Taking the Train Through Tea Country in Sri Lanka

If you are under any misapprehension that we were roughing it in Sri Lanka, this tale will clarify things! D. had read about the trains in Sri Lanka and we were keen to take a trip by rail. However, we already had the car and Chatarunga (the driver) so the train trip wasn't really a necessity, note the sheepish understatement!  Despite this we decided to take the train from Gampola (just outside of Kandy) to Ella up in the hill country. 

The train took us right through picturesque tea estates where the tea bushes ran in rows across the landscape. The views were magnificent as the train climbed the hillsides and we ate greedily from the various sellers plying their baskets of fried snacks at every station.

Unreserved second class seats were the only option at Gampola, as  First Class seats seem only to be available at major stations. However, Second Class was perfectly fine and  the tickets were only a few dollars each. We boarded to find the train filled with backpackers and we were conspicuous  due to our lack of luggage, because of course it was traveling on in style with Chatarunga! 
The train was very atmospheric and you had a real sense of the British colonial legacy in the architecture of the station and uniforms of the railway staff. Have a look at the red phone box on the station platform below. However, after six hours I was glad to escape the incessant rattling - next time I'll know to bring earplugs.
I can say for certainty we were the only people who were dropped off and picked up by the same driver! As the drive was much shorter Chatarunga was waiting for us when we arrived at Ella, calling out, "Madam, Sir, this way, this way...". We enjoyed the trip and I think he was quite happy to have some time on his own!
If we'd had more time to plan the trip we wouldn't  have ended up with this sort of duplication, but I have to say next time we are in Sri Lanka we will certainly make trains a part of the journey. 

Tips: Book First Class tickets in advance and bring ear plugs.