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With a steam engine through the clouds

a train adventure in Sri Lanka

“Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Treuchtlingen.  We currently have a delay of about 25 minutes. Unfortunately, the connecting trains could not wait. We apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you for travelling with Deutsche Bahn”


We all know these announcements, mostly made with a strong and somehow funny German accent. Thus, it is not surprising, that the German railway is on top of the list of the most annoying companies. We often do not reach our final destination as announced or expected. Delays, overcrowded trains, collapsed air-conditions in midsummer, the list of inconveniences is long. We have all made our own individual experience and so did I: When I remember how often I got angry when a problem in reaching my final destination arose.


After an absolutely disastrous train trip with Manuel and three child minders in the year 2011 from Haputale to Adam’s Peak in Hatton, I started being a bit more tolerant towards the Deutsche Bahn, because I realized at that time that the alleged problems travelling with Deutsche Bahn were not really big problems. The memory of this horrible trip that was supposed to take three hours and in the end took us eleven hours came to my mind and worried me when it became clear that the holiday trip 2016 would be a train trip to Hatton. The girl’s greatest wish was to make precisely this trip and so I knew that it would be a fantastic experience for the kids even in the most adverse circumstances.


Early in the morning, we start our journey and drive 45 minutes by van to the railway station in Haputale. For half of my fellow travelers this will be their first trip on a train and so I am overwhelmed with a barrage of questions about the still unfamiliar means of transport.

We arrive in time and to my surprise, the train is on schedule.  When the steaming vehicle entered the station, enthusiastically welcomed by everyone, all doubts are gone and I am sure that this will be a special day for the girls. 


I am happy that nobody fell on the tracks – I could have needed 10 hands to hold them all and prevent that they fall over when they curiously lean forward watching the arriving train.

We climbed into a third-class railcar. Well I would rather say I drew half of my girls into the car because the steps were far too steep for them. At first, the girls were disappointed, because there were no empty seats left. The problem is not that we have to stand, because this is something we are used to. We were just hoping to get a place from where we can look out the window and watch the landscape go by, which from our position in the centre aisle was not possible, because all the passengers on the window seats blocked our view. By chance, we arrived in the dining car were the girls step by step secured enough standing space for us all at the windows. If you grow up with 100 siblings, you know very well how to assert yourself.  After only a short period, someone who left the train offered me his seat, because he obviously took me for a tourist. The people on the neighboring seats looked rather baffled when I accepted the offered seat and put three exhausted 11-year old girls on it. People don’t know what to think about us, compared to the place where we come from people here are used to tourists, but I do not conform to the norm. The fact is, we are different and an unusual bunch.


So, we quickly have pushed ourselves into the front line and are now able to stick our heads out of the window to see EVERYTHING perfectly.
Later when we passed the mountains near Haputale, the kids who originally come from there, proudly show me “their region”.  We can see their old school and they are happy that this time it’s their turn to explain their Akka all the things around.
Then comes the route section with the many tunnels and we quickly learn what a real child has to do when entering such dark tubes: Stick your head out of the window and shout as loud as you can “UHHHHHH”. Already at the second tunnel the Little Smile kids are leading – well, they are simply quick learners. The eleventh-graders secure themselves a place with panoramic view at the open door. These places are usually reserved for male passengers or tourists, and so the conductor looks skeptically first, but when I, the supposed tourist, give him a nod, it seems to be fine with him.  Now my big girls can go on watching the diverse landscape pass by, something of which they just cannot get enough – vast mountain views, coniferous forests covered in mist, vegetable fields and tea plantations. To be honest, I am somewhat concerned that one of them might be too careless at the door, but on the other hand, you must give young people some confidence.  However, I cannot relax and so I am even a little relieved when a Rambo-like macho squeezed in, and I decided not to argue with him about his behavior.

It’s getting cold, very cold actually – wrapped up warmly and tightly bunched the little ones finally fall asleep on the child minder’s laps while the bigger ones in the cold wind count tunnels write down the names of the stations and keep on fighting successfully for ever better places for themselves and the weaker ones.


After an hour at the window in the area around Nuwara Eliya where it is exceptionally cold for Sri Lankan standards, Saroja proudly stretches her cold arm and face towards me thus opening the competition for the coldest body part.  I have to smile and think about the cold winters at home. For them it is exciting, because they do not know how real cold weather feels, and to get an idea about it, they would have to climb into a fridge – or take the train to Hatton.

Shortly before we reach our destination, it starts raining, but for the girls this is no reason to worry and get inside – after all, it is still warm enough and the raindrops will surely not freeze on their faces. However, I am a little worried, because I do not know what we could do in this rather unspectacular town when it is raining.

Of course, the first thing we will do is to eat something, because everybody is hungry.  

Naturally, we are well prepared with soya chunks potato curry, our well-proven travel meal because it stays fresh for a long time and everybody likes it.

We are lucky! While we are standing next to each other along the track finishing our meal, it stops raining, and so we can spend almost two dry hours in Hatton.  We visit smaller attractions like a colonial church, take a walk through the Castlereagh reservoir, organize a stone throwing competition at the lake and run races against the leeches, which appear in great numbers in the rainy reservoir. Fortunately, my jungle kids have a quite professional relationship towards leeches and don’t take it too seriously. After a few hours in Hatton we are in the mood for a train ride again and so we happily climb aboard for the journey back to the children’s village. Moreover, one thing was clear from the beginning:

The journey is the reward!