Memos from SRI LANKA. 1st Memo: An unexpectedly scenic train ride to Anuradhapura

So I'm in Anuradhapura. Anu... what? Read my lips: Anuradhapura. It looks like this....

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Anuradhapure Sri Lanka
View of two Stupas - Thuparamaya and Ruwanwelisaya - across lake Thissa Wewa

...and is one of Sri Lanka's ancient capitals. Although it's also famous for its ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization, there are pleasingly few tourists around, but huge numbers of truly faithful.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Anuradhapure Sri Lanka
O come, all ye faithful, joyful, and the Abhayagiri Dagaba in the northern part of Anuradhapura.

I feel like I just fell into a different, totally fascinating world.

Why are they so few tourists - and why am I here? Well, I assume most people combine the cultural part and the beach life and therefore choose the ancient places that are closer to the beach destinations. Anuradhapura is relatively far up north - it took me about five hours by train getting here from Sri Lanka's present capital Colombo. And I picked this place since friends of mine who know the country like the back of their hand recommended it for a good start. I guess they were right.

But actually, the best part so far was the train ride itself. It was like in the movies. I felt so out of place like hardly ever before; and I loved it, for it proved that the world is still not that globalized, that there are still particularities in people's everyday life and not everybody is wearing clothes by H&M and Uniqlo.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Colombo Sri Lanka
I assume that the Sri Lankan definition of full differs from mine.

So I bought a ridiculously cheap train ticket. Since I still had time, I inquired for another train ticket for next week - which took forever. However, when I finally strolled towards my train - about half an hour before the scheduled departure - I found the wagons full. Full in the sense of packed with people like your local subway at rush hour. Not only all the seats were taken, it was also difficult to find a place to stand. This moment I - firstly - congratulated myself officially for travelling with a hand luggage-sized suitcase and - secondly - understood that a train ride in Sri Lanka is nothing like those in Malaysia or Thailand, let alone European countries. You don't just sit down in your reserved seat, lean back and open your notebook, connecting it to the complimentary Wifi.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Colombo Fort Train Station Sri Lanka
And I thought I had so much time to get to my seat; only that I didn't have one.

Already while I was a bit desperately searching for a seat, I saw tiny old ladies eating curry and rice from packs made of newspaper. Of course, they ate with their fingers. Eventually, they rinsed them with water they collected in the train's bathroom sink. All the older people were dressed in traditional attires like sarongs for the gents and saris for the ladies.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Colombo Fort Train Station Sri Lanka
Some of my favorite travel companions.

I don't know how I managed to find a free spot on a bench in third class. You think I'm cheap and bought a third class ticket? No way, but what good is a second class ticket when there are no seats available? So third class bench for me. Which turned out to be just an amazing seat. Super-uncomfortable, but what a spectacle before my eyes! You know that they are always raving about these scenic train rides in Sri Lanka from Kandy to Ella?! Well, the truly scenic is not outside the train, the best scenes are happening inside.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Train to Anuradhapura Sri Lanka
Yes, the world outside is beautiful, but the true magic happens in the train.

There are extended families squeezed on the benches, eating their homemade curries from paper bags or plastic bowls or peeling fruits. They don't have to worry about replenishment: At every stop - and we had our share of stops alright - there are hawkers entering the train, squeezing themselves mercilessly through the crowds, yelling what their delicacies are. To make it a teeny bit easier for everybody, they balance the baskets and buckets on their heads. They have deliciously smelling little fritters - that made me drool, however, I didn't dare to buy them on my first day; but get ready, gut, your time will come. Even an unspectacular fruit like an apple becomes an exotic delicacy as the hawker cuts it masterfully in small pieces and sprinkles chili and salt over the snack.

The extended family sitting to my left smiles at me curiously. Everybody in Sri Lanka smiles. Genuinely. Sri Lankans seem to be very nice people. And those to my left are extra-friendly and start to share all their homemade delicacies among those sitting within reach. They particularly enjoy feeding me since each piece of food comes with an exotic name and a short explanation. I'm accepting a tiny piece of everything they have to offer, balancing curiosity, politeness, and the fear of what these treats might do to my gut; it's my very first day, after all.

So we sit and eat and have it good and the kids are squeaking every time the train sets off with a heavy bounce and keeps rocking from side to side. I know this kind of wild ride exclusively from fairgrounds where it's over after about five minutes. Not here, Sri Lankans are very generous when it comes to excitement.
In the dark tunnels, the kids are feigning fear which gives them a valid reason for screaming like crazy.
To them, it's all a big adventure.

To me, too!

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during former trips, in my Memos from SRI LANKA, I'm posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.

If you choose to pin this post, please use this picture:

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Train to Anuradhapura Sri Lanka

Disclaimer: I appreciate that Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau is supporting my blogger trip by supplying me with tickets to some of the main landmarks like e.g. the Sacred Area of Anuradhapura. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren't by any means influenced by my cooperation partner. 

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