Dispatches from South Asia

Sri Lanka, Ceylon, Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Whatever you want to call it, Brad and I happen to be there. My better half had a conference to attend in Colombo and, as usual, I went along for the ride. And a long ride it was indeed. Roughly 25 hours total travel time from DC to Colombo. By the time we got to the hotel in Colombo I could not even remember what day it was. Perhaps the lesson here is that I am just getting too old for this kind of adventure.

Not that such thoughts where front and center when the possibility of visiting Sri Lanka arose about half a year ago. It was more like: "Oh, they have interesting food and interesting railroads and the chance to visit that country will most likely never present itself again." So plans were made and itineraries discussed. But as usual with these kind of things, trepidations about the whole idea eventually crept in: Wasn't Sri Lanka just like India? Smelly and dirty? Trash and filth everywhere? You can't drink the water, right? Won't I get sick from the food?

Right or wrong about India, here we are. No "Delhi Belly" so far. The streets are clean and the garbage gets picked up. 

Folks here are friendly. Most everybody speaks English, since it is one of the official languages here, next to Sinhalese and Tamil. Only the constant touting is putting a damper on the whole experience. It is virtually impossible to walk ten feet without somebody offering you something. The constant "Taxi, Sir, taxi?" by the tuk-tuk drivers, or the fake "tourist guides" offering their services is rather annoying to say the least. You will be taken advantage off, if not careful.

But the worst offender is the Sri Lankan government. They are sticking it to the visitor with a two tier pricing system: One for the locals and one for foreigners. Other countries do this also, but the Sri Lankans are the worst. For example the entrance fee for tourists to Horton National Park is $20, for locals it is 25 cents.

But enough of that. Let's talk trains.

Sri Lankan Railways is owned and operated by the Sri Lankan government. The system is just over 900 miles and is broad gauge at 5 feet and 6 inches (1676 mm). It was the British who started building the railway in the 1860's to transport tea and coffee from the plantations in the Central Highlands.

Currently services are run with diesel engine operated units, there is no electric traction as of yet. It has been proposed, particularly for the Colombo suburban services. In fact the SLR Class S10 diesel multiple units have been built to be able to also run under catenary just by installing a pantograph.

The system is heavyly subsidized and, according to Sri Lanka Railways mission statement, it's primary purpose is the transportation of passengers, not freight. 

In my next blog entry I'll describe our trip from Colombo to the southern city of Galle.

A note about this blog entry: I am doing this on my iPad, since I decided not to take my Macbook on this trip. Unfortunately I have not yet figured out how to add pictures or links to my entry when using the iPad. I am working on it though. Seriously!