You can find me sitting in the doorway of the second class, open-air train in the heart of Sri Lanka as it winds through the tea plantations, waterfalls, running brooks, and misty clouds, between mountains dotted with trees and bright purple flowers.
I’ll be smiling to myself about how I just got the steal of the century, spending the equivalent of a dollar or two on a train that is taking me through some of the hands-down most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.
I know I say that about just about everywhere, but as a kind Vietnamese girl named Cherry once told me, “I think everywhere has its own special beauty.”
I think she’s right.
I’m surrounded by extremely friendly, smiley people who wave and ask where I’m from. I can’t believe how much I’m loving this little trip that for most of these people is standard procedure.
Little kids stick their heads out and, when the train comes to a stop and we can hear each other, ask me what my name is.
I feel myself smiling like a crazy person, at nothing in particular, other than the feel of the air through my hair and the low-hanging mist cooling off the day. I can’t imagine a more perfect moment exists than this. Every moment is savored in this magical green oasis.
Peace was only reached in Sri Lanka three years ago. Perhaps it would have been unsafe to take this route prior to then, or especially some of the other parts I had visited in the cultural triangle farther north. Everyone I speak to agrees it’s good that peace has been reached – they’re glad the fighting is over.
It’s hard to imagine everyone here older than three years old knows what constant fear feels like. They know what it really means to value every moment of being alive. They don’t take it for granted.
Now I’m hanging out the door, on what feels like the edge of the world. Both hands are gripping the side bars as I lean out, ducking back in every time a low-hanging branch or grasses that are a little too tall threaten to clip me. People in the rice paddies and tea farms wave as we pass by. The kid who dubbed me Rajvi and I smile and laugh whenever we catch each other’s eye.
Then it’s time to give someone else a turn. I don’t want to be a door hog.
In how many places that you can think of do people prefer the open doorway and the floor next to it to a nice comfortable seat? Not many that I can think of. No matter, the window is completely open and I can hang out of it, the music in my ears playing a peaceful soundtrack to what I’m seeing, which is pure bliss, pure beauty.
It was due to happenstance that I ended up in Sri Lanka. My layover from the Maldives brought me and I elected to stay. Who would have thought it would bring me such joy and adventure?
Do it yourself:
- The train is BY FAR the best way to get around Sri Lanka on a budget. The busses are overpacked and much less pleasant
- The most beautiful route runs between Kandy and Ella, though the rest are beautiful too
- Check the routes and times to get an idea of when to go. I had no problem simply showing up and buying a ticket. That said, they oversell more tickets than there are seats in the second and especially third class, so be prepared to stand if need be
- Second class was perfectly comfortable and a great option. First class and the observation car and reserved seating tends to sell out up to two weeks in advance
- Don’t worry about bag storage. There is ample room
- Buy tickets directly from the ticketing office at the train station, and hold onto your tickets. They will be collected when you leave the terminus station
- Feel free to bring your own food, but give the snacks and drinks on board a try. They’re delicious!