Train spotting for beginners

We arrived at a crowded Colombo train station, eager to jump onto our train to take us up the mountain. We were greeted by a rickety, rusty old train with no doors and only some windows. Panic did not set in as I know that we had paid for first class tickets!

When I contacted the company that booked the train tickets for me in advance from Colombo to Kandy and they said it would cost $20 including their booking fee, I suspected the train might not be the best I’ve ever been on. I was right in some ways but not all.

We tried to make sense of the timetable but we could not figure out where to go, we went to ask the train master and he said we needed to wait 5 mins and our train would be here on the platform where the rusty train was. I won’t lie, I was relieved at this point.

As we waited I got to soak up the atmosphere of the station, there were a lot of westerners that stood out, as we did, like sore thumbs. Then there were the locals, most of them had managed to find seats, think they have been here before.

The train slowly pulled up and the 1st class carriage was actually reasonable, we had to show our tickets before entering which made me feel quite secure. The luggage rack above our heads was quite small but you can squeeze a large north face bag in if you give it a good shove. The locals found it quite amusing to watch us do this.

The seats were a little worn but they did recline and had foot rests and tables. If fact you had more leg room then economy on a plane, but to keep us all grounded a young family got on board with a small child, why did I pack my headphones in my big bag, why?

Train-spotting on the way up

We set off from the station and started the long slow journey to Kandy. The speed didn’t bother me, it gave me time to soak up the atmosphere and sights along the way, there is a whole lot of atmosphere to soak up. I’ve seen a few brief glimpses of poverty on my travels but nothing on this scale. People living in tin huts, mud huts, plastic bag huts and houses that I have no idea how they stand up along the whole 3 1/2 hour journey.

Despite what I perceive to be accommodation issues, everyone had washing hung outside or draped over bushes and no one I saw was miserable.

We stopped many times along the way at various stations which are always well decorated with flowers and plants, every time someone made eye contact with me I smiled, straight away they smiled back.

I saw many firsts on this journey, water buffaloes, rice fields, monkeys, all different vegetation, chipmunks and a lot of different people. It seemed common for people to walk along the train track bedside us or when we went to single track, stood to one side as we passed.

Children walking along the railway line

There was a dude who came up and down the train along the way with various snacks and cold drinks “snack dude” but I was not in the mood for warm egg sandwiches today.

When we arrived in Kandy we decided to nip to the toilet before we jumped in our taxi. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we should have gone on the train but we were both unaware of the assault our senses were about to receive. I’ve been in many a portaloo, some in very warm climates, I’ve been to festivals but none of which prepared me for the assault my nasal passage was about to receive.

As I walked in the smell hit me like a blast of an oven as you open the door and made my eyes water. Lucky me, there is a queue. Whilst stood here getting my nasel hairs slowly melted, a local woman asked me where I was from, when I said England her face lit up and she had to show me her label in their T-shirt, M&S. I’ve now bonded with a woman in the smelliest toilet I’ve ever been in and I am having a conversation about how nice M&S underwear is. Eventually it was my turn and I’m so glad I pinched the paper serviette and wet wipe you get with your meal on the plane, really needed that right then.

Once outside I smiled at rich and told him what it was like, for now it was his turn. Rich came back quite quickly, no queue his side.