Tuesday 23 September 2014

Day 153: Ella - Chinese trains

Healthy and Safety not an issue on Sri Lankan Railways
Today's billing made it sound like we would spend the whole day on the railways admiring gorgeous landscapes, so we were a little surprised to find that the train didn't leave until 3:15pm.  To pass the time, we went for tea on the lawns of one of Ella's posher tourist hotels, ignoring the protests of our driver who considered the tea over-priced.  Admittedly we paid about 25p each more than the norm elsewhere but I would have put a higher price tag on the view.

When we finally made it to the station we splashed out another mighty 20p (Richard Branson, take note) on the hour-long train ride to Badulla.  Riding with the carriage doors open so we could take photos (I doubt Tufty Fluffytail and friends would approve), we crossed viaducts and wove between miles of lush forest thinly dotted with dwellings.  Meanwhile some of the other passengers developed a habit of taking photos not of the countryside but of me.

The view east from Ella in the morning light
I was saved by the terminus, although Badulla itself is not exactly a happening place to be.  We visited the temple where the Buddha dropped some sweat (which has presumably evaporated over the last couple of millennia?).  What is it with the body parts again?  Then we made the return rail journey on a considerably mustier train than the plush Chinese one that we had ridden to Badulla.

Our driver tells us that it is increasingly common to learn Chinese in Sri Lanka and that the numbers of Chinese tourists are ever-increasing, never mind the Chinese infrastructure.  China's president is currently on a state visit to Colombo and the newspapers are reporting multi-billion dollar investment in energy, land reclamation and other areas.  India, meanwhile, our driver described as "a very dirty country", in his most scorching tones, based on other travellers' complaints about food hygiene.

Sri Lanka so far seems very clean and easy to travel in (touch wood), even when journeying by second class rail (what, another 20p?!).  Admittedly, the engine had a little trouble after stopping at a red signal on an incline (I take it that squeaking noise is the brakes?  Oh, and now we're slipping backwards), but we made it back to Ella for our final night in the hills before returning to the heat and the lowlands and the sea.

Approaching Haliela station
The Night Mail (our return train) prepares to start its journey to Colombo

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