We took a tuk-tuk from just outside the hotel and headed off for Kalutara South Train Station. We’d checked with the hotel what the approximate cost was likely to be and when the driver said it would be 300 rupees we were quite happy. The hotel had suggested that it was between 300 and 500 rupees!
It was an exciting 10 minute drive from the hotel to the station although I reckon we tested the vehicle’s suspension (if indeed they have any) as we found almost every bump and crack on the road’s surface. Anyway we arrived in good time and in one piece at the station and then sorted out our train ticket. There’s a choice of 2nd or 3rd class so we push the boat out and opt for 2nd class as we reckon that should ensure us a seat. It only costs 120 rupees for the single journey which will take us almost 2 hours, so it’s actually cheaper than our short Tuk-Tuk ride to the station!
Having bought our ticket when have to present it to a station attendant sat at a large table with a significantly sized ledger. He solemnly checks out the number on each of our tickets and carefully enters some details into the ledger. We are ushered on to the station having checked out that we need platform 2. Indeed the majority of the passengers are standing on platform 2 (this is immediately inside the entrance) with only a handful waiting across the rails on platform 1).
We check on the electronic information board for details of the trains but struggle, despite the fact that’s it’s displaying in English, to make much sense of it. However, we soon ascertain from which direction it will arrive as the Galle- Colombo train arrives on Platform 1. Suddenly waiting passengers from our platform jump down on the rails and rush across to board the train from the rails. The clamber up the steps and as there are no doors on the carriages it seems that prime seats are to be found in the on the stairs of the carriage entrances. Although boarding seems frantic it, on reflection if really quite ordered in a chaotic way!!
About 10 minutes later our train arrives and predictably we’re at the wrong end of the platform for second class, but we have plenty of time to get to a carriage and we’re pleasantly surprised when we find there are seats available - seats that look and indeed are comfortable with plenty of leg room. We struggle to open a window but finally manage it and then settle down to enjoy the Sri Lankan countryside from the train.
On the 90 minute journey from Kalutara to Galle we pass through many small villages, but as we’re on the "express train" we only stop at four of them. One was particularly memorable because we were welcomed by a small group of goats that walked right alongside the carriages and then stood at the open doors. I guess they are used to getting discards of food from the passengers. The train was only a couple of minutes late and we were reasonably impressed with the comfort and efficiency of the journey. We’d enjoyed the track changes into sidings so the up-train could pass through, the numerous views of temples, the village activity and the superb views of rivers and the sea as we sped southwards to Galle.
At the end of our day in Galle I guess we confidently returned to the station. The trip down had passed without hitch and having purchased our tickets for the return journey we settled down in the carriage. My friend remarked that we were travelling much slower and I had to confess that they journey was seemingly far less smooth. Still we were making good process and I settled down near to the window with my camera ready.
Half an hour into the trip the train stopped – in the middle of nowhere. No there are no real communications on board so we sat and waited and after 10 minutes or so we started up again and managed to limp into a station. Perhaps the lights had been at red and perhaps our increasing pessimism about the reliability of this train was ill-founded. . But then the fan stopped whirring and the engine juddered to a full halt. Yes, the engine had died on us and we found out that it would be a couple of hours before they could get a replacement engine to us.
Apparently the Colombo-Galle train had to uncouple with the engine returning up-line to hitch up with us. Some people on the train headed off to catch a bus or hire a tuk-tuk, but we decided to bide our time and "enjoy" the experience. We were soon to get to know Hikkaduwa station quite well and were pleased to be able to get into conversations with both locals and fellow passengers. Apparently engine failure isn’t uncommon on this route and I reckon the English speaking locals seized the opportunity to come up to the station for a chat with the tourists.
Time passed remarkably quickly and we were soon back on track (well 90 minutes after the breakdown occurred) and with the clickety-click on the rails we watched nightfall and had yet another experience on the rails.
A little tip. I’d suggest that you avoid using the toilets on board the train. They were absolutely rank and.... No I won’t say more, but leave it to your own imagination. Indeed whatever you’re imagining is probably right!!
Despite the delay we both thoroughly enjoyed our day trip to Galle and am pleased that we opted to travel independently and enjoy the journey for its own sake. A great day out for minimal expenditure.