A sensational train ride from the warm and coastal Colombo to the cool and misty central highlands where the level ground gives way to steep ground and where the train literally starts chugging and winding through tea estates and pristine tropical rainforests. This is what makes Sri Lanka’s heritage train journey.
This journey, which begins at Colombo’s fort railway station is best taken during the day, especially the trains from morning 6 AM through to 9 AM to allow one to enjoy Sri Lanka’s natural wonders from the comfort of the train seat. The sheer ‘GREEN’ effect captivates one and all. Furthermore, it is quite an experience to see a train that is plying at 60 kilometres per hour drop its speed to around 10 kilometres per hour and struggle its way through the steep tracks of Sri Lanka’s central highlands.
The ride begins at Colombo and goes on till Badulla, one of Sri Lanka’s tea towns, but most tourists, prefer to get down at Nanu Oya, which is the closest railway station to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s tea capital. To know the train timings, one can look up Sri Lanka’s railway site. Currently, online booking is not possible, but one can book tickets from the station 14 days in advance. Typically, 2nd class and 3rd class tickets are available on the day of the journey, but the most sought after seats are the first class observation car ones, which is slightly more comfortable, but provides a 3 side view of the journey. If I remember right, the first class observation car seats cost about 700 LKR, while the 2nd class seats cost about half of that.
The first class compartments are non-air conditioned, something which you will prefer coz it will allow you to feel the change in the temperature as the train starts climbing into the mountains. The seats are fairly comfortable and the 3 side view is very interesting. Though, personally, I would have preferred if the observation car view was that of the front of the train and not the rear. But, then I do understand that the engine has to be at the front.
As the train leaves the Colombo fort station, the crowd thins out and the stifling humidity is more bearable due to the wind. The train crosses small villages and stops at some stations. In about 3 hours from the start, the temperatures begin to dip as the train slowly begins to ascend. The landscape changes to that of tea estates interspersed with tropical rainforests, mountain streams and waterfalls. Umpteen bridges and tunnels add to the eerie factor. A loud scream from all corners of the train greet one n all when the train passes through the pitch dark tunnels, some of them really long.
As the train approaches Nanu Oya, the train has covered about 180 kms in about 8 hours. Mightily slow one might say, but if you were to account for the 6,000 feet rise in elevation and the rugged terrain, then I guess it sounds reasonable. The entire journey is thrilling with beautiful vistas greeting you at each turn. This is one journey that every tourist to Sri Lanka must do. A road journey from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya is much faster, say 3 hours less, but lacks the nature’s punch of this heritage train journey.
For those who are wondering where Nuwara Eliya is located…Nuwara Eliya is located about 8-10 kms from the Nanu Oya station. One can either catch the bus from just outside the station or take a cab. A bus journey takes about 30 minutes and will take you right into the centre of Nuwara Eliya.
Tips: Do remember to carry a packed lunch, some high energy snack items and lots of water as the station and train food leave a lot to be desired. Even though it might be warm while you board the train at Colombo, be sure to pack a thin fleece or sweatshirt to help protect you against the nippy weather of the highlands.