Friday, February 19, 2010

The Train Experience

sri lanka train to hikkaduwa
As promised I would post a little bit more about the train trip south. We have found the trains to be a very affordable mode of transportation to near most any part of the island. There was some hesitation at first, mostly how confusing it might be to purchase the tickets and figure out the schedules etc, but as it turns out there was nothing to worry about. Purchasing the tickets is easy enough as it's just a matter of deciding what class seat you want, and even the, that doesn't matter (More on that). And regarding the train schedule, pretty much anyone you ask has a little bit of knowledge of when the train is coming or going. There are some web sites with the schedules but we find them kind of questionable.

So after you buy the ticket you head for the train. At smaller stations that could be just a matter of heading towards the one and only track, but at the bigger stations like Colombo Fort you have to know which track to go to which usually means dragging your bags up and down a flight of stairs that goes over the other tracks, did that make sense? I really need to take pictures.

There is no one to take your tickets or show you what car to get into, it's pretty much spelled out for you in big numbers on the door, 2 and 3, 2nd and 3rd class. Thus, anyone with a 3rd class ticket can enjoy the comfort (sic) of the 2nd class cars.

Comfort? Hardly. Think Washington Metro, more dirty, no climate control and open windows. The2nd class car has 2 seats per row the 3rd class car has a bench seat on each side. The cars get very filled, 2nd and 3rd. Standing (Squeezing) room only.
When the whistle blows and the train starts rolling people will jump on board and fill in and nook and cranny on the train.

I have found the best spot to be is in the doorway, just sit down with my legs on the stairs, grab a hold of one of the hand rails and enjoy the breeze.

Now I'm not the only one who knows about sitting in the doors, in fact, it's a coveted spot. So if we get on the train when it's crowded I have to wait for the cars to thin out before getting a seat, until then it's sweat and be miserable.

Of course getting to the station early will afford us a seat and we do plan on that next time.

The nest thing about sitting in the door is I get to take it all in. Listening to the train increase in speed, seeing all of the cars as the train goes round a bend, waving at the children along the tracks, occasionally smelling food being cooked, watching orange peels being thrown out the windows of the train (Men go through the cars selling oranges, water and other snacks).

The sad thing is seeing all of the tsunami damage and people living in shacks or barely that. I often gripe about the sounds of the rains that go past our apartment, we are 5 floors up (4th floor apartment + ground floor) and the sound of the trains can rattle my nerves sometimes. Well the train was passing by a shanty-ville and I realized that some of these shacks were less than 10 feet from the tracks! Actually it seemed I could just reach out and touch some of them. I could hardly even fathom what it much be like to live in them. That pretty much humbled me.

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