A planned trip to the Eastern coast was a dream coming true. It was six of us who planned the trip and our destination was Trincomalee. My responsibility was to buy the train tickets, hence we planned to travel in the night mail, we thought of buying the 1st class berths, which had a very high demand. We had to book the tickets two weeks in advance.
We had to carry fresh water, and lot of other things such as snacks and drinks. The train was leaving Colombo at nine in the evening, so we thought of arriving early at the station. The platform number three looked crowded with passengers. We waited eagerly for the train to arrive.
The train was a long one hauled by an Indian built M8 type engine, which was the most powerful locomotive of the Sri Lankan railway. The berths were comparatively in good condition. We booked three berths which had two sleeping bunks in each. For every two berths, there was a shared toilet, which was hopelessly unhygienic.
The train sped across the country and we had the opportunity of having a small nap. It was around 12.30 that we arrived at Maho junction, where the train had to leave the main line going to Vavuniya and enter the Eastern line. Here the train had to stop for a considerable time because the engine had to be removed and fixed to the other part of the train. People used to use this time interval to refresh themselves and we also had a coffee to warm ourselves.
The journey was a very bumpy experience due to the train speeding across the plains of the country, where the darkness surrounded by the marshy landscape, created some sort of an odd environment. The train arrived at Galoya junction around 4:45 am. This was the place where the Eastern line branched to the Trincomalee and Batticaloa lines. Our train was split in to two and the longer part intended of going to Trincomalee with our original engine. The other part was coupled to a new engine that was destined to leave for Batticaloa. The new engine that was coupled with the Batticaloa train was a M2 named “Prince Edward Island”, yet another workhorse of the Sri Lankan railway.
After leaving Galoya, the train sped across the Habarana jungle and we had the opportunity to witness the beautiful morning sunrise of the eastern coast. When we arrived at Chinabay, we were about to witness the dawn of a very beautiful day. Around 6:30am the train finally arrived at Trincomalee.
At that moment we were starving and our first task was to have the breakfast. We selected an Indian food outlet to the close proximity of the harbor street , where the food was so delicious. After a tasty and a full breakfast, our next goal was to visit the sacred Koneswaram temple. The van driver first took us to see the beautiful golden beaches of Trincomalee. The temple was a picturesque site having a famous “Lover’s leap”, a spectacular natural phenomenon where the deep blue Indian ocean could be seen on top of a very steep rock precept. After attending the pooja, our next destination was the famous Nilaweli beach.
When we reached there, it was almost Twelve noon and the sun was blazing with scorching heat. The sand over there was like fine grained wheat power and it was like walking on top of iron hot charcoal. The site of the ocean was an eye candy, with crystal blue color shaded water embraced with pure white sandy dunes. The boat ride to the pigeon island spanned around ten minutes and was a very enjoyable one. Once we reached Pigeon Island, we were amazed to see its natural beauty. Once again the sand was of pure white color and the water was unbelievably shallow. The coral and reef in that shallow water has created a paradise for the fish and other water creatures that have lived in that area. We hired some goggles that we used to dive and watch the beautiful world under the waterline, where the fish could be observed in large numbers. After having a wonderful experience in Pigeon Island, we returned back to our resting place.
Our intention was to arrange a BBQ for our dinner; hence we bought all the necessary items from the food city in the city. When we returned back to our rented house, unfortunately the water supply was not available. We had to run through a horrid time to prepare ourselves for the dinner, but again it was a fun experience.
The next day, we intended on talking the morning train from Trincomalee in our return trip. Sadly there was no direct train available from Trinco to Colombo in the day time. Ironically there was no facility of reserving train tickets on our way back. We had to take the 7 am slow train to Galoya junction. We were hoping to catch the Colombo bound intercity express train coming from Batticaloa.
The slow train to Galoya took 2 hours to reach its destination. It had a single second class carriage right next to the engine, which was almost empty right throughout the entire journey. It was hauled yet again by a legendary Canadian M2, named Manitoba. The significance of this engine was that it was the very engine that carried the unfortunate train No 50, famously known as the Tsunami train in that fateful day when more than 2000 lives were lost. The giant Tsunami completely devastated the train carriages and the locomotive. It took the effort of some determined CGR employees for four years to bring this magnificent workhorse back to the tracks. To resemble this occasion, the sides of the engine had two blue waves painted in it.
When we reached Galoya, we were informed that there is no provision of booking the tickets of the Colombo bound intercity train. Yet again it was a puzzle to us. In this modern world, CGR was still in the ages of paperwork. Due to the lack of a proper ticket reservation system, passengers were deprived of the booking of seats when there were ample numbers of seats available. The train reached Galoya around 10:20 am and the entire train was equipped with the latest Chinese carriages and strangely an Observation salon too. It was hauled by yet another Canadian power house, this time an M4 Alco Bombardier locomotive, named “Isurumuni”.
The train had limited stops and in all stations like Awkana and Palugaswewa, where the train stopped for a little time, there were number of traders selling food items and drinks. It was so interesting to observe the mini trading cycles which were involved with the train society. The train had a rather long stop at Maho junction where the engine switch had to be undertaken. Thereafter the train sped towards its destination and around 4 PM we reached Colombo fort.
It was rather an eventful and unforgettable journey to every one of us.
Pigeon Islands Map
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Few points to note, when you travel by Train to Trinco
- Booking 1st class seeping berths and 2nd class sleeper seats which are very demanding has to be done in advance. This can be done from the Ticket reservation office in Colombo.
- Getting accommodation in Trinco can be tricky. Make sure that you check about the facilities of the rented house.
- Apart from the night mail, there is no way of booking tickets in the day time trains from Trincomalee.
- It’s advisable if you can take an antiseptic liquid and your own linen. Even though the berths are termed as first class, the facilities are actually not what the name suggests
- Make sure you carry enough drinking water when you travel.
- The corals and reefs around Pigeon Island is razor sharp and having some primary medical supplies such as plasters can be useful.
- When you obtain underwater swimming goggles, check if they are of good quality and if they fit to you well, otherwise you will lose an ample opportunity of viewing one of the most beautiful underwater experiences.