A Bollywood Style Train Journey We’ll Never Forget

A Bollywood Style Train Journey We’ll Never Forget

Ever got on a train to a specific destination and found your plan completely messed up? But did your or somebody else’s presence of mind help you deal with the situation better? Read about our eventful experience of this kind from the coast of Sri Lanka!

Our Travel Diary is a series of travel tales, behind-the-scenes annecdotes and our crazy experiences from across the world! Read about what happens in our daily lives as The Backpacksters. Read below to see one such story from our memories.


Sri Lanka may be just another South Asian country for many, but the truth is that it is absolutely beautiful and completely enchanting thanks to its unique culture and landscapes beyond the beaches! And one such unique things about traveling in Sri Lanka is its famed train journey between Colombo and Ella. This was something which we wanted to experience for ourselves on our visit to the island in May 2018. 

The solid plan

After landing in Colombo International Airport at 11 pm, we decided to spend the night at the arrival hall. We didn’t want to check into a hotel in Colombo which was an hour’s drive away to again catch a train at 6 am from Fort Colombo station. Why the train? We wanted to experience another incredibly scenic journey from Colombo to Galle on the Southwestern edge of the island.

The unique thing about this journey is the train chugs along the deep blue Indian Ocean (only a few feet at most points) for several kilometers – just picture that! From Galle, we’d go to Mirissa and then later, up to Hill Country over the next few days! So it was absolutely necessary that we got on this train, else we’d have to spend more time finding alternate and less exciting modes of transport.

And by staying at the aiport not only would be saving some money, we’d also catch the one-hour public bus from the Airport to Colombo Fort Station comfortably at dawn and make it in time for the 6 am train and we’d have to buy tickets too.


Buying our tickets and…

Our bus journey took longer than expected but we managed to make it to Colombo Fort Station at 5:50 am – just a few minutes left to board the two hour journey that would take us to Galle. Thankfully we got the tickets in a few minutes and ran over to the platform.

Now, if you’ve ever seen Sri Lankan train tickets (or even old Indian or British train tokens), you’ll find them very interesting! They are small rectangular cardboard pieces bearing some information about the railways and journey and one number.

We were very amused looking at it. Considering that there was hardly anytime left, we ran about asking for directions to the right platform – in this case a big “2” that was printed on the ticket stub.


Catching the train like a boss!

Hahaha, we pushed through a crowd that was struggling to enter the compartment and managed to skill fully grab a seat as well. We felt that we had done justice to our Indian-ness by navigating through crowds with utmost ease while everyone else screamed frustratingly at each other! 

We made ourselves comfortable and in a few moments, the train began to move. As is usual in Sri Lanka, the train had left with a twenty minute delay. But we were so excited that our journey in the country had finally begun. Navneeth got the camera ready to shoot photos of the seaside journey as I looked curiously out of the window!


But where’s the ocean?

Colombo Fort Station is only a few kilometers from the coastline. It had already been about twenty minutes and we had got no glimpse of the sea nor any backwaters. Rather, we noticed fewer buildings, fading cityscapes and more greenery appearing. That was so odd – we’d never expected this scenery. As I was wondering this, Navneeth opened the Map on his phone and said “seems, we are on the wrong train”!

All that planning gone to waste?

I felt all my blood rush to my heart in a fit of panic! Everything flashed before me: a wrong direction we were heading in; it was an express train with no stops till Kandy (three hours away) which we were supposed to visit on the last day of our trip, before leaving to India. Our plan to visit Galle, Mirissa and then Hill Country suddenly was getting reversed and all of our budget (read non-cancellable) bookings on the old route would now go to waste! Or we’d have to spend a few thousand rupees hiring a private taxi and 8 hours to get back on track!


The kind lady sitting by the window

We were visibly anxious about this and an old lady sitting next to us noticed and asked if we were lost. We told her that we had unknowingly boarded the wrong train but should have actually been on a train heading in the complete opposite direction to Galle. She reminded us, that this is a non-stop express train to Kandy. Then, realising quickly, she said “there maybe only one stop at Gampaha – you can get off there and find your way back to Colombo”!


The Gamble

Gampaha was only ten minutes away and the time was 7 am. The train generally took an hour from Gampaha to Colombo station with no stops. We knew that the last Colombo-Galle train was at 8:30 am. So it was going to be a very close chance to take!

The train miraculously stopped at Gampaha and we raced out of the compartment. Navneeth ran to the ticket counter to buy a ticket back to Colombo while I frantically confirmed the route with a station official thrice! Navneeth came back panting and just then a passenger train pulled up. It was 7:30 am already, but we got onto it!

Turned out the train was going to be stopping at EVERY single station enroute! We continued to be anxious – the clock was ticking closer to 8:30 am and we were still far from the station! At 8:40, the train pulled in to the station. We got off and scampered to the platform where the Galle Express was scheduled to depart from, praying that it still be there, praising the tradtitional tardiness of the railways!


And there it was…

Still waiting, almost only for us, the train was still at the platform! The train master came out to the window to wave the green flag signalling the start with the loud hoot blaring from the Engine. Tall Navneeth’s long strides got him to the door sooner than me – small and tired, my foot steps were not helping much ground. Bu this was our only chance – with the dangling backpack I ran as fast as I could! In classical Bollywood style he got onto the compartment and put his hand out for me to grab. And just before the train started to move away, I hopped on.


And we made it!

In a few minutes, we could see the Indian Ocean and the waves crashing along the rocky coastline two meters away from the doorway where we sat for the next two hours.


Have you ever gone through something similar? What was that like? Tell us about it.


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