Trains in Sri Lanka are awesome, let me explain.
The trains and wagons are old. In some places the signalling technology actually dates back to the British times. Usually when taking the train here you’ll have a choice between 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. But the key deciding factor on which one to take, is whether your seat is anywhere near a toilet. Train toilets smell something horrible. On our way to Ohiya we abandoned our 2nd class seats for a bench in 3rd to escape the smell – we wanted to arrive with our minds and senses intact. It was that bad. Otherwise the wagons are quite old but not necessarily uncomfortable, especially when compared to buses. There are fans in the aisle which sometimes work, sometimes not. And sometimes they creak and clunk so loud that you wish you were deaf.
But you can escape all of that, the crammed spaces, loud fans, heat and toilet smells by sitting in the entrance. The wind will cool your face, you’ll never complain of lack of leg space (as they’re dangling ouside) and all of Sri Lanka will be slowly wooshing by as the train swoops and turns through hills and fields and hidden villages. No cursing over dirty windows or heat and humidity. The amount of life you get to witness is so much greater than from the roads. And you’ll never be caught in traffic. And as you’re facing outside, you won’t have to worry about getting a sore neck from constantly looking to one side. And did I already mention the cooling fresh air? I guess I did. In conclusion, trains are by far the best way to travel around Sri Lanka.
We enjoyed sitting on the doorstep on the way to Ohiya, but the ride to and from Adam’s Peak was even better. The railroad there is built into tea plantations and it is one of the most scenic train rides I’ve ever been on, right up there with the time I rode on top of a train in Borneo, but that’s a different story. The railroads in Sri Lanka were originally developed for the plantations – to make it easier to transport large amounts of tea from the plantations in the hills to the port in Colombo. Only much later did passenger travel overtake cargo transport. Nowadays you can visit most larger destinations in Sri Lanka by train, and fortunately the scenic hill trails are still operational. Fortunately, because the views we had on the way to Adam’s peak were phenomenal.
Adam’s peak, also known as Sri Pada, is a site of pilgrimage. At the top of the mountain sits a temple, protecting the footprint-shaped mark that different religions have come to revere. For Christians and Muslims this is the first footprint of Adam as he descended from Paradise. For Buddhists and Hindus it is the footprint of Buddha (whom Hindus consider a reincarnation of Shiva) left behind from when Buddha came to visit the island. Hundreds of people undertake the climb to the peak every day all year around, regardless of age. For us the climb took a bit over 3 hours – we were relatively quick. Some people take 2 days to climb it, stopping to pray at every landing or even every step.
Our visit, however, had nothing to do with that footprint and everything to do with sunrise. You see, if the conditions are right, sunrise on top of Adam’s Peak is something exceptional. But to get there for sunrise, you have to wake up early, as in 3 am early. The path is well lit and supplied, there are small stalls with snacks and drinks every 100 meters or so, but climbing going up stairs for 3 hours is still tiring. I can’t imagine the disappointment, if it were cloudy once you reached the top, or if you arrived too late. For us, we made it just in time, about 10 minuted before sun peeked up from the horizon. It was a breath-taking view. The sky was not entirely clear but the clouds only added to the mesmerizing spectacle. The view made us forget about the throngs of people crowding the peak, all either trying to get a better view of the sunrise or enter the temple to receive a blessing. And then we saw what we came here to see: as the sun rose a little bit higher through the morning fog, the peak itself cast a perfectly triangular shadow into the air on the opposite side. Nature is beautiful.