SRI LANKA.... Fading memories.................. ...... The end of the line.
|GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEYS
OF THE WORLD
Colombo to Badulla on the Udarata Menike Express...continued below.
The story of the "Udarata Menike" continues....
The train has climbed to 1500 ft. From here on it is the plateau again but single track...Train clacks on at a reasonable 30mph...to Nawalapitiya-- a railway town. It is noticeably cooler...Bodies don't sweat anymore....Body odour seems to be more tolerable...
The climb then begins in earnest over 1 in 44 gradients through Watawela, Rozella and Hatton through to Talawakele. Takes a long, long time...train travels at 10 miles per hour.....couplings creak......Barking, excited dogs run after the train and overtake the train... occasionally stopping to scratch themselves or investigate interesting trackside features ....resume chase.....catch up with train...stop... pant...tongues hang out...decide too long away from home...stop.....wait for down train? (dogs, not passengers..)
Passengers more relaxed!..Tea plantations all around...soothing effect on the senses...Tamil plantation women toiling away...
Soon after leaving Talawakele two spectacular waterfalls come into view. The high and narrow St Clair Falls and the short and wide Devon Falls. An almost complete spiral/zig zag follows as the train struggles to ascend to Nanu-Oya. There is the usual stop at Nanu-Oya (and there is now probably a mandatory check of the train brakes following a very minor disaster in 1977). There was once a narrow guage railway from Nanu-Oya to Nuwara Eliya and beyond to Uda Pussellawa..on very severe gradients.
On our way again...The countryside is now rugged but green and the train is at over 5000 ft. Elgin Falls appears on the right side in a near inaccessible gorge..... By the time the train arrives at Pattipola the highest railway station in Srilanka, it is over 6000ft and the station is usually surrounded in mist (low clouds actually). By Srilankan standards it is quite cold. The crowded carriages are no longer a bother. It dosen't seem to smell anymore although the carriage windows are now closed. Train less crowded now. By this stage you have spoken to a few fellow passengers and become friends. Platform staff and locals wear coats and turbans. It usually rains. The vegetation is different. Not a coconut tree in site. No paddy fields. Mostly Cypress and Eucalyptus (Gum) forests. Two types of Eucalyptus: Blue Gum and Red Gum.(easy to work out which is which. One is sort of silvery grey and the other is brown)
A short distance from Pattipola station the train enters the Summit Tunnel at 6226ft the highest point on the railway.In passing through the tunnel the train has passed from the "wet zone" of the country into the "dry zone". This is quite obvious when you emerge from the tunnel. No rain!...
The loco suddenly goes quite and the brakes come into action for the steep descent which follows. The train now descends with a spectacular screeching of brakes and sparks from the wheels. An acrid smell comes from the train wheels and probably from the dynamic brake of the loco. Tall pine and gum forests on all sides...no signs of human habitation apart from the lone track man (wearing heavy clothes and looking like a Neanderthal) blowing his whistle and waving the green flag.....No earthslips!......Thank you!....More blasts from the loco airhorn.....sound reverbs around the mountains...We move on....
The Uva Basin now comes into view ...the train emerges from one tunnel and enters another...clouds float below..The main peak of the 6600ft high Namunukula (lit: "Nine Peaks") range is visible in the far distance...Nothing matters anymore.. You are in God's own country..The sun is now low in the sky but there is more to come!
There is hardly a sound from the loco..The train is travelling fast..too fast...brakes come on again...screech.....tunnel...another tunnel and another tunnel..... screech... more tunnels...short, long, medium length......Spectacular view and drop on the right side now...change seats...plenty of seats available now...not many people travel this far...Clouds float below in the Uva Valley..... train stops at Ohiya (the starting point for Lady Horton's Plains and World's End) then Idalgashinna (both spectacular passes) and then on to Haputale.
Haputale is a pass and a real spectacular pass! On a clear day you would be able to see as far as Badulla (and Namunukula) on one side and as far as the Indian Ocean at Dondra Head (the southernmost point of Srilanka) on the other side! (Yes, it is a small country but that's all we have! and No! it is not as big as Texas or Australia!Yes, we know that!)
The final descent begins now...through Diyatalawa (lit:"water-logged plains"), Bandarawela, Ella (another pass, this time towards the south-east) and on to Demodera (lit:"two river mouths" or "where two rivers meet"). At Demodera there is the only complete spiral on the Srilankan railway system. Not spectacular but interesting. (The locals refer to it as the Demodera Loop which is incorrect. Technically, it is a spiral.). More tunnels and British style stone viaducts... brakes screech again....acrid smell...Almost sunset..
The railway line now follows the Badulu-Oya, a tributary of the Mahaweli river..Tea plantations...Nearly home..Hali-Ela and the last tunnel....We go through Tunnel No46.........ha!..........Yelverton Ridge and Elmshurst to the left...Namunukula range on the right.............sunset......ha! ........final screech of brakes ....and it is BADULLA!
1.I have travelled on this train and on this line in the seventies many more times than I can remember. The above is a fairly accurate description of third class travel on this line in the seventies...but I don't want to put anybody off travelling on this line or on Srilankan railroads. I certainly enjoyed the experience..! (First Class travel is reasonably comfortable and I would recommend anyone visiting Srilanka to undertake this journey...at least to Haputale. Things may have changed...Hopefully for the better)
2.On one memorable occasion when the Night Mail train arrived at Fort Station from the railway yard, to a waiting milling throng of passengers on the platform, I had to lift up and push my wife Ranji--then fortunately just a slip of a girl-- into the carriage through the window because the doors of the carriage were locked. This of course was no mean feat as Ranji was wearing the traditional sari!...an enduring memory! She and a fellow would-be passenger (a soldier) then helped me scramble in so we could grab a third class seat for the 12 hour journey ahead... We struck up a conversation with the soldier who helped us scramble on. He left the train at Diyatalawa Station. Diyatalawa is a major army training camp in Srilanka.
3.Our son Sanjeeva's first experience of Srilankan Railroads was in 1977 when, at the age of 6 months, he travelled with us in the Sleeper of the Night Mail from Badulla to Colombo (to meet his grandparents) and then back to Badulla on the Night Mail. A senior Police Officer friend travelling with us got rather drunk and decided to pull the emergency brake (or the communication cord as it was called then)...but that's another story...Do come back to this page...
|THE RATHER MINOR RAIL CRASH OF 1977 ON THE PATTIPOLA
In 1977 a local "mixed" train from Nanu-Oya to Badulla, hauled by a G12, lost its brakes on the descent from Pattipola. The train careered downhill totally out of control through Ohiya and Idalgashinna. The Station Master at Ohiya tried to warn his colleague at Haputale but the latter was AWOL (and was later suspended from duties). Meanwhile the train parted company with the loco as a result of a two-axle freight wagon next to the loco derailing. The whole train then crashed between Idalgashinna and Haputale but the loco with its hapless engineer sped on downhill, still on the rails but totally out of control.
Two passengers were killed in the derailment but other passengers, mostly plantation workers, escaped with minor injuries. The freight wagon contained large sacks of sugar which burst...spilling sugar. Trackside railway workers working near a tunnel exit heard the wailing of the loco horns, were estonished to see the train emerging out of the tunnel at that sort of speed and jumped clear and survived ....except one idiot who jumped so violently off the embankment that he fractured his femur..and ended up at the Badulla General Hospital.
The loco was now heading on the downhill grade for a sure collision with the "down" Udarata Menike train which had already set off from Badulla.
It is interesting to speculate what would have happened.
The consensus of opinion at that time was that the loco, which was travelling at a speed of 90mph-----a speed unheard of on Srilankan railways and on tracks designed for a leisurely 20mph-----would have crashed on its own accord off a tight curving viaduct between Bandarawela and Ella. This would have killed the engineer outright but would have prevented a head-on collision with the "down" Udarata Menike. Fortunately for all concerned the Station Master at Diyatalawa was at his post and decided to divert the loco on to the "derail" .
A derail is somewhat similar to "catch points" and is designed to derail a stray wagon into a sand pit to avoid a head on collision. The runaway loco was successfully derailed at Diyatalawa and both the loco and the engineer survived with relatively minor injuries. The engineer, a Burgher gentleman by the surname of Kaule from the railway town of Nawalapitiya, lost a few front teeth. He ended up at the Badulla GH and related the whole terrifying experience to me. He vowed never to go back to his job. (Which is a pity because some of us always wanted to be "engine drivers" and always wanted to drive G12 locos inspite of the unreliable brakes).
THALAGULI AND ATROPINE POISONING ON THE NIGHT MAIL
Ohiya is one of the easy starting points for a trek to Horton Plains....leave the train here, walk back along the track to the tunnel (a distance of three quarters of a mile) and to your left you will find the jungle track to the plains..Quite safe..we first did the trek in 1974...BUT REMEMBER THE TREK IS A 14 MILE ROUND TRIP!.(ie from Ohiya railway station to World's End and back...no public transport!...)...once on the plains you must of course viewWorld's End...a 4000ft drop into the clouds!...Tom Farr, a colonial, "discovered" all this...The plains were named after the wife of the then Governor and as such should correctly be known by the original name of "Lady Horton's Plains" ..E -mail me if you want to know the original native name...Not many people know that!...over the years it has changed its name first to Horton's Plains and then to Horton Plains...No doubt very soon it will be named after a present day politician...Still, the plains will continue to be there and will probably survive all of us.....If you are serious about visiting the plains e -mail me for more details. I can give you loads of advice including a photocopy of a 1-inch-to-the-mile-map....
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© Gyan C. A. Fernando 2001