By train across Sri Lanka | DW Documentary

mainline railway is supposed to be the most beautiful line in the railway it’s of such-and-such a scenic beauty you cannot get this type of beauty anywhere in the world be it the pearl of the Indian Ocean or the teardrop in the sea both are true on sri lanka the entire island nation including its capital colombo is caught up in an atmosphere of change the civil war that lasted more than a quarter of a century ended in 2009 at the beginning of 2015 the people of sri lanka voted for more democracy in the form of a new president the island formerly known as salon is an idyllic holiday destination for tourists it’s best explored by train a train journey here is always also a journey into the country’s colonial past that much becomes clear before we start our journey at the Central Station in Colombo fort in the heart of the city we buy our tickets at a counter that has a nostalgic air they can then be checked by a friendly conductor this station building was modeled on Victorious station in Manchester the traces of the British colonial rulers are everywhere the British ruled between 1796 and 1948 things were different back then there are many problems we have the drivers and gas problems there in time they are not into the for their jobs and other other ways the workshop peoples also are not working at time not they are doing their work properly we’re in luck our train bound for badula is waiting already we set off a tough past eight we’re about to go on a train journey that’s been described as one of the most picturesque in Asia it will take us from Columbo to Ella in the highlands via candy a journey of around 270 kilometers a special trip on special tracks it was the islands first railway route and it’s still known as mainline the first 54 kilometer stretch to Amber Pusa is celebrating its hundred and fiftieth birthday this year maybe that’s where this train journey gets its charm and atmosphere it’s a train journey that’s always been significant to the people of Sri Lanka originally it was for transport of goods but they had the minimum passenger carriages as well very few passengers traveled but of course with the building of the railways very many in upcountry areas they always liked to travel by train to see go and

see the sea see Beach first time in life for them to go and see the sea Beach they traveled by train through ela movie we crossed the Kalani one of Sri Lanka’s largest rivers and leave Colombo behind the entire trip costs between one euro fifty and third-class and eight euros in first-class Sri Lankans are very proud of their railway that I’m traveling alone and it’s quite safe for me I’ve taken the train ever since I was little it feels good you can breathe fresh air and see many things out the window such as mountains rivers and lakes I like that the Train is better than the bus you feel freer and the bus costs around twice as much there’s even a television in first class those who don’t like that can travel in third class for less money and with a little bit of luck experience some live music the musician Lou Shanta is actually a teacher but it’s often the case in sri lanka that young well-educated people don’t find a suitable job god please help me please help us please make us our country prosperous a country’s very cool extend the offer United extend er I mean helped existence to develop our country that is the that is the meaning of the song Sri Lanka is classed as a developing country many people live by agriculture often 50 euros a month must suffice for an entire family that’s not a lot here either 20% of the children are malnourished the gaps between town and country rich and poor are huge third class is correspondingly crowded some passengers aren’t happy about the status quo at all we want to know what it’s like in first class with the televisions we want to have the same services in third class we want improved comfort and greater security the people are dissatisfied with their economic situation that caused president Rajapaksa to be voted out at the last election we’re stopping in ramble karna is just a few minutes by tuk-tuk to Sri Lanka’s biggest tourist attraction the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage the daily bath in the Maya aurilla River is a sensation baby elephants and injured adults are nursed back to health here in pinna Willa this is Neela one of her founder members he is now about 60 years old was first brought in to opine novella in 1975 so in 1975 was the inception of this organization it started off with five baby elephants and he was brought in here as a baby now he’s a very big one and he has fathered about five babies for us we have his daughters and sons

with us right now we are housing about 77 elephants all together there are four baby elephants making the tourists happy here at the moment they are bottle-fed six times a day getting up to seven liters of milk the animals are clearly happy some of them have been brought from the jungle some of them have been born here the six elephants are kept separate they have become sick because of certain accidents like train accidents and sometimes fights within the jungle so we keep them here treat them and give them a good life we start ascending the plateau an ox cart takes 12 days for this laborious journey by train it’s around 9 hours building the railway line took place under severe conditions many of the 3,000 workers died of malaria and cholera mainline goes through very rough country it goes through ravines and George’s and cuts cutting cuttings and fillings and embankments and tunneling they are afforded to tunnels from Colombo to Basel it was tedious work in the time the time of construction and the labor was not cooperative and we had no mechanization new modern I raw no kanata no kind of modern a modernized equipment for drilling on laying the tracks all by human labour so it was difficult however the soil that proved so tiresome during the construction of the railway line harbors treasures too there are lots of different gemstones in the ground they adorn the crowns of monarchs and the jewelry of adored women as a result Sri Lanka has a long and lucrative tradition of gold smithery these days it’s mostly for tourists that brings in good money a goldsmith earns around 200 euros a month James came into the limelight of human life because each and every gem carries a power to heal certain disease this most medical medical medication at the beginning even though now it has become a fashionable thing or in this mud type thing sapphires in many different colors the design is also made in Sri Lanka we’re about to reach candy we’ve travelled 130 kilometers in three and a half hours the climate is significantly more pleasant at 500 meters candy was once the capital of the single E’s kings and the epitome of single ease culture the kings were able to defend their independence from the colonial powers for centuries here the station was opened as far back as 1867 the blue water lily Sri Lanka’s national flower is sold here it’s often used as a sacrificial gift at Buddhist temples one of the most significant in the whole of Sri Lanka Sri de la da Malaga WA the temple of the sacred tooth the most important Buddhist relic in Sri Lanka is kept here the Buddha’s upper-left cuspid a significant symbol of national pride people come from all around the world to attend the daily services they donate and they pray the 19 minute puja starts at half past nine the word means something like worship and is an important ritual in

everyday Buddhist life according to legend the sacred tooth is said to store the Buddha’s spiritual strength this belief also turned this religious relic into a political instrument of power for the single East Kings Sri Lanka was ruled by kings there were seven royal ruling period in 1815 the British conquered candy and with it the temple of the sacred tooth as an important symbol of power and Sri Lanka pradhan deep initiative patiently waiting outside the chamber where the relic is housed visitors only get to see a container the tooth isn’t on display it’s said to be housed in an ivory capsule which is in turn encased in six further containers it’s thanks to the temple that candy is on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites there’s a further spectacle worth watching right next to the temple in the late afternoon as a rod on your batters bats otherwise known as flying foxes are getting comfortable candy is also known for its dance performances these men and women are just getting ready for one the tradition dates back to the time of the last kings of candy ah nice and with this dance troupe has performed since 1932 in the past the dance was for the entertainment of the king if the king was sick the dance was used to cure him we even had healing festivals today the dances are mostly for the tourists why d’ya Watty comes from a long line of dancers the dancing tradition is passed on from generation to generation the training is tough and starts every day of 5:00 in the morning performances take place all year-round with very little time off the performances consist of up to 11 different items balancing these discs is called the Rabanne dance the performance lasts for about an hour we’ve left candy behind the mountain landscape has some visual treats in store for us other treats or waiters on the train Neil Amy sells small snacks in the carriages he’s done this for many years it provides a living for his family he has three children I’d prepare the food at home and bring it to the Train I’ve been doing this for 20 years vada is a small snack you take 2 or 3 pieces I make a living doing this my regulars like my pure vibe that’s why I always bring freshly baked goods I have a permit and I’m allowed to sell it on the train the passengers liked it too we’re gradually getting used to the gentle rocking of the Train the women’s colorful clothes strikers again and again

the mainline snakes its way higher and higher up the plateau [Applause] the working population up here mainly the women are employed in the many textile companies their goods are Sri Lanka’s most important industrial export [Applause] with wages at just fifty euros a month manual labor is no luxury and it’s cheap compared to purchasing a loom the women get to pick the colors we tend to use strong bright colors in a day you can weave a sarong that’s around 2 meters long the thread is spun on the spindle they’ve made themselves the thin yarn of the sarong is very water absorbent it’s made of cotton and very pleasant on the skin silk is less practical in the mountains where it rains a lot a cotton sarong is better we’re apparently really lucky with the weather today we’re told on the train that there hasn’t been a single day without rain up here in two and a half years the British originally built the railway line to transport tea from the mountains to the port of Columbo at first tea was merely a substitute for coffee which had been affected by a fungus coffee rust the British recruited Highland Tamils from southern India as cheap labor to this day tea is harvested on the unimaginably large area of 2,000 210 square kilometers a safe job for many we work on the plantations picking tea leaves we thank our president for that it’s good work the income from the tea plantation made the former salon the favorite colony of the British in those days the tea pickers only got rice as wages today they get a bit more than 3 euros a day working from sunrise to sunset but that’s not something they like to talk about this is where the famous salon tea comes from we’re in one of the countless tea factories and we’re proudly told what makes it special young tender subtly maybe the better portion of the leaf and the coarse stalks and the metroid leaf can be the substandard material where you have less chemical compounds where the young leaf is concerned they have the better quality and the flavor by the way of chemical compound the caffeine amino acids polyphenol and some aromatics and essential oil are very rich when the leaf is young a hundred people work in the helper T Factory which is around a hundred years old after the tea leaves are dried they’re broken up by being rolled and shaken after that they’re fermented and dried the next step is to sort the tea by size

sri lanka is one of the world’s biggest tea exporters during the founding years the construction of the railway line had to keep up with the opening of new tea plantations in the highlands the railway has long since lost the significance it had in those days this time for the mainland was during the time of the British when they were transporting the produce and the tea is being produced over there with the changeover to road transport not a pound of tea had been transported by train today these days only around 1% of goods are transported by rail mr. Yan occur has made sure for the past 33 years that everything runs smoothly I’m the senior conductor on the train during the whole trip which makes me responsible for the lives of the passengers and for the railway property for everything that happens on the way a token is just being handed over it’s in this brass ring covered in leather it ensures safety on this single track route and has done since 1901 when I pass on the token the train driver has the permission to travel to the next station I have to ring four times to get this token that’s how they know at the next station that a train is coming they ring four times in response and block that token that unlocks my token I can get it out and give it to the next train which can then travel safely to the next station the token is unlocked and given to the train driver on the next train unfortunately there are no longer any train tracks from nanu Oriya station to the famous hill station of nuwara eliya the writer hermann hesse of Steppenwolf fame had an enjoyable stay here in 1911 it’s pleasantly fresh at a height of nineteen hundred meters the British called the small town little England and indeed we can picture Miss Marple posting a letter here time seems to have stood still since 1876 in the time-honored Hill Club in those days the plantation owners relaxed here over a game of billiards the laundry might be drying there today but in those days that’s where the colonial rulers watched horse races everything was to be like a home away from home it’s rare for horse races to take place here these days things follow a slower pace on the racetracks these days another relic from the British period Sri Lanka’s most sophisticated Golf Club actually this was started by the old British planters and and they kept on looking after it very well like it was the it was not mainly for commercial activity this is maintained like a mayor members club because the because it was maintained like a members Club it was not so commercially oriented people started loving this place so it’s more than the tourist is actually the members who used to come to the pavilion and also to play golf as I say the survival I mean limited and also the people around this place they started loving this place visitors

need temporary club membership to play the 18 hole course the club has shaped the life of Sri Lanka’s highest town for the past 125 years entire families used to live here even children were born on club premises well can it be many white gentlemen lifts on the plantations back then they came here to pass their tongue when I was between 10 and 15 I worked for them as a cabman and was allowed to play – that’s how I started in 1971 I became free golf champion of Sri Lanka we’re back at nanu Orias station we listen to the music of Clarence V Govardhana the Sri Lankan King of Pop now long dead a change of vehicle we participate in an inspection on a trolley of course the token is a must on this trip to maintaining the railway is quite elaborate work in Sri Lanka particularly up here in the mountains I generally help the senior railway staff in their monitoring work the trolley is used for maintenance and if there’s been a derailment or a landslide it takes railway staff to the sea the heavy rainfall during the wet season causes a lot of damage to the track then it has to be fixed we visit a British manor house but a slightly higher altitude it houses a monastery these days sent Benedict’s father Michael has run it for 22 years he runs the school for the novices and takes care of the property too the fruit being chopped up here ready to make jam is called an elephant apple or wood apple we started this damn industry for the maintenance of the house in the beginning we started with the marmalade and strawberry jam and guava jelly so these three varieties we started in the beginning but later we develop into different other items and still we are continuing what we started in the beginning for almost 50 years now a long-standing tradition lunch is being prepared at the same time the fruits are also used as medicine before they ripen sixty-year-old Chandra is a master of his field he has stirred and stirred and stirred ever since he was 13 if I take the jam off the fire at the right time it will last for years you can keep it for up to six years there’s a big demand for it despite the large quantity I make there’s nothing left over it’s the jams consistency that determines the right time here – everything’s done by hand Chandra produces up to a thousand jars every season the Train heads into the mountains on the main line twice a day

unfortunately the weather’s becoming increasingly British the total length of Sri Lanka’s rail network is around 1,500 kilometers the gauge is wider than the regular standard gauge it is thousand six hundred and seventy six millimeters engage or five feet six inches in feet and inches it is known as the broad gauge railway because they are the ideal situation for transport of wood is the broadest gauge because they can bring more load so they they have to delayed the religious LED broad gauge here in Chile’s lon India Pakistan Bangladesh it’s ideal for transporting tea the token is ready the next station is Patti Paula at 1891 meters it’s real anchors highest station time has a different dimension up here the employees have to expect a number of difficulties appear roads can wash away it can rain sometimes we have dew or Frost in the morning saw animals get in the way of the Train such as the Sri Lankan tiger or wild boar or deer summers they can cause problems that take them we haven’t seen any animals and it’s no surprise in this weather but at last we reach the highlight of our trip quite literally thousand eight and eighty one meter height here at the railway summit here in particular which is supposed to be a Guinness world of records it is given John Marshall’s Book of Guinness world of records feats facts and fix of railways it is given at the highest point reached on a broad gauge railway it’s also quite inhospitable we’re 224 kilometers from Colombo now the further away we are from the islands capital the fewer passengers there are on the train towards the afternoon our limbs become tired we notice the altitude we deserve a bit of relaxation the region around ala is known for its spa facilities the hard-working tea pickers can only dream of visiting them you have to bring some time with you when you come here a relaxing Ayurveda massage takes 80 minutes speciation it’s a special massage all 107 vital spots that improves blood flow which influences the organs of insulting Aparna it gives you a lot of energy same blood circulation the Indian art of healing has a long-standing tradition on sri lanka to [Applause]

the holistic approach of Ayurveda and a calming view of nature the steam bath with healing herbs is also good for relaxation it reduces cholesterol levels cuts weight and cleanses the skin it’s paradise we are completely relaxed on our final leg to Ella this stretch is definitely one of the most attractive in the whole of Asia that’s why it’s best to think about its future mainline should continue as a heretic railway and it’ll be by the it might be handed over to the UNESCO for conversion as a heritage railway and then again as a tourist railway I never say I don’t say that it should be stopped for the local passengers the local passenger service should be maintained but whereas for tourism they must develop this area further a good idea because that would secure the continued existence of the main line allowing travelers from all over to discover a new world in just nine hours