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Published: September 9th 2018
R: Next day was train day. We took one last opportunity to go up on the roof of our hotel to marvel at the impressive view that Hotel Topaz had to offer and then we were off. We headed to Peradeniya Junction, a pretty station in amongst a chaotic car park close to Kandy. We left so much time for the traffic chaos that is Kandy but sailed through, meaning we had extra time to experience the very small, but pretty station that was Peradeniya. Train travel is still very much a popular method of travel here, as we could see from the trains passing that were packed to the rafters with Sri Lankans heading in different directions, though this could have been increased by the impending religious festival about to start in Kandy. The station was simple, but immaculate with people everywhere tending to the flowers and litter - but not the toilets. (Thankfully with a 2nd class ticket - you could use the nicer toilets!).
Our train was coming from Colombo and was a service heading to Badulla in the hill country. Its made up of several different classes of travel in different cars - 1st class observation,
which had a big window at the back and was mainly for Chinese tour groups. 2nd class reserved was us - pretty standard stuff with no A/C, but big windows that made for better photos! Then 2nd class non reserved (and if you weren't reserved - you weren't sitting down!) and 3rd class, which looked like bench seating, though I couldn't really see through all the people hanging out the windows and doors into this class.
Before we set off we visited the "cafeteria" which was a window with some chairs outside and some very angry crows guarding them. We selected a bag of something that looked like crisps, some spicy Bombay mix and two large samosas with unknown filling. This came to the grand total of about £2. The samosas got wrapped up into some lined paper, which bore someones physics homework - with optics being the lesson of the day. (Being amused at this I sent this to some friends in the UK, who told me they had got it wrong, but I didn't have time to go back and tell them.). I also ordered a 20p coffee - which turned out to be with milk and
sugar by default, and the "disposable" plastic cup came with some cheerful red lipstick on one edge for decoration...
The train made two calls at Peradeniya - once on the way into Kandy from Colombo, and once on the other track back to Badulla, so we got on for the ride to and from Kandy to see the back streets and houses. One of the things worth mentioning at this point was that, in most of the world, the houses closest to the train track can be slums, but we really didn't get that feeling in Sri Lanka. Some were obviously poorer than other areas, but there really wasn't grinding poverty here that we could see. Rajan explained to us (on a different occasion) that the social care system in Sri Lanka is much better developed than some other countries and there is free education and medical care for all, though many chose to go private in both areas if they can afford it.
Anyway, we went back into Kandy first, then back to where we started on a different platform, then along the narrow mountain railway to Badulla, getting off at Nanuoya... To say it wasn't a
fast train would be an understatement - the train very slowly wound its way along the single track through green countryside and small villages, which soon turned into tea plantations. The weather had briefly been looking up at the station, but it got much worse as the train drove on, forcing us to shut the window on several occasions for fear of getting drenched. As we moved through the hill country we were offered numerous snacks and drink options by roving vendors on the train - samosas, cashew nuts, tea and so on.
The going got steep as we went along and we gained quite a lot of height. We ended up at some points fully in the cloud (see photos) which made for less interesting photos, but was quite atmospheric. We could see little coloured flecks amongst the tea plantations - which were the tea pickers going about their jobs in the pouring rain. This area is covered in tea plantations, and most of the infrastructure seems to have been constructed around it. We had some long waits which were a little unnerving as we had heard that trains often get stuck on this route when there is
heavy rain due to landslips etc. But we always seemed to get going again - normally just waiting for another train to pass us on the single track. The train route became increasingly windy and we passed some fabulous waterfalls including St. Clairs - the locals were keen to point these out to the tourists - an example of how happy the locals seemed to be to interact with the tourists.
We stepped off in Nanuoya which was shrouded in mist and we had just enough time to get to the car (Rajan had driven the distance and was waiting for us in the car park - it took him half the time!) before the heavens opened again. We pulled into Nuwara Eliya about 4pm, and felt like time for us to go out and explore, but the heavy rain and wind made in nearly impossible to be outside for any length of time, so we settled ourselves in the hotel - the St. Andrew's, which is an old colonial style building. Nuwara Eliya was where successive British governors lived during the colonial times. The hotel was quaint, it felt like it belonged in Scotland, with a big Billiards
room, roaring open fires and stag's antlers above the bar. In most places in Sri Lanka we were offered a cold towel and welcome drink as we arrived, but here, due to it being 11°C, we were offered a cup of spiced vegetable soup - which was amazing and so warming.
So we stopped in at the bar (sadly not by a roaring fire as those positions were already taken!) for afternoon tea (which cost £6) and Cate had a coffee cocktail. Their attempts at scones were impressive, but the clotted cream was not... As the rain and wind battered the hotel we enjoyed dinner and a few Whiskys in the bar in the evening - their range was impressive, though they had a Dalwhinnie portwood which was going for around £20 per serve that was extremely tempting, but out of our price range.
When we woke, the rain was still battering the hotel, but I was determined to step outside!
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