Finally we did something we’ve been putting off for years. Last December, We made that long awaited, dream trip to Badulla on rails. Each time we saw a train roaring past us while we were held up at a level crossing or rattling along on rail tracks that ran parallel to the main road, a feeling of nostalgia swept over us. If you just wonder why we went there, crazy as it may sound, it was purely for the pleasure of the journey. Have you set off on a journey, where all that mattered was the pleasure of traveling itself and not the destination at all? Just for the hell of it?
We set off on this just to feel it. The rattle of the steel wheels against steel rails. The deafening roar of the locomotive engine changing its note according to the terrain. The smell of the diesel fumes when you rush through a tunnel and to join in the ritual hooting of the young and the old alike in it. The roller coaster feeling at the top of the world when the train crossed the ancient bridges over ravine and valleys. To get an eyeful of the breathtaking view of the greenish mountains shrouded in the clouds. Pine forests and the rolling in mist. Green tea plantations, vegetable plots, cascading waterfalls, the ever changing, picturesque landscape with the cool fresh mountain air.
A week ago, we walked over booking counter of the Gampaha train station and asked about making a booking in an observation car to Badulla. Leave alone the observation car, even a regular second class compartments had to be booked a month (or forty five days) in advance. Disappointed, we turned back, when the booking clerk asked, if we were interested in third class compartments could be reserved. This didn’t sound very promising as I visualized the crowded uncomfortable third class compartments I had seen where you have to struggle to keep your seat. Still seeing no option we bought three third class return tickets to Badulla paying only LKR. 2400.00.
We wondered whether to go to Gampaha in the van and leave it at a friend’s so that we could come home any time of the day without fear of missing the last bus, but later decided against it. We decided this journey should be entirely on public transport.
We had decided to travel light as never before. We packed one fresh change of clothes for the return trip and one set of pajamas with tooth brushes tooth paste and the usual stuff into one wheeled bag and just one small backpack for water and food. We had decided not to worry about the accommodation and see about that once we got there. We were ready to sleep at the Badulla train station if necessary. So, no laptops, only one camera and two phone cameras for photography, with no chargers as there would be no way to charge phones at the station. We regretted about leaving phone chargers later. Actually we had never traveled that light anywhere.
We woke up to the first alarm and got ready. Locking the door and walking to the road in the dark to wait for the early morning bus was an experience we hadn’t had for over a decade. We arrived at Gampaha station at the day break. We bought the breakfast from a Meals on Wheels parked in front of the station. To survive on street food was also part of the deal, like sleeping at the station. :D
So in several episodes I hope to share a fragment of what we enjoyed on that journey. To some of you daily train commuters, this might be rather disappointing. But I do hope there would still be some of you train lovers like us who’d understand what we did, what we did.
The Gampaha train station was crowded with people. We had the option of catching this Podimanike train either from Colombo Fort or Gampaha. We had the advantage of catching it half an hour late at Gampaha, so we didn’t regret our decision.
The train arrived and we scrambled in. Actually it stopped at Gampaha just to pick us up, because the guard has the name list of the passengers who have made bookings and the stations they get in. Unaware of this, we had got into one of the regular crowded compartments while our reserved seats in a separate compartment next to the engine were empty. We got off at the next station and found our seats.
This train, a new blue colored Chinese power set, was unexpectedly comfortable than we expected. It had cleaner toilets and reasonably better maintained compartments.
So the memorable journey began with a lot of promise. I hope to let the pictures do the talking as far as possible.
Visit the next part:
79. On Rails To Badulla... Part Two - Up to Kandy
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