I shall begin where we left off in the previous post – at Fort Railway Station. Built in 1917 by the British, Fort Railway is located in the heart of Colombo and serves as the city’s main rail terminus. With its Victorian architecture and fort-like exterior, the station is indeed a relic from the past. As the capital’s main rail terminus, Fort Railway Station is your gateway to the rest of Sri Lanka.
The train still remains as the main transportation bloodline of Sri Lanka, with tracks running across the island. From a practical standpoint, this in itself is good enough reason for train travel. Practicality aside, Sri Lanka is also one of the few countries on the globe which offers stunning train journeys.
There is no such train journey by the name of ” Jungle Ride ” so save yourself the embarassment! The term was coined by yours truly. Why “Jungle Ride” ? I think it’s self-explanatory but if you’re still confused you’ll find the answer by the end of this post. The “Jungle Ride” refers to the train route from Colombo to Kandy. A journey of slightly under 3 hours from the flat coastal plains of Colombo upwards to the steep hillcountry of Kandy through some of the best scenery Sri Lanka has to offer. Prior to the ” Jungle Ride “, I was adamant that nothing could possibly surpass the train journeys I embarked on throughout Europe. Well, the ” Jungle Ride ” certainly gave European train journeys a run for their money!
Tickets & Schedules
The ticket office is inconscipously hidden to the left of the main entrance/exit. The station is a hive of activity especially during the morning and evening peak hours. In the midst of the throngs of locals rushing in and out of the station, it’s easy to miss the ticket office the first time around. Keep your eyes peeled for the small signboards or ask a local!
Colombo-Kandy is a popular route so purchasing tickets shouldn’t be much of an issue. There are a few companies who operate the route and prices vary according to the level of comfort offered. Check out Seat61 for more information on the options available.
My Dad and I opted for the popular option – 1st class Observation Car on board one of the local trains. Seats on the Observation Car sell out fast so if possible book early or do what we did – arrive at the ticket office the moment it opens. The tickets are economically priced and well worth the money at 500 rupees (5 SGD) per seat.
The observation car is attached to the back of the train. Although the ticket states ” 1st class ” , do not expect too much. If you’re one of those picky luxury travellers, opt for one of the privately run coaches instead. The observation car is similar to a normal train cabin in many ways except for the larger windows. There’s also a huge window at the back of the car that extends from the top to the middle of the cabin.
Toilets at Colombo Fort Railway Station are rudimentary, a remnant from the past. Think Kampong style toilets. The wall serves as a urinal. Buckets of water are your sinks. I didn’t see any toilet bowls either. Oh right, you have to pay to use the toilet as well! If the above description leaves you feeling more queasy/uncomfortable than your stomacheache, go do your business somewhere else. The toilets on the train are a much more pleasant option.
The Observation Car isn’t only popular amongst tourists. Local families tend to travel on it from time to time. The children seem to enjoy it. We were fortunate to get front row seats right in front the huge window. Since the Observation car is attached to the back of the train, we moved backwards as the scenery unfolded into view in front of our eyes. A tad bit anti-climatic but hey.. it’s a train not a roller coaster!
The blare of the horn sounded and the station master waved his flag vigorously, signalling the start of the journey. The train cruised leisurely through Colombo and her outskirts allowing a glimpse of the capital as it awoke from slumber. Schoolchildren on their way to school, white-collar workers rushing to work, Shabby House shacks along the tracks…
The city soon gave way to the countryside as the train picked up speed, cutting through the padi fields. Cattle grazed lazily as farmers adorned with bamboo straw hats tended to their crops. The mountain range loomed ominously in the background. The “Jungle Ride” was about to commence.
The train engines roared to full capacity as we drew closer to the mountain range. The padi fields were quickly engulfed by the thick Sri Lankan forest as the train began it’s ascent into hillcountry. The ascent continued for the next hour or so as the train passed through numerous tunnels bored into the rock face. The ascent was far from smooth, with numerous bumps and jolts.
The surrounding terrain is harsh and unforgiving for man let alone a machine. To put things in perspective – During the British Empire’s colonization of Sri Lanka, the hill country posed one of her greatest challenges. The native hill warriors put up a fierce resistance to the incoming colonizers. Unable to adapt to the harsh and unforgiving terrain, numerous casualties were chalked up on the British end before they finally succeded after a prolonged battle.
I looked back at the narrow curved track which disappeared round the corner into the deep valley below. The Colombo-Kandy railway was widely lauded as a brilliant engineering feat back in the day. Barely halfway through the journey, I can attest to that claim even in current times. It was stunningly beautiful whilst at the same time perilous given the frightening pace the train was travelling at. Morbid thoughts floated in my consciousness – “All it took was a small obstruction/loose track for the entire train to free fall into the valley below”. I brushed those thoughts aside,reclined into the armchair and began to appreciate nature’s glory.
Here’s a short clip of the entire journey!
***TO BE CONTINUED***