The owner of Cairn View decided to make sure his contact had organised the train tickets for us, so thought he’d better accompany us to the railway station. So he followed us in his big, expensive jeep and went about organising the tickets.
The ticket office was also from a bygone era, where everything is done manually, no computers here, just a set of thin shelves holding lots of little card tickets. The ticket man was dressed in pristine, perfectly ironed, white trousers and shirt, with a tie and shiny black shoes, he looked impeccable. How on earth he managed to keep clean in this dusty old place was anyone’s guess.
It was Sunday morning and lots of people were travelling; women, children, the old, the infirm, the businessman, Hindus, Buddhists, Tamils, Oh and us. The train station was fascinating, with all walks of life waiting for the Kandy Hill Train. The journey to Nanu Oya, the nearest station to Nuwara Eliya was about 2 hours away and I needed the loo…now train station loos aren’t always the best of places in the in the world, but this was something else. I won’t go into detail but I had certainly had my first Sri Lankan public toilet experience and it was not pleasant to say the least, but needs must so I had to hold my nose, close my eyes and grin and bear it as there was no way that I would be able to hold on for two hours, luckily it was one of the hole in the ground jobs, so thankfully no toilets to be messing with!
Anyway, that experience over and done with, I got on with enjoying mingling with the waiting passengers, all waiting with anticipation for the train to arrive.
The train eventually arrived, unusually it was about 15 minutes late, everyone got ready to find a seat, luckily ours were reserved and was the last carriage on the train so not difficult to find. It was an old wooden carriage, with the seats facing backwards looking at a large picture window at the rear of the carriage…this was the ‘Observation Car’. We found our seats, but the carriage was almost empty so we could pretty much sit where we wanted. There were a few locals our for a day trip, a German couple and us, so it was very pleasant. There were overhead fans rotating to keep everyone cool and sitting by the open windows gave us a great view and a cool breeze. The rocking motion and clackety clack of the of the train was reminiscent of the old steam trains and added a nice laid back rhythm to the journey. I knew a few people who would love this train ride..!
Hitched on to the rear of the train was a trolly with a group of men sitting on it being towed along for a free ride, this was like something you might see in a western film. They just sat there, with the best view and no need for fans to keep them cool! It was an amusing sight for all onlookers. They continued their journey all the way to Haputale, where they all alighted from the trolly and made their way to their various destinations! Of course health and safety isn’t an issue here like it is at home and this was refreshing to see…
The poor diesel train had to work very hard to navigate this winding route as it slowly climbed up the mountain passes with sheer drops and little metal bridges spanning large crevices and through long, dark tunnels cut through the mountains.The views were spectacular and breathtaking. Tea plantation after tea plantation covered the hills, but were free of the tea pickers who were having their Sunday day of rest. Each little station was was neatly kept, with the name of the station made in bedding plants, very English! Well this was the beginning of ‘Little England’! When the train pulled into a station, a vendor of produce; tea, peanuts or fruit would wander along the outside of the carriages trying to sell their wares to people though the windows or to those hanging out of the doorways…
The higher we climbed the cooler the temperatures became, we were now entering Sri Lanka’s main vegetable growing area, where even along the side of the railway there were little vegetable plots growing leeks, peppers, carrots, beans, you name it and it was growing here. Rows and rows of healthy looking specimens all being carefully tended, not a weed in sight. They are able to grow these kinds of veg here because there is a sufficient amount of rain to keep everything irrigated. However, this year even here they were suffering from a lack of rain and this was affecting the whole island, because it is from here in the mountains that the hydro power comes. The government had to take measures to conserve power and so every day for about three hours, normally at night the countries power would be shut off… Fine if you had a generator, which the large hotels had, but not so good if you were a small guesthouse or for the locals who didn’t have generators…
We were climbing thousands of feet and the farm workers we saw out in the fields were all wearing fleeces and jackets, a strange sight for us Europeans who were still finding the temperatures warm enough to wear shorts and vest tops!
We reached a summit of over 6000 feet and at last the train could take it a bit easier now, we were on plateau for a few kilometres before it would descend a little as it headed for it’s destination Kandy. We were leaving the train at Nanu Oya, where Hema would hopefully be waiting to pick us up to take us to Nuwara Eliya for a night at the Ceybank Hotel, another old colonial property, which has been converted into a hotel.
We pulled into the station, which was very busy with both locals and tourists, to see Hema waving at us from the parking area. We passed though the exit and made our way up to meet him. He had driven the car here whilst we’d taken the train and had just arrived, that was pretty good timing!
I’m afraid that Nuwara Eliya, was not so inspiring, maybe because we are Brits and the look of ‘Little England’ was the faded 1930’s suburbia, with conservative municipal style bedding plant arrangements found in places like Worthing on Sea! That is a bit harsh I know, but it just didn’t have the charm we were expecting! I’m sure it was fascinating for the Japanese tourists, but I’m afraid it left us feeling unexcited to say the least…my camera battery had run out, but it didnt matter as there was nothing that really caught my eye!
So it was only for one night and the hotel was a fine old pile, with polished wooden floors and huge rooms, we had a 4 poster bed big enough to easily sleep 4…so at least we’d get a good nights sleep and anyway our next destination was to be Kandy and it’s ‘Very Famous’ annual ‘Perahera’ translated as Festival, which we were really looking forward to!