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Published: April 19th 2019
Even after hearing that the reserved tickets for the train to Ella were sold out for two months already, we were still fooling ourselves that we would get on that train somehow... We found out the previous day that on the morning of the departure, a few extra tickets are usually released, so we thought we might as well see if we can get any. Grant went with the tuk tuk to the station at 7am to get the tickets while I finished packing and got the kids ready in case we were to catch the morning train. He came back at 8 with 2 tickets, unreserved as the reserved ones were sold out (surprise, surprise!). He was also told that we should try to get on the train anyhow as most likely we would get seats from Nuwara Eliya. Apparently most of the people would get off there... so only 3 hours standing and sitting for the rest of the journey... We both were a bit sceptical about that but a guy at our hotel told us exactly the same thing. Quick decision, we'd try it! After all we were ready to go anyway... Somehow we didn't take into account
that there were around 100 people queuing with Grant at the station to get the tickets that morning...
Once at the station we went straight to the platform. Strangely enough it appeared that people would be boarding the train from two platforms, yep! That's right, meaning all those people were in fact waiting for the same train! We chose one platform and somehow not entirely comprehending of what was about to happen, joined the hordes and waited patiently for the train. Train was delayed but nobody seemed to mind. After all we all would soon be experiencing one of the most scenic train journeys in the world...
Once the train finally rolled into the station, excitement started slowly turning into apprehension... and eventually into anger... People pushing through to get to the doors, making no space for anyone to get out. Wait a minute... why wasn't anyone getting off that train???? It only hit me later that this train was actually running all the way from Colombo... so not only nobody was getting off but lots and lots of people were trying to get on it. You'd think that people would have a bit of courtesy not to
push through someone standing there with children, but it was totally the opposite. We were definitely disadvantaged here... For the sake of kids safety we just stepped aside trying to find a hole in the middle of it all.
There seemed to be no commotion in the first few carriages, in fact nobody was boarding them anymore. I went up to check if they indeed were full and I saw quite a few empty seats in the 2nd reserved! What??? Some guy was standing next to these carriages so I asked him if there was any chance for us to get on that train. He was dressed smart, very polite, seeing how desperate I was, he talked to the train 'master'... no, train was full... how was it full if there were empty seats there? Nope, sorry ma'm all reserved tickets sold out. In all fairness, when I came back to Grant, I actually did see the 2nd class reserved carriage filling up (I guess they were simply boarding the train from the other side). Anyway... there was no way I would be standing like a sardine with 2 kids for 3 hours in that train... Taxi to Ella
it would have to be then I guess...
As we were discussing with Grant our options or rather their lack of, the guy I was talking to before came up to us and said to wait, he had an idea... Ok? Soon after he was back and said his clients were sitting in the first class with tickets booked all the way to Ella, but they were going only to Nuwara Eliya. He was picking them up from Nuwara Eliya so we could go there with him, swap our tickets with his clients and take their seats from there. Quick discussion, ok let's do that! He ushered us to follow him. As we started approaching the exit, a few angry locals came up and started saying something angrily to our guy, he seemed to have gotten a bit agitated and sped up a bit. So did we, but next thing we were surrounded by these guys and all of them were bad mouthing our guy, saying we could go with them in a taxi instead. Then I heard 'he's black market', 'he'll take all your money'... To say I got a bit distressed would definitely be an understatement... what
if that was true? If it was just the two of us, maybe we would've 'risked' it, but now with two munchkins by our side we had to be at least a bit sensible... I stopped for a moment to share my doubts with Grant and the next moment our guy was gone... Instead we had a few taxi drivers around us trying to convince us to use their services. They all said the same what we heard before, the train will be basically empty from Nuwara Eliya. 9,000 rupees would take us there or we could pay 12,000 and go all the way to Ella... At that moment the only thing I could think of was how on earth did we get to this moment... I was really angry at myself for not booking the reserved tickets two months before when I started planning our trip... Splashing out on a taxi felt like a bit of a failure... Despite everyone telling us the train would be empty from Nuwara, deep down we knew they were twisting the truth a bit, but still hoped for the best... we really wanted to experience that train journey... So reluctantly we took a
taxi. As we jumped in the car Grant said that our guy probably didn't have bad intentions and that we would surely see him in Nuwara... I wasn't convinced but l I guess we'd just have to see. As we took off from Kandy we quickly realised that sitting in an air conditioned van with all this space to ourselves didn't feel that bad at all... The thought of the crowded train made us even start considering an option of heading directly to Ella... we still had a bit of time to think it through...
The drive was quite full on. The traffic was mental! Even the driver seemed to have been annoyed by it. Thankfully both kids passed out almost as soon as we left Kandy. We started gaining some height almost right after leaving Kandy, through a very windy road of course. We went through the train tracks a couple of times and I wondered whether our train had gone through there already. The drive was very scenic. As soon as we climbed up a bit higher, we drove into a land of tea plantations. One after another stretching for kilometres. Our driver was checking his watch
and talking on the phone every now and then. We passed by some incredible view point overlooking the lake but apparently we had no time to stop to have a look. I checked the time and judging by the distance we were well ahead of the train? Some time later our driver asked whether we wanted to go to Ella straight away. Why? I thought we agreed to go to Nuwara to catch the train, were we going to miss it? Nope, still on time, so why changing the plans then? Anyway... We continued on through the curvy roads in between the tea plantations. It looked like Dumro was some bigger/more famous one as it was advertised from miles away. Never heard of it... Finally we reached Nuwara and as we were passing through it, I thought that it would've been nice to stay there. Next time... Since the train was delayed in Kandy, I was sure it wasn't going to be here on time either. Ok train to Ella, round 2!
When I saw the platform full of people, I felt my heart sinking a bit... our chances of getting on that train got smaller and smaller by
the second... I wouldn't give up just yet though... The train as predicted didn't show up on time, all was left to do was to wait. The delay was good for one thing at least, Millie and Daniel could run around a bit and hopefully get another sleep on the train if by some miracle we would get on it. Our guy from the train station in Kandy showed up in the end as well. Grant started talking to him. Apparently he turned out to be a really genuine guy. He was a private tour guide. Even though his clients had tickets all the way to Ella (did I mention first class already?), they changed their mind and wanted to stay a few days in Nuwara instead. Since they weren't going to use their tickets all the way to Ella, he wanted to help us out by swapping the tickets in Nuwara. We would have our reserved seats and they would have tickets to get off the station. When asked why he disappeared so quickly from the station, he said he simply didn't want any trouble. Taxi drivers were screaming at him, bad mouthing him only because they wanted to
get our money for themselves. Kind of makes sense I guess... He also said he was going to take us to Nuwara for free and asked how much we paid for the taxi. When Grant said 12,000, I thought wait a minute... what 12,000? That was the price all the way to Ella... well, it looks like in all the commotion with our grumpy taxi driver rushing us off his taxi, the two of us frantically looking around making sure we had all our things and calming down our two whining kids in between, Grant paid him too much... Greedy taxi driver of course didn't correct him and happily took more money... it was almost an hour later when we realised that so too late to try to find him to get our money back... besides our train was about to finally arrive at the platform so we just left it... I lost it there for a moment though... I wasn't particularly angry at Grant, even though it may have seemed so, I was simply angry at the whole situation... trying not to get scammed by one guy and at the same time getting scammed by another, spending money on
a taxi which we were never meant to take... if only I booked these silly tickets months ago... and now with more and more people piling onto the platform, our chances of getting onto that train were getting slimmer and slimmer... a possibility of splashing out on yet another taxi was griming over our heads... our guy said he would still try to get us these 1st class tickets but I gave up on that idea... With all these people around it was going to be a chaos once the train was there... we'd better look after ourselves rather than rely on someone else. And that first class still seemed a bit too good to be true...
Once the train pulled up to the station, I quickly realised there was no chance of us getting into the 2nd class, way too many tourists with ginormous backpacks trying to get on there. I ran up to the 3rd class, it looked slightly less busy... I quickly called Grant, we grabbed the pram, and quickly got inside! We were on the train! Only to be shoved around straight away. This empty space I saw from outside was actually meant to stay
empty as it was right next to the bar. There was no way we would be getting off now! A few people moved a bit, some more people came on board... And soon after, squashed like sardines, we left Nuwara...
We were happy to be on the train but at the same time... it was so crowded! I started thinking how on earth we were going to get the kids to nap on that train while standing... But I didn't have to think about it for too long as after a few minutes a few local boys moved to sit by the open doors which created a bit of space... but not only that... A very nice lady gave up her seat so that I could sit there with the kids. I felt really guilty and resisted it a bit, but she wasn't going to have it any other way... To say I was grateful would be a massive understatement... We ended up sharing this seat with a local woman, who as it turned out was travelling with her family as well, but they were spread around the carriage a bit. In the end it was five of us
on this seat – Millie, Daniel and I and our new friend with her baby. No seat for Grant unfortunately. It was going to be an interesting journey...
The kids were quite excited to be on the train but at the same time slightly overwhelmed by seeing so many people around. If they didn’t get a nap soon, this journey would become much much longer... Daniel was overtired and started fighting back when I was putting him to sleep, but after a short while he fell asleep to the choo choo sound. And so did Millie actually... Peace and quiet for a while... I wish I could say, I spent this quiet time looking through the window and enjoying the views but unfortunately our window was shut and there were too many people standing in the carriage to be able to see the other side... I didn't mind though. Lots of things were happening around... chatting, laughing, eating, even singing! A few local youngsters took out a drum and started playing and singing... I loved it!
When the kids woke up, it was time to take out some entertainments... snacks that is! Lots and lots of them... Thankfully
we were prepared. Our seat companion had some snacks for her kids as well, so we started exchanging our supplies... Other kids in the carriage were happy to take part in this sharing experience too, so soon everyone around was snacking on something...
We continued on our way to Ella and I wondered if there were any stations in between Kandy and Ella as nobody seemed to be leaving the train at all... Eventually a few people got off but it looked like the majority of people were on their way to Ella or even further. Kids were happily entertained by all the snacks and in general all the commotion. Daniel was really excited to stick his head out the window and check out the surroundings while Millie already made some friends and was looking through the window with her new buddy on the other side. It was incredible watching her interact with her new friend. They actually looked as if they were having a real conversation, not sure how it was possible with two different languages but it worked!
Once we got to Ella I couldn't believe how many people got off that train. The platform was
packed! We made it though. Pfeeew... It was a long journey, probably even longer for Grant since he was up on his feet the whole way, but it actually wasn’t too bad at all. There is no doubt that if we had a few seats to ourselves, the journey would’ve been much nicer. And maybe we could actually check out the views as well! Still it was definitely a one of a kind experience. Experience that we were happy to tick off our list and experience that we wouldn’t necessary repeat again... Next time we would just get those reserved tickets! We were in Ella now and we were ready to explore!
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