miss most, living here in Kuwait, is the color. Sure, there are green palm trees planted along the blue Arabian Gulf, but that’s not the same as unrestrained, natural, vibrant color as far as the eye can see. Even the clothing and self-adornment in Sri Lanka is beautifully colorful. And this is just one reason why I took 800 pictures in one week…

Sean had an excellent time as well. We were both a little apprehensive, never having traveled this far East before, let alone to a country that is so geographically diverse. We hoped we would be able to navigate the trains, understand the direction we wanted to go, and communicate well enough to get there. Let alone Sean’s phobia of spicy food… Regardless to say, everything worked out absolutely perfectly.

The only thing I would change would be to return to Sri Lanka with more TIME. Eight days is not enough time to see such a diverse island. There is no way we could see all of the temples, beaches, and mountains the island has to offer in only eight days. Therefore we chose only one small portion of area to visit, “The Hill Country”. It takes hours upon hours to travel around Sri Lanka (imagine 3 hours to go 50 miles), so we used the train line to get around within a small area, so that we would maximize our time and get a true picture of what the hill country is truly like. I had heard too many horror stories of people trying to book a “whole island tour” in one week, and being driven to death, spending six hours in a car each day. Dear Reader, if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, remember that less is more! We chose less of the country to see, and enjoyed ourselves so much more because of it.

Alas, I talk to much. With so much mention of all the photos I have, it would only be rude not to share.

In Colombo, on our first day, boarding the train. We landed at 5am and took the 10am train into the hill country. While waiting for the train, we explored Colombo a bit, and quickly decided we wanted OUT of the hectic city life! The train ticket (a 5 hour train ride) cost only $8 per person to ride in first class! We only brought backpacking packs along, which made it incredibly easy to travel wherever (and however) we liked.

The view from the train before it left the station.

As we left Colombo, it was relatively flat land for the first hour and a half. I spent a lot of time snapping pictures of the greenery.

There is a whole system that revolves around the train; while most people use the train for transportation, others use the train tracks as a quick way to walk from here to there. I endlessly saw people carrying baskets of banana leaves on their heads, men walking with their tools for the day, and schoolchildren walking along the tracks on the way home from school. People sell their wares on the side of the tracks when the train stops, and others may their wages by maintaining the tracks. It is an amazing culture to witness! We even followed the train tracks for one of the hikes that we took ๐Ÿ™‚

A Buddhist temple from the view of the train. Buddhism is the main religion on the island, with Hinduism, Muslim, and Christianity following.

We had been awake for 36 hours at this point. The advantage of buying a first class ticket? Reclining seats!

Train station. The car closest to us on the other train is the first class “observation cabin”. You can tell by the large windows on the end of the car. First class simply means that you are guaranteed a seat, and that there is about half as many people in that cabin as there would be in a second-class car, and even fewer than the crowded, standing-room-only third-class car.

As we traveled farther inland we approached the hill country. Sri Lanka is second only to India in Ceylon (black) tea production. When you are sipping down that iced tea at your local Starbucks, or buying Lipton black tea at the grocery store, you may very well be drinking Sri Lankan tea! Lipton is the largest buyer of Sri Lankan tea. In the above photo you are able to see a tea plantation. The climate and the rolling hills make for a perfect environment for growing tea.

Tea plantations arose in Sri Lanka under British rule (yes, they drive on the left side of the road here, just like England). Tea became popular once the coffee plantations failed due to a bad growing season. Once the tea plantations began they have proven a great success to this day.

This man on the left side of the photo was my favorite thing about riding the trains; delicious Sri Lankan snacks sold for pennies! Whenever the train would stop, he would hop off and walk along the windows selling fried lentil patties and donut-like fritters. They were delicious! On the ride side of the photo you can see Sri Lankans in their everyday clothes; the man in a polo shirt and the woman in a colorful, flowing dress.ย  (Kinda like what I like to wear! I’m telling you, it’s my dream home.)

Bougainvillaea tree in the foreground, tea plantation in the background. The small houses in the right-hand corner are only a sneak peak at the poverty we saw around the tea plantations.

Many of you may recall that Sri Lanka had a long period of instability, and the group that made headlines was known as the “Tamil Tigers”. Long story short, there is no more instability or unrest in Sri Lanka. There are two main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Tamils were originally brought to Sri Lanka from Southern India for work. The fighting arose between the two groups when the Sinhalese government wanted to make Sinhalese the official language, angering the Tamils. The Tamil people wanted representation in the government as well as an official language that wouldn’t set one group above the other, and thus the fighting began. The conflict ended in 2009 in favor of the Sinhalese.

The reason I am sharing this information is because many of the workers on the tea plantations are Tamil. I will notify you when I believe a photograph has a group of Tamil people versus Sinhalese. To me, it was difficult to tell the differences, but it is very insulting to them if you were to confuse one with the other.

On a brighter note, outside of our first lodging for the night, Sean ran across two boys playing. They came up to us FIRST, asking how we were and where we were from. Everyone in the entire country was so incredibly friendly!

The first place we stayed was called “Mount View Cottage” and was in Nuwara Eliya. We got off at the Nanu Oya train station and got a ride to the town of Nuwara Eliya, only 15 minutes away. The hotel was complete heaven! Hotel is actually inaccurate; it was more of a homestay. You are staying in one of three rooms in a Sri Lankan couples’ home. The food was excellent; the above picture is me in the dining room. The balcony overlooks their garden where they gather all of their vegetables for the meals! We would return in a heartbeat.

As we left MountView Cottage, we had to take one last photograph of the place. If you look hard enough, you can see our host waving goodbye ๐Ÿ™‚

Ah, the most interesting mode of transportation, the “tuk tuk”. A tuk tuk is a three-wheeled vehicle that is very popular in Sri Lanka. They are cheaper than taxis, and definitely less safe, but all the more fun and entertaining! There is only room for the driver in the front, and two people in the back. (However I had seen at least seven people crammed into one tuk tuk at least a few times during our trip!) We normally hired a tuk tuk when we wanted to travel a short distance – they are very cheap and actually quite a bit of fun! I like to think of it as a cross between a lawnmower and a go-kart…

As we were leaving MountView Cottage, we came across a school for children with special needs. They were holding band practice, marching down the street! I loved how every student had a role to play in the marching band, and that the community was taking pride in their children of ALL abilities, showcasing their talents with pride. (I told you, it’s my dream home!)

In the park, this sign speaks for itself. (Note the three languages on the sign: Sinhalese, Tamil, and English.)

We explored a beautiful botanical garden in Nuwara Eliya. Sean, of course, bee-lined it for the monkey bars ๐Ÿ™‚

A woman who was maintaining the park offered to pose under the bougainvilleas. I love how her dress matches the flowers! (I told you, my dream home!)

In order to get back to the train station, we took a bus from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya. It cost something like fifty cents! I loved how the buss driver decorated his bus. (Also note: The steering wheel is on the right side!)

From Nuwara Eliya, we got on the train to travel to Ella. For this leg of the journey, however, we didn’t get seats in first class. (Note the “2” on the side of the train, which indicates second class.) Instead of sit inside the stuffy cabin with our backpacks on our knees, we chose seats with a more scenic view…

We loved hanging out the side of the train watching the mountains and rainforests roll by. That was probably my favorite leg of our entire journey through all of Sri Lanka! (Don’t worry, I held on tightly whenever we rounded a bend ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

I can’t wait to share more photos with you, but enough is enough for tonight. Stay tuned for our second adventure in Sri Lanka: Ella, Little Adam’s Peak, Waterfalls, Monkeys, and Buffalo Curd! (Yum!)

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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