A trip to Trincomalee by train | Sunday Observer

A trip to Trincomalee by train

30 July, 2022

Part 1

There was something of a lull (perhaps a false one) in the country, one between the tapering off of the first wave of the Covid pandemic and the start of the second wave. It was during this time that I was possessed by the obsession to go on a trip to Trincomalee, where I’d never been to.

When I’m consumed by the obsession to take a trip somewhere, I almost invariably end up there. Since it’s not that often that I get to travel, I always want to savour best the two or three trips I manage to take every year.

I usually choose a time of the year when my schedule isn’t hectic. I want to go on a trip with great peace of mind without any nagging concerns because I tend to be easily distracted by the operational minutiae.

A single text message or a phone call would find me splitting my hair and sulking. It’s a major weakness of mine that I must work on. Plus, I’m a selfish character. I don’t want my happiness or peace of mind ruined by people or circumstances beyond my control.

The simple trick to lasting happiness, as I think, is to give as little space as possible to the people whom we don’t like or can’t control or at least reason with, in our personal lives. Not because they’re necessarily bad or mean, but because, realistically speaking, none of us is fit for the company of everyone in the same way.

So, I tend to take solo trips much of the time. Also, I want to travel somewhere far off, a trip for at least four days. The longer, the better. As I’ve discovered only solo trips can satisfy all those conditions, I insist upon myself when planning a trip.

Small beach hotel

After scouring Booking.com for five or six hours split between two consecutive nights and one morning and checking the profiles and photographs published by some 20 beach hotels and homestays in Nilaweli and Uppuveli and fonr extensive price and facility comparisons, I settled for a small beach hotel in Uppuveli closer to the Trincomalee railway station whose price seemed to pretty reasonable to me considering the facilities on offer, ability to order meals for the entire stay and the reasonable distance to the main attractions in the area such as the Koneswaram Temple.

A long trip of four days and three nights. I booked a room with the standard facilities for four days between Friday and Monday, straddling the weekend. I’d travel by train. The ‘Udaya devi’ train that rides daily starting at 6.05 in the morning from the Colombo Fort railway station to the Batticaloa railway station has only second-class and third-class tickets and requires no booking.

It can’t be reserved, either, unlike the mainline trains. After lecturing me on the possible dangers of travelling alone, Mr Sajith signed the leave form. I’d hand it to the HR manager no sooner than he returned to me the leave form, now approved. I rang home and told my dad that I’d not be coming home for that weekend.

The weekend before I’d hinted to him at my plans to travel to Trincomalee. He seemed to be full of misgivings, but I brushed them aside right away.

Now it was Thursday, on the eve of the excursion. I left the office earlier around 4.30 pm and returned to my boarding in Thalawathugoda.


After a cursory wash, I started packing up clothes. I’d need two sets of clothing on the journey back and forth and more clothes to wear and travel around. Since I didn’t have a travelling bag, I substituted the big pale blue and black backpack I’d bought to carry my laptop and some clothing between my home and the boarding almost every weekend.

After stuffing clothes and all the things I felt needed for the trip, I could barely zip it up now. I pressed it hard on the front side with my left palm and sought to zip it up with my right thumb and forefinger.

My little trick worked very well. But it was as heavy as a cement bag now. What to do, anyway? I ironed my clothes to wear the next day and without folding, draped it on the door of the room next to mine. I had a shower and wolfed down the chicken fried rice I’d bought from the takeaway restaurant – Alumka, a little off the Thalawathugoda junction. I rang the hotel and learned that the booking was good. Earlier in the morning, en route to the office, I’d told Indika, a tuk-tuk driver at the tuk-tuk park at the base of the Uthuwankanda road that I wanted him to drop me to the Pannipitiya junction in the pre-dawn the next day.

I rang him to remind him of the hire and he promised to show up in time. I set the alarm for 3.00 am in the morning and went to sleep. But I was so keyed up about the excursion the next morning that I simply kept tossing and turning. I must have had a few snatches of sleep in the wee hours though.

I showered and dressed myself - a deep blue short-sleeved shirt with black printed buttons over a pair of blue jeans - and was ready by 4.00 am. I’d told Indika to show up around 4.15 am. He rang me around 4. 10 am. I picked up my backpack, now super heavy and inflated and managed to slip my left hand through the left strap and with some difficulty, though, slipped my right hand also through the other strap. It felt a bit less heavy on my back-travel light, I’d heard them saying. I picked up my pair of spectacles and the white KN95 mask I’d bought the evening before, and put both on, and then I slipped on my black synthetic leather slippers, pocketed the mobile and grabbed the wallet.

The trip begins

I switched off the lights and closed the door behind me and locked it up and put the key in the wallet. Indika was waiting for me at the end of the lane, the engine running. I slipped the backpack off my back, and holding it with my right hand climbed onto the seat. The backpack rested on my lap. The trip started now.

Indika dropped me at the Pannipitiya junction by about 4.30 am. I paid him the fare and got down and hoisted the bag once again onto my back. I had to wait for about 10 minutes until a 138-bus pulled over to pick up me and the other two passengers there. I sat on a seat on the left side by the window and took off my backpack again.

I bought a ticket to Pettah and peered through shutter at the dark shop front, some with digital signboards. The bus sped away and occasionally screeched to a halt to pick up the passengers who were bound for Pettah. Most of them must be commuting to work, some going home for a long weekend with Friday taken off, some going to the national hospital to see a patient and a few going on an excursion like me perhaps. I surmised shallowly based on their dress and deportment, age, gender, and the facial expressions they wore.

Within about half an hour, the bus ground to a halt at the passenger bridge across the road to the Colombo Fort railway station. I rose from the seat hurriedly, picked up the backpack and wore it on my back again. I ascended the two flights of stairs up to the bridge, with the backpack slowing me down, and walked across to the other side and descended the two flights of stairs.

I crossed the paved compound where passengers were beginning to pour in from all sides and went to the ticket counter dedicated for the first- and second-class tickets on all routes. I paid for a second-class ticket and picked it up and put it in the small front pocket of my wallet. I trudged over to the main platform and entered a cafeteria and bought two egg rolls and a bottle of water. I paid for that, stuffed the paper bag with egg rolls in one of the pockets of my backpack, already bursting with stuff.

Smelly washrooms

I put the water bottle in one of the two mesh pockets on it. Now I must have been looking like a serious tourist. I went into one of the washrooms, smelly as hell, and relieved myself and came out and trudged across to platform 4.

I took off the backpack and seated myself on a metal seat with my backpack resting on my lap, waiting for the train to arrive from the yard at the Maradana railway station. It was about 5.30 in the morning. The platforms were beginning to crowd with passengers pouring in.

The train arrived shortly. I rose from my seat and put on my backpack, ready to climb in as soon as the train ground to a halt. I climbed the ladder slowly and gingerly – Every time I ascend or descend those ladder steps, I’m scared like hell that one of my feet will get stuck in the empty space between the rungs.

Taking off the backpack, I seated myself on a second-class seat – a comfy, pale blue synthetic leather cushion seat with spongy hand rests. With my bag plonked down on the other seat, I stood up and unlocked the window shutter, slid it up and held it in place with the latch or whatever it’s called. Some train window shutters wouldn’t even buck one-tenth of a millimetre. It’s better to abort the mission and find a seat elsewhere in the compartment. I had become deft at it due to my abiding enthusiasm for travelling by train.

The first and second time around, I’d been clueless and had relied on the support of more experienced passengers. But the longer trips had exposed the technique for me and given me ample opportunity to hone my skills in the train window shutter craft.

(To be continued)