Our Top “Sri Lanka by Train” Moments – Part One
Think of green vistas sweeping away as you peep your head out of the train window. Think of jungle-clad mountains, endless tea plantations and bada iringu (corn on the cob) uncles who make their way through crowded coaches. It’s no secret that we love travelling by train, although in Sri Lanka it means that you spend at least half of the day to get to your next destination. Train travel in Sri Lanka is chaotic. We don’t want to glamorize it. But hey, we shamelessly love it. We love listening to everyday stories of the commuters. We love the simple pleasures in life — those that a luxury chauffeur ride can’t buy. In this blog post, we are talking about our top five “Sri Lanka by Train” memories. Some of them, we dearly love. Some quite note. Either way, all of them left an unforgettable mark in our hearts that once in a while, sitting in an up-country train, we let them embrace our soul, slowly with happiness, and sometimes, with an uncalled amusement.
1. The wee boy
3.30 AM. We had boarded the Badulla bound goods train from Kandy. The train had a few passenger compartments. Nathan slept for the most part of the train journey until it reached beautiful Nanu Oya although I did my best to annoy him and wake him up to see the sun rising over the central highlands. At Nanu Oya, a little boy got onto the train with his family. His dada, holding him, sat in front of us. And boy, he had one of the sweetest smiles until Nathan put his hands over me to hold me. Every time Nathan got closer to me, his eyes brimmed with tears. He happily took the Tip Tip packet we gave him, then went on to be seated in another place but, even today, passing Nanu Oya, his curious brat-y face and his little eyes filled with tears come back embracing our hearts.
2. The Germans
During the same journey to beautiful Ella, two Germans got into the train at Ohiya and sat in front of us. We got talking with them — about many things. Things about this beautiful island, life here and our plans. At that time, Nathan was just train-hopping in Sri Lanka and we all thought it was only a small break from his hectic life in downtown Sydney. And I? I was deeply sad. I was sad that he’s leaving. I often thought of many oceans, languages, cultures, religions, races — in other words, barriers. They were the barriers between us. “Cute couple, and good luck! Hope you guys stay together,” the German couple got off the train at Haputale. A day later, in one foggy December morning in Ella, we happened to meet them again. And boy, it’s three years now, and we are together. Happier than ever.
3. The Airbnb Host
February, 2017. As we were barely standing by the door to get to our next destination on Podi Menike (Colombo-Badulla train), the guy next to us casually started a conversation. He spoke beautiful English. He was going to Nanu Oya, exactly where we were going. We got off the train at Kandy as the crowds were unbearable, and our legs were aching after 3 hours of standing. We boarded the bus to Nuwara Eliya. A year later, I booked an Airbnb for our stay in Nuwara Eliya. The host happened to be the same guy who we struck a conversation with that day! What a small world. David, our host has a beautiful little home in Blackpool, and he took us to waterfalls which we otherwise would never have visited.
4. The Aunty from Vavuniya
I joined the long queue to try my luck at reserving a seat to get home. I’m standing in the line for 3.55 PM train to Vavuniya. The train never leaves at 3.55 but, it gets packed as soon as it arrives. The lady behind me wore a red bindi, tapped my shoulders, “Can I sit next to you?” She asked. “Obviously,” said I. She then asked the officer to reserve her seat next to mine. As we sat next to each other, we shared our stories. Her stories, different to mine, reflected the pain of living with the war. The pain I often didn’t hear of. The pain of the minority. The stories of the minority Tamils that didn’t reach my ears. Her stories were about leaving Jaffna, her home, to settle down in Vavuniya. They were about seeking permission from the LTTE so that her sister could go to university. Her stories screamed for peace. For love. For acceptance. Her sister went to the University of Peradeniya. Turned out, she later became a teacher and taught at my very own school. That day, I bade farewell to her at 5.30 PM when the train reached Kurunegala. But, she, she who wore a saree and adorned a beautiful face with a red bindi, she was someone who could change my perception about the war. And I will remember her for the rest of my life.
5. Bom Diggy Diggy Bom Bom
Yes! Welcome to Nanu Oya, again! Our favourite Zack Knight and Jasmin Walia were on repeat at Nanu Oya. A group of guys were proudly maneuvering their jukebox, a portable speaker with disco lights on the station platform. Heck! If I was the sole owner of such a hipster jukebox, I would write sonnets about it. Maybe Instagram about it with a couple of tulips. They sang. They danced. “They also wore Arabic perfume,” that was Nathan, speaking from his experience over 20 years of living in the desert. His home. They boarded the train but, noise pollution in foreign-packed Observation Saloon is strictly prohibited. Despite them paying for their seats, they had to stand in a small corner in railway uncle’s coach because, train journeys are for dancing to songs you fail to understand.
Btw, Sonu Ke Tittu Ki Sweety was how I discovered Bom Diggy Diggy Bom Bom. Then I discovered Zack. Then Jasmin. Now I want them to get married. A girl can dream, right? RIGHT??? Oh and hey, this is only the beginning of our “Sri Lanka by Train” series. There’s more to come. Stay around!
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