Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a new contender for the world’s most scenic rail journey

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We passed jaw-dropping vistas of lush vegetation, and the eerie glint of temple stupas hidden within. Talking to the young couple sitting across from me, I realized they were newlyweds.

“I’ve walked this line before,” said the still-blushing bride Kawisha, “but I want my husband to see it too.”

After such a difficult year for the country — hot in the post-Covid era — and against the backdrop of lingering wounds from the country’s 26-year civil war that ended in 2009, it feels like It is a moment worth savoring.

As we chatted, our voices were drowned out by squeals of joy. Aside from the wonderful sounds of the trains themselves—the muffled roar of the engines, the hiss of the brakes—the journey is marked by screams of excitement every time we enter one of the 46 tunnels along the way. It does feel like people are venting.

The complete Ella Odyssey route – from Colombo Fort to Badulla – takes just over 10 hours, with the most scenic section being the section between Nanu Oia and Ella, the station before the Nine Arch Bridge. Many travelers only do this part – this is the selfie zone, after all – although I strongly recommend starting your journey, if not from Colombo at 5.30am, then at least from Kandy.

The rippling green vistas aside, the fun of staying longer on board gives you the chance to mingle. When I need to stretch my legs, I find a cute little perch in the “Canteen” buffet cart and drink a few cups of sugary milk tea. It’s packed with passengers who are also doing the same thing, tended to by a helpful army of guards, buffet assistants and ticket inspectors – a level of staffing that is sure to bring union leaders across the country to tears of joy.

I also hang out in other cubicles and chat with a Sinhalese family who immigrated to Melbourne a few years ago. They return to Sri Lanka to reconnect with their families and to remind themselves of the country they left. “We heard about the journey on social media,” said Jay, the father of IT, an IT specialist with two young daughters. “Very famous!”

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