The cliché goes: “it’s about the journey, not the destination’. This is true for the train trip between Kandy and Ella in Sri Lanka (or the other way around). This 7-hour train ride is a ‘destination’ in itself. The railway snakes through green-covered tea plantations, steep mountains as waterfalls, small villages, waterfalls, unique bridges, and everyday Sri Lankan life slides past the windows.
The trip between Kandy and Ella is very popular with tourists as it provides spectacular views while locals use the train as part of their daily travel. While there are overnight trains that run on this route, it is definitely worth making this trip during the day to avoid missing the views.
1st Class observation car.
The first-class observation car or deck is usually at the back of the train on some daytime trains traveling on the Main Line (like between Kandy and Ella). In this case, passengers sit ‘backward’ looking out of the back of the train – which gives you amazing views! This carriage may be connected directly behind the locomotive at times. The observation car offers a panoramic view of the fantastic scenery.
1st class air-conditioned seats.
This carriage offers reserved seats in an air-conditioned carriage. The windows in this section cannot open.
1st class sleeper.
This carriage has sleeping-berths and is only available on a few overnight trains.
2nd class seats.
These seats are available on all inter-city trains. You can book a ticket either on a reserved seat, or unreserved seat option. The second class carriages have fans, and the windows can open. The open windows are a popular option for those who want to take a selfie with your head/torso out of the window – you know the one… with the train in the background… Please always be safe when taking pictures and selfies in particular. It is super easy to forget about your surroundings (and the hazards around you) when you are focusing on taking that perfect picture.
3rd class seats.
Available on most trains, it can get quite full and only has the necessary facilities.
Exportrail or Sri Lanka Railways – Same train, different carriages.
The carriages are a part of the same train; the difference is that Exportrail is a privately owned company, while Sri Lanka Railways is government-run. The Exportrail carriages are generally more modern with meals, water, tea, and coffee included in your ticket price – this makes them slightly more expensive, though.
It is recommended that you buy a ticket for this trip as far in advance as possible- especially during peak seasons and on weekends. Weekdays will likely see emptier trains, which could give you a slightly more comfortable trip.
There is a debate about which side of the train to sit for the best views. This could actually be a bit of a philosophical question, and the answer can be quite subjective. The general opinion is that the right side of the train going from Kandy to Ella provides the best views… but I will let you decide that!
The same goes for ‘which section of the trip is most beautiful?’. Important areas are the Hatton to Ella section and the Nanuoya to Ella section while the area between Ohiya and Ella is likened to Switzerland. There are 14 tunnels between the Ohiya train station and the Idalgashinne train station – this is the only place in the world where you can find 14 tunnels between tow train stations on the same line.
Along the way, the train stops at a number of stations – as trains do. Here local vendors board the train to sell food and drinks to passengers. The first and last daytime trains between Kandy and Ella are mixed passenger and goods trains. These trains have carriages that carry goods and oil and generally spend more time at stations along the route. This offers you a chance to see some of the towns along the way. This train is perfect if you really want to turn the journey into the destination but be warned that it could also get quite crowded as many local commuters make use of these trains.
Train rides allow you to take in the scenery of a country while traveling from one place to another. They offer convenience and comfort that could be slightly off the beaten track. Although it takes longer to get to your destination than a flight, it is well worth the time to make this part of your journey instead of rushing to the destination.
A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com