Train Ride Through the Tea Mountains

During a recent trip to Sri Lanka I had the pleasure of taking a three-day train ride through the Tea Mountains. The first leg of the trip was about two hours and went from Ella to Hepatale. A days rest in Hepatale to explore the Tea Plantations, drink the tea and enjoy the peaceful mountain setting, and I was back on the train to Colombo. This second leg lasted ten hours, and went from high in the mountains into the city. Any traveler looking to experience some of the most beautiful in the world, while enjoying the nostalgic ambiance of hanging out an old train must take the time to make this trip.

Nestled 1041 meters above sea level is the beautiful town of Ella. A five-minute stroll along the road that passes through the village you will see a few hotels and open-air restaurants. This town also serves as the first station for many travelers on their way through the scenic Sri Lankan tea mountains.

The train is divided into three classes: First class, is at the back of the train, and is considered to be the viewing car, as it is a wall of windows. The second class, has individual seats and is slightly less crowded, while the third class is bench seats and very lively with people constantly coming on and off the train.

All of the signs are hand painted in Sri Lankan, Tamil and English. This sign shows the time tables for the train, and are generally understood as reference, as every train seemed to be roughly two hours late.

As the train chugged its way through the mountains I found myself more and more lost in the beautiful scenery around every corner. Waterfalls, rivers and expansive tea fields slowly passed.

The scenery outside the train was awe-inspiring but it was the beauty and kindness of the people along the ride that make it so amazing.

Once the train had gotten to the top of this particular ridge, we wound our way around this valley for over an hour.

The colors of everything in Sri Lanka are amazing, especially the clothes that many of the woman wear.

The middle cart on the train serves as a snack cart and a hang out area. I would recommend buying enough food for your trip, as after the first hour the only thing left was white bread. But if you are in need of something, the guys were willing to run off the train at any stop and try and get it for you.

As the train pulled into higher elevations we entered a beautiful mist that added to the mystique of the passing jungle, and the excitement of entering the tunnels.

The most exciting thing of the train ride is the ability to hang out the sides of it. In between every cart are numerous boys hanging by their hands enjoying the breeze.

After Weeks of traveling alone through Sri Lanka I found myself on an old train high in the Mountains. This passing smile from a woman on another train encapsulated the unmistakable feeling of joy I had experienced during the previous three weeks.

At many stations on the ride it seemed as if the whole town would pour into the train to sell various sweets and food. It was incredible to watch the people hustle in and out of the train.

Garret Clarke is a traveler and photographer. You can view more of his work at:

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15 Responses to Train Ride Through the Tea Mountains

  1. Michael September 2, 2010 at 10:11 AM #

    Garret, nice timing on those action shots.

  2. ayngelina September 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM #

    Beautiful photos, train travel is by far my favorite type of travel.

    • Steph September 2, 2010 at 4:28 PM #

      Agreed! I love being able to stare out the window.

  3. Kelsey September 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM #

    Really great shots! I love your use of light as well as your choice to go wide angle.

  4. Luke September 2, 2010 at 10:52 AM #

    These photos are heartbreakingly beautiful!! Fantastic stuff. I would love to do something like this myself. There is absolutely nothing that beats trains when it comes to long distance travelling. You can sit back, relax and watch the world go past… I envy you!

  5. Cam September 2, 2010 at 11:37 AM #

    Great pics. You’ve captured it well!

  6. Claire September 2, 2010 at 5:40 PM #

    i second all of the above comments. these pics are fantastic.

  7. ehalvey September 2, 2010 at 7:00 PM #

    LOVE the action shots! And the colors.

    I agree with Ayngelina, trains are just so perfect. Not too cramped, food carts, a view, and a chance to get comfy to sleep.

  8. Matt September 2, 2010 at 7:40 PM #

    Some beautiful photos. Sounds like a great journey – train travel is fantastic, you feel so connected to the place you’re traveling through.

  9. Erin September 2, 2010 at 8:19 PM #

    We have done this trip too and it is stunning. I love the train journies in Sri Lanka and the hill country is definitely a highlight. I loved leaning out the door and watching the world go by with the breeze in my hair.

  10. Dawn September 3, 2010 at 12:19 AM #

    I haven’t been to Sri Lanka but your images of the train ride to the Tea Fields make it look an adventure worth doing. I love train trips in general – something romantic about them so will be adding this one to my list.

    The people look so welcoming with their smiles and colorful clothes.

  11. Rebecca September 3, 2010 at 3:39 AM #

    Amazing photos!

  12. Adam @ Sit Down Disco September 4, 2010 at 7:44 AM #

    Absolutely stunning photography. Some of the best I’ve seen anywhere! Some of those shots just evoke so much feeling – you can really judge the mood of the people.

  13. Lori September 5, 2010 at 5:18 AM #

    Lovely post and of course wonderful photos! Reading it felt like taking the same trip with you! Unfortunately the photos don’t send the perfume of the scenery.

    It seems you had a great time during this trip and met wonderful people.

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