Greetings to fellow travellers and visitors to Sri Lanka with train news.

By train to Jaffna

Following the election of a new president in Sri Lanka in January, several changes are obvious to the frequent visitor to the island. One of interest to travellers is the lifting of restrictions on foreigners going by train to Jaffna. For the first time in nearly three decades, foreign passport holders can travel freely the length and breadth of the entire country, just as Sri Lankans do.

I took advantage of this new freedom by catching a train to Jaffna and then on to the island’s northernmost railway station, Kankesanturai, still being rebuilt.

There are three daily trains and one night mail from Colombo Fort to Jaffna. The timetable can be seen on: http://eservices.railway.gov.lk/schedule/homeAction.action?lang=en

Although it leaves Colombo Fort very early, at 5.50am, I chose the air-conditioned, all 1st Class train, number 4021, with scheduled arrival in Jaffna at noon. The train actually starts from Mount Lavinia at 5.10am and returns every day with arrival at Colombo scheduled at 8.00pm. Seats can be reserved at any major station in advance and the fare per person is Rs1,500 (one-way) for the 393km journey.

 

Class S12 power set locomotive to Jaffna

Class S12 power set locomotive to Jaffna

January in Sri Lanka brings some exciting events this New Year.

 

Is it safe?

Yes, Sri Lanka is a safe country for tourists to visit. In January, though, there are a couple of high profile events during which visitors would be smart to observe the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s advice of “avoid any political gatherings or rallies.”

 

On Thursday 8 January 2015 there is an election being held to choose the country’s next president, either the incumbent (who’s been there since 2005) or one of a score of rivals. It won’t be a calm affair. Then from Tuesday 13 to Thursday 15 January, His Holiness Pope Francis is paying a visit to Colombo and also to Madhu, a Roman Catholic shrine in the recently re-opened north of the country.

 

To cap all that, Thursday 15 January is the day of the Tamil Thai Pongal festival, an ancient thanksgiving harvest festival celebrated by Hindus the world over. Houses are decorated with mango and plantain leaves and the hearth is decorated with rice flour as the Tamil farming community and their supporters share happiness with nature.

 

Another happening coming up, on Tuesday 3 February, is the annual Navam Perahera organised by the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo (see blog for November 2014). This is a lavish procession of elephants, fire eaters, jugglers and acrobats on the occasion of the Navam Full Moon Poya Day and is an awe-inspiring spectacle. Remember: all bars (even hotel ones) are closed every Full Moon Poya Day in Sri Lanka.

 

Street Art
If you can get to Colombo on Sunday 25 January you can join in the celebration of the astonishing artistic talent of Sri Lankans when the annual open air art fair called the Kala Pola is held in the city.

 

‘Pola’ means fair or market in English and ‘Kala’ (if you say it a certain way) seems to be ‘colour.’ A colloquial phrase in Sinhala is kalabala which – according to ‘A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English’ by Michael Meyler – means ‘gaudy, cluttered, over decorated, as in “I don’t like his pictures, they’re too kalabala.”

This December’s a jolly month in Sri Lanka, even without Christmas. There is some exciting cricket and a Sesquicentennial to celebrate.

 

One Match At Time
If you need an extra reason to visit Sri Lanka (as well as for the serendipitous informality of life here), in December there will be five one day international cricket matches (ODIs) with the home team in fine fettle battling England.

 

The first game outside the city (after two ODIs held in Colombo) is deep south at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium at Sooriyawewa, near Hambantota, on Wednesday 3 December. This new stadium can hold approximately 35,000 spectators, and the match will be day/night encounter, beginning at 14.30.

 
Entrance to the Cricket stadium at Sooriyawewa

Entrance to the Cricket stadium at Sooriyawewa