Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Road to Kandy

With a few more days back in Colombo I wanted to experience something other than pretending to be Indiana Jones looking for lost Temples. First, I don't have a cool hat or whip and second, Indie never took a Tuk Tuk.  After exiting the station and dodging the Tuk Tuk drivers and touts I walked the 20 minutes to my hotel, which was in the Pettah district.

Pettah gave me that old Dhaka feeling with it's narrow busy and very noisy streets. There was lots of bumping, bustling and the daily motions of the area. I stopped at a few street vendors along the way and bought some sweet red grapes and oranges, sat for a bit and took it all in. Sometimes just watching this madness is the best part of my day. As is the case in these hot climates, sometimes I crave a cold Pepsi so the hunt was on. Coke would not do. Off I went in search of the not so illusive sugar water.

I know nothing about architecture. I am not even sure how to spell the word, but thankfully Google and Blogger have spell check. I like to think I can tell the difference between ancient, old and new and that would be today's game. Remembering that the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British colonized Sri Lanka it does not take much to see the various influences. However the Portuguese were here so long ago I am not sure much remains of their time. Like a good hooligan football match it was all about The Dutch vs.The British.

I had a great day to wander. The sky was clear blue and the ocean breeze kept the temperature down a bit. I went to the Dutch Hospital district for an early afternoon beer and talked myself into a second. After all it was 12:30, I had all day. I mapped out a few places to get to including the Independence memorial, a 6 KM walk. I came across various buildings and just took photos without even checking what they were because after two early afternoon pints, who cares really?

The next morning my goal was to catch the 7 o'clock train to Kandy from Colombo Fort Station. I woke up at 545, said nope that is not going to happen and went back to sleep. I lazily worked my way over and figured to catch the 9:00. Sorry about your luck, it's sold out. The 10:30 Express it was. In Sri Lanka "Express" is code for overbooked and jammed packed so I had that to look forward to.

I went to track 1, found a seat and waited as you do. The thing about this type of travel that I do not think people think about is that there is so much down time like this. Waiting for trains, planes, buses and then the travel time. It is not all afternoon pints...well OK, sometimes it is.

Anyways, at 930 the crowds started swelling. There were lots of crying babies so I moved up and down the platform to escape that 4 hour nightmare. I found my place, put on my pack and joined the passengers gathering on the edge of platform, front row. I was going to get a seat. Politeness be damned.

At 10:00 the muffled announcement that the Kandy train was pulling I to the station, first in Tamil and then in very nice British English. You could feel the buzz and tension beginning to rise. People began looking around and shuffling their feet. It was a dangerous minute as the train approached. Someone could have easily been pushed, tripped or jumped. In Sri Lanka as in Bangladesh and India people are always jumping onto the station tracks to change platforms instead of walking up and over using the over pass, regardless if the train is pulling in or if the tracks are clear. Thankfully, no death on this day.

As the empty train slowed the first local jumped on while it was still in motion. That was the cue and I followed, as did everyone. There are no rules. It is all about getting a seat. I jumped aboard with ease, actually with the grace of a gazelle and the focus of John Wick. I tossed my bag overhead and sat down at the back window seat. Safe and comfy. A lady sat beside me, stared like I was an alien then settled in. She immediately put her head down on the pull down tray. She must have had a tough day already

Someone always selling something
The battle for a seat was won
The standing room crowd begins
The view outside the open door as we approached Kandy
A nice welcome sign

By 1020 the train was getting packed and was standing room only. Politeness aside, I was not giving up my seat. In sub continent Asia that is a sign of weakness and being a fool. Honestly I would have given it up if an elderly or someone in need was standing. But for now, I was in need.

All that bravado aside, in the end kindness won the day. The first was the lady beside me who gave up her seat to a man and his girlfriend who were standing for a couple of hours and you could sense she was starting to wobble. She ended up sitting on his lap, so I offered her my seat. They looked terrified that I was offering it really. I smiled and said I needed to stand, I have been sitting to long. I noticed this trend up and down the train car with quite a few people. The couple who I gave my seat to bought me a bottle of water which was nice.

The moral of the day was obvious. Smile and stay kind. 

No comments: