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Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

By on Dec 5, 2011 in Sri Lanka | 0 comments

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Burnt out train wrecks from a war not long forgotten, butterflies and birds of intense blues and reds, cattle feeding in the fields of green and friendly waves from local villagers tending their rice paddies await for you along the rails from Colombo to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Niki and I, after spending a day in the city of Colombo, decided to begin our four weeks here in Sri Lanka by heading north to the Ancient Cities region before making a circuit south through the Hill Country. Before commencing this trip, Niki sat me down and whilst referring to our recent chaotic adventures in Vietnam, gave me two strict rules; Firstly no entering into political sensitive areas and secondly, no dodgy trains. So at 5.30am when we found ourselves hurling through the backstreets of Colombo towards Fort station in a three wheeler driven by the Sri Lankan version of Michael Schumacher, I was hoping I wasn’t about to break Niki’s rule on train travel. On a side note, Niki’s post traumatic therapy sessions that she received after travelling in Vietnam by train has gone well, she is now able to look at a train without running in the other direction!

Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Fort Station in Colombo


Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Coach 15707 – Fort Train Station Colombo

Considering it was early morning, the city was alive with people going about their prayers, local business men buying their morning coffees and soldiers completing their intense Rocky Bilbao montages. Picking up some fresh fruit and roti from the local street stalls, we boarded our 6.50am train for Anuradhapura. If you’re like me and when you think of Asian trains you think of old carriages falling apart at the seams, chickens running lose and the carriages so crammed that people under your armpits can tell what type of deodorant you’re wearing, you’re in for a pleasant surprise! Niki and I  boarded our clean 2nd class carriage with only eight other people and as we took our seats, I sat with an anxious wait to see if anyone else was to board. Surely there had to be more people, every other train arriving at Colombo was so packed with early morning commuters that if someone farted a person would be pushed out the door! However to our honest surprise, we left on time in a quiet cabin bound for Anuradhapura.

Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Onboard the Train from Colombo to Anuradhapura


Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Waiting for The Train to Pass

For the first half hour of our trip we passed through the urban sprawl of Colombo city, passed shunting yards and other trains  full to the brim with people. We eventually broke out into the green rice paddies and small villages that dotted our trip over the next four hours. The mountains shrouded in low mist were a constant backdrop. Everywhere you looked birds of vibrant colours where nesting and buffaloes were grazing in the fields. The further north you got the deeper into the jungle you went, with train stations becoming more overgrown with vines and tropical flora. Every stop would see men and women wandering the aisles with the most savoury and sweet dishes; from spring rolls to mangoes and my personal favourite, salted peanuts.

Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

One of the many rivers you’ll see from Colombo to Anuradhapura


Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Potuhera Train Station

As we travelled north, we also begun to notice more and more train wrecks and carriages on the side of the rails that the jungle was slowly claiming back. The wrecks, either by accidents or by more sinister doings, indicated that the north wasn’t going to be as tourist friendly as the south, especially considering I read that only a few years ago a bus was destroyed when it hit a landmine in the area. It was slightly unnerving to think that Sri Lanka was still in a state of military readiness and that Niki and I were moving closer to the areas that were under heavy observation and military occupation. There goes Niki’s first rule about politically sensitive areas.

Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

A colourful lady walking through the Rice Paddies


Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train

Niki watching Sri Lanka go by.

About an hour from Anuradhapura station the clouds opened and started a monsoonal down pour that would last for the next twelve hours. Later on we would discover that this wet weather was the left overs from a big cyclone that hit the south of Sri Lanka and sadly took the lives of some of the villagers in the area. On arrival, we were greeted by the usual line of touts and were whisked away to our accommodation. We paid 100 rupees for a taxi tide to our accommodation at the Surabagya Inn. Even if this was too much the rain guaranteed that our driver held all the bargaining chips. Colombo to Anuradhapura by Train costs 380 rupees ($3.80aud) with reserved seating that we had booked the day before and gave an interesting insight into the local Sri Lankan life as well as provided a comfortable and very affordable travelling option to Anuradhapura.

This post is part of the India and Sri Lanka: The Search for the Forgotten Tree blog series.

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This is Colombo
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Ancient Ruins of Anuradhapura  {Photo Junket}


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