Last week I took the train from Fort Station in Colombo to Haputalle in the Hill Country. I stayed the night in a Tea Bungalow and travelled by train again to Colombo the next day. This is the story of that journey
Sri Lanka’s railway network was introduced by the British Colonial Government in 1864. The main reason for building a railway system in Ceylon, as the country was called then, was to transport tea and coffee from the hill country to Colombo for export.
Fort Railway Station
Fort Railway Station is the central station of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. It has remained virtually unchanged since it opened in 1908. The station has 10 platforms and handles 0.2 million passengers daily. There is a small ladies waiting room and another for gentlemen. A tiny kiosk on Platform 1 sells packs of peanuts, ice cream and bottled water and a “cafeteria” offers snacks and tea. Off platform 10 near the small railway museum which has only an old steam engine, there is a ‘rest room’ where you could take a shower for Rs. 50 (~25 pence).
We arrived at the station with two hours to spare, in order to avoid the heavy morning city traffic. The waiting rooms were uninviting. We found a bench in a relatively quiet corner on Platform 10 and had a picnic breakfast of cheese sandwiches and fricadels.
We took the Viceroy 2 to Haputale – a special, luxury compartment attached to the regular train called Udarata Menike (Hill Country Maiden). The air-conditioned carriage operated by J. F Tours & Travels (Cey) Ltd. has 24 overstuffed recalling seats, tables, a bar, kitchen, piped music and WiFi.
The train was 20 mts. late leaving Fort Station. It shook and rattled. The windows were small and it was hard to see out of them. The toilet was smelly. Air-conditioning was turned on full. WiFi worked intermittently. Two casually dressed attendants tried their best to make everybody comfortable.
Tea (Dilmah tea bags) was served. Speed dropped as we started the climb in to the hills. I sat in the small bar and ordered a Gin & Tonic (Rs 300 -£1.50). One of the two attendants poured a measure of local Rockland gin. There was no ice and the tonic was not chilled. “We have no lime or lemon” the bartender said. I asked him to turn the air-conditioning down.
Lunch was a packet of rice and vegetables of dubious provenance. Dessert was a small tub of yoghurt. There was no coffee. I ordered a beer, drank half of it and the rest drenched me when the train jerked to a sudden stop.
View From The Train
The view was breath taking. The track clung to the side of mountains. There were endless tunnels. Blue mountains in the distance including Adams Peak, Bible Rock and Utuwankanda were shrouded in mist. There were waterfalls and hillsides covered in tea. White clad station masters rushed about in quaint little railway stations.
Haputale railway station is 248 km from Colombo and is at an elevation of 1480 m above sea level. It is the 69th station on the main line from Colombo Fort. The station built in 1893 has just one platform and a siding.
“Perched at the southern edge of the Hill Country, the largely Tamil town of Haputale clings to a long, narrow mountain ridge with the land falling away steeply on both sides. On a clear day you can view the south coast from this ridge, and at night the Hambantota lighthouse pulses in the distance. On a not-so-clear day, great swaths of mist cling magnetically to the hillsides. Either way, it’s a spectacular part of the country.” – Lonely Planet
The journey to Haputale took over nine hours. We got into the waiting car and drove to our Tea Bungalow. It started to rain.
Comments re J.F Tours &Travels (Cey) Ltd.
“Lack of hot Kitchen on Viceroy 2 was a disaster!
- Serving a ” bath packet ” with lunch sheets not up to class.
- No hot kitchen for bites, negative.
- No ice cubes , no lime for “Gin & Tonic”.
- Tonic not chilled.
- For dessert a Rs. 35/- yogurt? cup is “poor show”
- Evening a dry sausage bun was pathetic, cold and insipid.
- On the contrary the chicken lump rice was up to standard.
- Fruit ” Milk shake ” not up to mark, pax would have preferred the normal free flow of tea & coffee.
- A lunch is normally served with a free bottle of water. Charging 110/- for a 500ml is ” Highway Robbery “. With a 50% profit margin you could have sold @ Rs. 60/-