Overland transport can be one of the more interesting parts of international travel. We particularly enjoy traveling by train, and the lengthy trip from Colombo through Kandy and on to Badulla is certainly one of the more scenic train rides in the world.
Morning rush hour at the train station was hectic and with the language barrier, potentially very confusing. We managed to get on the right train and avoid any repeats of what we encountered in Indonesia. We had assumed there would be a variety of food and drink coming through the cars on a lengthy train route like this one, but nonetheless we prepared by getting a little stock of snacks and juice and water before the train arrived. This proved a good choice, as most of the stuff locals were hawking at stopovers was freshly sliced fruit slathered in questionable syrups, lots of possibilities for trip-thwarting gastroenteritis. We picked up some vegetable roti and plain (goat butter) roti from a bustling little shop near Colombo Fort station. Even when we don’t have any reference for local offerings, the same basic rules have kept us safe: follow the crowds (locals, not tourists), find a crowded establishment, look around for what seems to be the most popular…. and get that. The stuffed roti were excellent, and as a VERY spicy breakfast item, I’d have to suggest that Sri Lanka may not be a great travel destination choice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy spicy food.
We opted to travel “2nd class” based on our experiences comparing the two traveling through Java, Indonesia. For scenic train rides, I really want to be able to open a window and get some photos. In the “1st class” (A/C) cabins, you often have fixed, foggy/dirty windows and it really can spoil that a little bit. As this train ride carried us into the highlands (up to close to 2000 m above sea level), the breeze from an open window was plenty comfortable. Also, there were overhead fans, although our fan needed to be occasionally jump started with a pencil to one of the blades and a smack to the motor. Oddly, the locals seemed to know without hesitation that’s what the fan needed when it would sputter out. Which is another appeal of riding 2nd class: far less tourists. The total travel time was about 7 hours to Nanu Oya, where we disembarked. The ride was beautiful all the way, but we were ready to be done when we arrived. The Nanu Oya station is crawling with aggressive taxi touts trying to slink up to you and get you into a $20-50 ride to Nuwara Eliya, when, right outside the station awaits a bus directly there for a total cost of….. $0.20 per person. That’s right: 20 cents for a lengthy bus transit. Travel through eroded, cramped mountain roads with aggressive traffic felt a little dangerous at times, but we made it safe to Nuwara Eliya. I would’ve loved to be done at that point, but we still needed to transfer to our hotel, which was another 15km or so, all uphill, into the mountains. The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, where we’re staying, is a real oasis, perched atop a large hill with scenic views on all sides. It’s probably the first place we’ve stayed that you might call a “retreat.”
The food has been incredible (and spicy), and we’re getting some R&R after a long transit day. On the agenda today: tea picking and hiking around sunset.