A train-ride up to Ashburnham

This will be brief. I’m in the third row from the very back of the 7 a.m. ‘Inter-city’ from Colombo Fort to Kandy and the bumps are worsening.


This is the ‘Observation Carriage’ – so called for the seats facing backwards to give views out through large well-cleaned windows. Observation won’t be so easy for those nearer the front (back?).*


The interior is that of a faded members club. Wood pannelling (or what pretends to be wood) clings – the bumps can’t help – to the walls and ceiling. A concession to a sort-of modernity, three enormous air-conditioning units, Soviet-like, rattle and flash at intervals above the gangway.


They must be working. I’m wearing a warm jacket.


The carriage is almost full. Tickets are increasingly hard to get and I was lucky Sam could ‘fix’ this one for me. Costing 800 rupees (approximately USD 5) the ticket’s undeniably cheap. Most are smartly dressed, and almost all are Sri Lankan. 7 rows back an Englishman in a dark blue suit looks official, in a mild way.


I’m wearing shorts with little whale-tales on them; my briefcase the only admission of working status. It’s possible that the pairing is ridiculous.


The bumps have coalesced into a neat and loud rhythm. It’s hard to know we’re cimbing but to my right, through curatins part-drawn I can see mountains starting to rise up.


My neighbour is asleep. There’s no ‘refreshments’ trolley – the thing wouldn’t survive two journeys – but 10 minutes ago she pulled out an enormous tupperware box of neatly cut sandwiches. I happily took a tuna-mayo on white and had to work hard to decline repeated offers of more.


We’re an hour and a half in – another hour or so to go. We’re about to hit the tunnels, smokey-black and narrow. The walls look almost hand-made, like on rides at Chessington World of Adventures.


I live mostly in Colombo now, and switch between a preference for cars or trains to get to Ashburnham. Despite the bumps and the unreliability of the ticketing process, this has to be the way to do it.


I’ve lived six years in Sri Lanka but am still surprised by the brightness of its colours. Somehow, unless I imagine it, you see them most sharply on train journeys. Perhaps away from the smoke and noise everything’s clearer.


And, rather wonderfully, even the bumps seem to have stopped.



* the prime seats to me seem to be be numbers 39-44 (you’ll get the views over towards Bible Rock when you get within an hour of Kandy.


Train tickets can be booked by phone, dialling 444 (the cost added to your phone).


For journeys between Colombo and Kandy you should try and book at least 3 days in advance to be sure of getting a seat. Seats are reserved in the Observations carriage (first class) and second class.