Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hike Along a Colonial Memory

Trip Name : Rail Hike from Pattipola to Idalgashinna

Year and Month : October 2013

Number of Days : Two Nights & Two Days (read the first part of this travelogue here)

Crew : 6 (Akila, Asela, Danushka, Pranama, Samith (me), Sandun

Accommodation : Unofficial Camp site near Pattipola - HP Road (Forrest Department Resting Point)

Transport : Badulla Nightmail Sleeping Compartments, Badulla (Udaratamanike) Observation Cart

Activities : Sight Seeing, Hiking, Camping, Train Journey

Itinerary : Railway Line from Pattipola to Idalgashinna

Opening Hours : N/A

Tickets : N/A

Weather : Sunny, Cold, Dry

Trail/Road Info : Pattipola Station > Ohiya Station > Idalgashinna Station > Colombo Fort Railway Station.

Special remarks : 
  • Its against law to hike on the railway line. But SLR personals don't try to enforce it anymore. But remember to inform station masters and get their verbal permission. ( update - Now SLR take strict actions against hikers on railway line. I or this site do not encourage rail hiking. Please read site disclaimer).
  • Check in with each train station for train schedule.
  • Bright torch or a proper headlamp is a must to travel in railway tunnels.
  • Be vigilant for unscheduled trains, specially in tunnels.
  • Lookout for railway trolleys.
  • Talk to locals they will provide you with very good insight.
  • Railway inside the tunnels was extremely slippery. Shoes with rubber lug soles recommended.
  • Bats and Birds have nested inside tunnels. Watch out for them but do not invade or harm them.
  • Bring enough water.
  • There are no shops along the railway line except a single shop opposite Ohiya railway station.
  • Do not amble inside tunnels.
  • There are holes on the side walls of tunnels. one or two persons can fit in to one these in case of a train arriving while you are still inside a tunnel. But the ones I noticed were slippery,wet and foul smelling.
  • Use these holes (cubbyholes or safety holes?) as a last resort and always keep train schedule in mind. (download the train schedule from resource section)
Resources : 

I was between sleep and awake when Danushka's alarm went off. BEEP BEEP BEEP!!! It was 4 am! . Last night we all had agreed to wake up early as possible so that we would be able to finish rail hike before our way back train reach Idalgashinna station. So we prepared a quick breakfast (eggs, chili paste, and jam sandwiches) and packed everything.

On our way to Pattipola

Would've looked lot nicer without the power lines

Arriving at Pattipola station

We reached Pattipola Station around 6 AM where we informed the station master of our intention and got his verbal permission. Pattipola railway station was constructed in 1893 and is considered to be the highest railway station in Sri Lanka with an altitude of  1897.56 m. Its also a clean railway station compered to other Sri Lankan railway stations.


Morning dew


Pattipola station platform

Getting ready

From there we started our 6.5km rail hike towards Ohiya railway station.

Lets go!

Away from each other yet closer with surrounding

Tracks to .......

Thotupola Kanda?

Taking photos


Cold air and gentle warmth of morning sun

Void of clamorous noise of the city it was rather a peaceful walk. Sleeper by sleeper, My mind slipped into a state of serenity. There was nothing, just me and a railway line which would take me to the depths of my imagination.

Arriving at summit point

62228 feet above sea level


Bathing in yellow life

CGR!! thats the only thing I can understand


None of us broke this peaceful silence until we came across the summit point.With an altitude of 1898m this is the highest place in Sri Lankan railway lines. On a clear day you can see Thotupala Kanda from here. Shortly after it, we came across the infamous "18 Tunnel"

Glimpse of tunnel 18

Famous tunnel 18 entrance

Out of all the 42 railway tunnels in CGR main line this is the third longest (321.95m) railway tunnel. It was built during 1919 and has been repaired several times. A major tunnel collapse occurred in 1951 and it took almost 30 years to make "permanent" repairs. The tunnel goes through the hillside of Nasdanda Mountain.



Air was foul smelling and humid inside the tunnel.  We could not only hear bats but, smell their presence. The tunnel got darker and wetter as we went in. Our headlamps and torches weren't doing us at this point (cold weather has an effect on lithium batteries) . It was pitch black and a few dim lights hovering just above the tracks. It took us a good ten minutes to arrive at the other side of the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel

Bats bats bats!!!



Another interesting thing about this tunnel is the temperature difference at both ends. The exit towards Pattipola  should feel comparatively warmer compared to the Ohiya exit. To be honest, I didn't feel this. Yes, there was a tiny bit change in humidity, but not a huge "feel like" temperature difference.

The other side of the tunnel 18

Hill side of Nandadasa Mountain

After tunnel 18 we passed through three other tunnels and a few bridges and finally arrived at Ohiya Station. We took a small break there while two of our group went to inform the station master about our intention.
[Travel Tip] There is a small boutique in front of Ohiya railway station.


Tunnel 19

Inside tunnel 19

Reaching tunnel 20

Inside tunnel 20

CGR employees on routine line check

Just another day for them

Iron and Rubble


Ahead, tunnel 21!

Tunnel 21

More CGR employees


In to the light


Arriving at Pattipola railway station


From there onward it was rather a scenic walk. Apart from the CGR employees who were on routine line check duty and the railway trolley we didn't encounter anything special of mentioning. Even though that sounds dull it wasn't. It's not something I can just explain, it's something one must feel for oneself. Slightly overcast sky, pleasantly cold air bearing the smell of morning dew on leaves. It was worth it.

Railway Trolly



The shunt limit

Entering tunnel 22

Waiting for me

Tunnel 23

More Workers

Making repairs

Reaching Tunnel 24

Tunnel 24 exit

Little bit tired

Tunnel 25

Whats that sound? Is it a train?

No train its just ME!

Bridge near tunnel 26

A unique shape from all the tunnels we saw

Tunnel 27 seen from inside tunnel 26

Ammo! lets take a break

Tunnel 27


An Katussa? (අං කටුස්ස)

Rather large safety hole

We kept walking until we came across a tea plantation. As a train appeared on the railway line far ahead coming towards us, we decided to stay there until it passed us.

Misty mountains

Tea plantation

More of tea plantation

Probably the tea factory

Waiting for the train to pass


Bye Bye!

Yes, it's beautiful, But I sometime wonder how it would have
looked without tea plantations

Tea pluckers

It took us another half an hour to reach our destination, Idalgashina railway station.


Finally, arriving at Idalgashinna

Idalgashinna station seen from far


Small train

A friend I made

View from the backyard of Idalgashinna Station

View from the backyard of Idalgashinna Station

Trophy photo

From there we got onto a train bound for Fort, Colombo.

Front seats of the observation cart

Great-Western mountain. Our next challenge

Great-Western railway station


  1. Nice article with beautiful images indeed... Be very careful when hiking on the railway...

    1. Thanks for commenting Dilshan. Yes, rail hiking shouldn't be done without proper planning.