Sri Lankan Train Journeys

Travelling is not always about where you reach or when you reach, it’s just as much about “how” you reach.
The “how” in this case was my journey from the modern capital of Colombo to the ancient capital of Anuradhapura. It was a long journey that started with a flight into Bandaranaike Airport, then a bus to Colombo Train Station, then a train to Anuradhapura and finally a tuktuk to my home stay, Charm Inn. That is where I sit and write this now with a cup of coffee in a lush green verandah filled with birds, flowers, a lovely family and 2 dogs. Oh and a great wifi connection. At this moment there is nothing else the writer in me wants or needs.
But I digress, this post is not about my content state of being instead it is about the journey that got me here.  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in Sri  Lanka so far it is: don’t trust the internet or other people with transport timings. Just turn up at the bus/train station and there is every chance there will be a way for you to get to wherever you want.
 
My online research had led me to believe I had two options once I reached Colombo Train Station (more popularly known as Fort Station): either I could catch the 1:00 pm train or wait for the one at 3:55 pm heading towards Anuradhapura. I reached five minutes late at 1:05 pm panicking and thinking all was lost only to find out I was just in time for a train that left at 1:15 p.m. Made all that fretting and alternative planning in my head feel quite pointless.
Trains in Sri Lanka are a lot like trains in India in that they are a food-focused party. As soon as I board the train and walk through the carriages I see images that are instantly familiar. I pass a family unwrapping a delicious looking food parcel of spicy lentils and vegetables, a young mother feeds her stubborn little daughter mouthfuls of rice, local vendors board the train selling everything from fritters to fruits; there is a flurry of activity and all of it is centered around food.
The vendors are a special feature of the train journey. They have a long and busy day ahead of them, there are other trains to catch and lots of food to be sold. They move through the carriages while hawking their wares at a quick pace and you dont have too much time to decide what you want to indulge in. Each one of them has a different way to call your attention. Some hand out samples, some sing a song and others praise the flavour of their food as they place their basket near your seat so that you can ascertain their claims. I eyed the deep fried Lentil Fritters served with onions and crispy red chilies at least five times before I succumbed. I received them wrapped in some dilligent Sri Lankan student’s Math homework paper. I absentmindly go through his sums as I eat my food. After food, there is plenty of fresh coconut water to quench my thirst. As I buy my coconut I calculate that for the price of one small tetra pack of Vita Coco in the U.K, I can buy more than 20 coconuts in Sri Lanka. With that, my mind is officially on holiday mode.

It goes without saying that you must offer the snacks to your fellow passengers with whom by now you would’ve exchanged countless smiles if not words. You would’ve probably answered questions about your marital status, where you’re from and what you’re doing in life and in Sri Lanka. My co-passengers were my first official introduction to the friendliness of the locals I’ll soon grow accustomed to in SL. They helped me with my bags, explained what I was eating, kept me company and finally, woke up me up when the train was nearing Anuradhapura and I was fast asleep quite ungracefully with my head leaning against the window and my mouth wide open.

With happiness-inducing views of coconut trees, rivers, old villages, and temples while the cool evening breeze blew and the sunset, my first train journey in Sri Lanka was a success.

” Excuse me, are you Miss Ankita?” , I heard as soon as I stepped onto the platform. I could hear his smile before I saw it.
 “Yes, I am” I replied smiling back.

“Welcome to Anuradhapura,” he said, still smiling while taking my bag from me.

And with that, as the train carried on with my fellow passengers, I waved goodbye and my journey was complete.
**************
How do I get there?
 
It’s possible to get to Anuradhapura from BandaranaikeAirport on the same day.
 
Walk outside the airport, turn left and just across the road you’ll see bus 187 (100 LKR).
 
The bus goes straight to the Fort Station – ask the driver to let you know-  and from there you can head to Anuradhapura  (290 LKR) or any where else.
 
Trains leave all through the day and if the timings don’t suit you buses are also an option.

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