We have three destinations in Sri Lanka — Colombo, the capital city; the Tea Trails resort high in the interior mountains; and the Udawalawe National Park, where we’ll supposedly see herds of wild elephants up close. So after deciding where we’d go in Sri Lanka, the next question was how to get from one place to another.
For the first leg from Colombo to Hatton, we chose a train called the Rajadhani Express, which bills itself as “Luxury on the Move”. This better be luxurious, I thought, because I shelled out a total of 5200 Sri Lankan rupiahs ($37) for two round-trip first class tickets, and rupiahs don’t grow on trees.
The Rajadhani Express’ website paints a beautiful word picture:
Welcome aboard Rajadhani Express, your ultimate choice to travel in Sri Lanka with the most comfortable train journey you will ever experience in Sri Lanka.
Step on board our fully restored, air conditioned and wood-paneled coaches and recapture the experience of a bygone era, offering a luxurious, scenic and relaxing way to travel to some of the country’s most enticing destinations.
We believe that the journey is as much to be enjoyed as the destinations. The glamour of this train lies in the experience and in the journey, in the allure of adventure and in the style, comfort and service on board.
Sound’s pretty damn impressive, doesn’t it? And you’ll surely plunk down your money after seeing these luxurious photos on the website.
I’m a freakin’ advertising copywriter. When will I stop falling for this stuff?
No, the car was not the modern, high-tech carriage shown on the website. If I had to guess, I’d say it was 50 years old. Maybe more. It was a bit shabby, but still far superior to the economy cars that were jam-packed with poor Sri Lankans and western backpackers.We opted out of the morning tea because the car was rocking back and forth so badly that we knew most of the scalding hot water would have ended up in our laps.
But we did get the latest entertainment on the flat screen TV at the front of the car: The most recent Sherlock Holmes movie, a Mr. Bean comedy, and some preposterous Liam Neeson shoot-em-up. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually hear the any of the dialogue because the noise of the train was considerably louder than the movies’ soundtracks, but this is an adventure, damn it.
Here’s how Jamie described the noise: “It sounds like riding on one of those old wooden roller coasters that carneys take apart this week at one fair and put back together again next week at another fair.”
Truth be told, we didn’t really care that the train wasn’t everything that was promised because of the sights we saw along the way.
We saw rivers and waterfalls and lush rain forests and jagged mountain peaks that disappeared into the mist. Sri Lanka is even more beautiful, I think, than Hawaii.
Right alongside the beauty, we saw horrible, gut-wrenching poverty. You can’t help but feel badly for people this poor, but you also realize that there’s nothing you can do to alleviate their situation.
Despite that poverty, we saw happy, friendly adults and smiling children waving at us from every station, every village, and every road crossing.
We’re experiencing incredible luxury here in Sri Lanka, so it’s probably good that we’ve been reminded of the incredible poverty that afflicts much of the world. It helps to keep us anchored in reality and grateful for everything we have.
The bottom line: The Rajadhani Express wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. We saw some incredible sights and some incredible people.
And we had an incredible day.