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: www.garretmclarke.com