Riding the Queen of the Sea
One of the better ways of travelling with the locals is to hop on a train. Having done the Galle-Colombo route several times by road, including the flashy new Southern Expressway, I decided it was time for a change. Not that there are a plenty of options. The train was the most alluring, as it runs by the coast like the old highway. It's one of the busier rail routes in the country, ferrying thousands who make the daily trip, especially office goers who don't mind rising at the crack of dawn to do the three-hour journey. The inter-city train is no different from a suburban local train. No reserved seats. Stand by the platform, shove yourself in the nearest compartment, keep your fingers crossed for an empty seat, or two (if you have company), grab your place and breathe a sigh of relief.
The day after the Galle Test, a fellow foreign journalist Shoaib Naveed, and I decided to ditch the road and take the express train instead. To say it costs a fraction of the amount to hire a cab for the same distance would be an understatement, as it costs just 180 Sri Lankan rupees (for a second-class ticket) to do a one-way trip, which lasts two and a half hours. The 11.15 train is a better bet for any tourist, as it beats the morning rush. A group of jovial Chinese tourists, wielding their DSLR cameras took a gazillion pictures of local teenage boys in mock celebration gestures drilling up an atmosphere in an otherwise peaceful setting at that time of the morning. I can imagine the pandemonium during peak hours.
One shouldn't expect anything sophisticated as the seating is basic. For those willing to rough it out a bit, especially in humid weather, it is a worthwhile experience. Watch your step if you plan to walk between compartments though, because the vestibules - which make a racket when the train gathers pace - can really test your balance. Especially, if you're as accident-prone as I am. Hold on to your seat when it approaches a station, or you could lose it.
The train winds its way through dense vegetation, with the sea making fleeting appearances. One couldn't resist getting the camera out and clicking away at the ocean, but mind you, it takes patience and plenty of clicks to get the perfect shot. This is if you hold a simple point-and-shoot camera or a mobile phone.
As you approach Colombo, the sea is almost within touching distance in certain stretches. This is partly captivating and partly intimidating during high tide. It brings back memories of horrifying images of the tsunami on December 26, 2004, which wrecked the same train - Queen of the Sea - killing nearly all passengers on board, when it was thrown off the tracks off the coast of Peraliya. The train still exposes itself to the vagaries of the sea, but that doesn't deter thousands of frequent commuters or first-timers like me.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo