We travelled from Trivandrum in India to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka in November 2018. The journey took us 13 and a half hours in total by taxi, flight and train.
We took a taxi from our hotel in Trivandrum to the airport, which was surprisingly big. There were a few shops and places to eat. The flight was just an hour long and uneventful.
The airport in Colombo had pre-paid taxi booths and ATMs so we got some money out (50,000 SLR = £220) and then got a taxi to the train station. It was a bit confusing and there were a few men offering to ‘help us’, but we headed to the ticket booth. There were far more backpackers in Colombo than we had seen in India, and they seemed quite geared up for tourists. We paid 400 SLR each (£1.58) for second-class tickets to Anuradhapura.
It was pretty hot. As we stood at the station, we had sweat literally pouring down our faces and necks. We found the right platform and the train arrived pretty soon afterwards. It was a rickety old thing but a lot of fun to travel in. There were no seat numbers so we just sat in the carriage as close to the window as we could. The local people were pretty friendly, smiling at us and saying hello.
The train was delayed and filled up pretty fast, so we were lucky to get seats. We were all squashed in and I had a woman nudging me for the first hour. Vendors selling cold water, toys, snacks, ice cream, bread, tea and coffee and apples walked up and down the carriages.
The scenery was gorgeous. Verdant rice paddy fields, jungle, little villages and mountains. The further we got from Colombo, the fewer passengers there were so we could sprawl out. Probably because of the heat, it is common to see people hanging out of the windows and doors of the trains – their legs dangling dangerously.
It started to rain mid-afternoon and it was coming thick and fast through the windows, so we had to close them. We dispensed with three cockroaches, two locusts and all manner of little flies (and no doubt mosquitoes) which flew in as the sun started to set – pink and amber against the blue clouds.
The train stopped a while at most of the stations and vendors got on and off. At one station, a band was playing. Darkness fell and the jungle became something a bit more sinister – a sea of darkness with the occasional light coming from a homestead or a motorbike. The noise of crickets and frogs sailed over from the paddy fields and a huge full moon emerged from behind the trees – round and yellow and stunningly beautiful.
Eventually, we arrived in darkness at Anuradhapura. There wasn’t much time to admire the station as we were surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers, competing for our business. We went with the first one as we were hot, tired, thirsty and hungry and paid 500 SLR to get to the hotel (more than we had paid for the train!).
By the time we arrived, they had stopped serving food, but the owners offered to cook us up some fried rice which was gratefully received. The hotel was called Heaven Upon Rice Fields and it was aptly named. Our room was comfortable, relaxed and had a stunning view over the paddy fields. We had a great night’s sleep and woke to the sun rising – a pink sky reflected in the saturated rice beds.