This teardrop island in the Laccadive Sea may be small, but it packs in some of the world’s most enchanting rail journeys. Take a Sri Lankan train rides and find yourself rattling past suburbs with a fellow passenger dozing on your shoulder or perhaps moving in and out of emerald-green tea plantations.and thickets of tropical rainforest while digging into a packed meal of rice and curry!
The steam trains that used to transport tea and spices along these weaving rail lines have almost vanished, and now the colourful diesel locos have replaced them, which offer the same evocative transit through the large landscapes of Sri Lanka. Well, if you love train journeys, then be sure to book your tickets in advance for one of these four epic train journeys in and around Sri Lanka.
Head hinterland to Kandy
The three hour trip from Colombo to Kandy is one rail journey that is featured on almost every Sri Lankan itinerary, an adventure that will whisk you away from the big city lounge to the genteel greenery of Sri Lanka’s spiritual capital, home to the legendary Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, cherishing what’s claimed to be a genuine tooth of Buddha.
On the way, you rattle past rolling hills, paddy fields, lush stands of tropical forest, palm trees waving like giant hands, and miniature village train stations with tin roofs and station attendants standing to attention in appropriate uniforms. There is a fresh chill in the air that can be felt as you leave the baking coastal plain for the atmospheric climate of the hills.
The Colombo to Kandy line was the first major route established by the newly formed Ceylon Government Railway in the 1860s, slicing through the forested hills inland from the capital to bring tea and coffee down to the coast, to further the economic ambitions of the British Empire.
Today, travellers ride in the opposite direction, on a journey that serves as a perfect introduction to Sri Lankan travel, and offers a slow travel experience to reach the Hill Country from Colombo.
The Main Line to Badulla
This British-era Main Line was built as a channel for Sri Lanka’s most famous export – tea. The journey from Kandy to Badulla takes about seven to eight hours, goes carving through Sri Lanka’s tea plantations that appear hollowed into the hilly green landscape like huge fingerprints of a giant. The tidy borderline of lemongrass and canna bushes provide an ornamental trim around the edges, while tea-pickers in rainbow printed Sri Lankan sarees create graphic flashes of colour amidst the emerald green! To get the best of the views, take a spot in the open train doorway, with your feet dangling above the track, to get the best of the train ride.
The most dramatic section of the journey is perhaps the final stage from Ella to Badulla, where one would be amazed at the feats of 19th-century engineering carrying the train across valleys and ravines and around the rocky outcrops.
To the north of Ella, the tracks curve over the brick-and-stone Nine Arch Bridge before intercepting the Demodara Loop, where the line circles around a hilltop and passes back under itself. Most of the travellers end their journey at Ella and hike to viewpoints around the bridge for some quick photography moments.