Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Friday, March 14, 2014
A beautifully written piece full of nostalgia for that Great Lady: the Udarata Menike.
An M2 hauls the Udarata Menike
The blue M2 Canadian diesel locomotives that came into service starting 1954 powered the Udarata Menike, Yal Devi, Ruhunu Kumar and the Podi Manike (the Nan Oya Express). At that time we lived at the end of Ramakrishna Road with only the approach road separating us from the railway line. Little as I was, I remembered the Ruhunu Kumari, (the Matara Express) roaring past us in the morning. Later I would watch her out of my class window in Miss Dwight’s Standard II class at St Thomas’ Prep School.
M2 # 570 Alberta which hauls Yal Devi to Kankasanthurai.
The M2 manufactured by Canadian General Electric was so successful in then Ceylon, that when the purchase of another batch of diesel locomotives was being considered in the 1960s the contract went to the Canadians again. This time MLW, the Montreal Locomotive Works, who supplied the M4 commencing 1975; another set of blue Canadian diesels!
Class M4 No. 745Ruwanweli
THE CANADIAN CONNECTION
My Dad was on Carolina Group, Watawala for 27 years, and before he retired, he planted in Bandarawela for four years. Carolina was a huge estate of 2230 acres. By a topographical twist of fate, the railway line from Colombo to Badulla went through one of the divisions of Carolina called Mt.Jean. In fact the Watawala railway station was located on Mt.Jean division! Our bungalow on Kadawella division was some distance away from the railway track, but each day around. we could hear the sound of the horn and the throbbing hum of the diesel locomotive as the "Menike" slided on ribbons of steel on her onward journey uphill amidst spectacular landscape on the way to Badulla. The blast of the horn would echo through the green hills and in the solitude of an estate bungalow it was a reassuring sound.When the "Udarata Menike" was first introduced in 1954 it was powered by two British diesel locomotives. Before this, the train to Badulla was hauled by two steam engines which meant getting flecks of coal in one's eye, when looking out of the window ! And with the puffs of smoke blowing all over, the journey was not very pleasant. The introduction of diesel changed all that. A new set of carriages were hitched onto the diesel locomotives on her maiden run, and thats how it remained as long as I remember. The icing on the cake was the gift of twelve Canadian diesel locomotives under the Colombo Plan in the late 50's - an outright gift from the Canadian government under the premiership of Pierre Trudeau. These diesels were a joy to behold, and I still remember the names of some of them, on either side of the locomotive gleaming in silver and blue. They were "Alberta" "Montreal" "Sasketchwan" "Prince Edward Island" "Vancouver" "Manitoba" "Toronto" and "Ontario". Out went the British locomotives - at least on the up-country run, and in came one Canadian diesel to take their place. I later picked up some trivia about the Canadian locomotives. The distances they covered in Canada were at times over a thousand miles, and apparently the distance from Colombo to Badulla was insufficient for such high powered diesels of 2500 horse power. So after the "Menike" reached Badulla around each evening, the locomotive had to be kept running for some hours after that, even though the journey had ended ! Apparently, one locomotive could provide electricity for an entire town ! After Dad went to Bandarawela, I used to travel by the "Udarata Menike" several times whenever I came to Colombo, and the return journey was one which I always anticipated with joy. It was not the train per se, but the incredible journey and the terrain of the track.In the the low country from Colombo to Rambukkana it was a smooth run. But once the train reached Kadugannawa the climb began, and if you sat on the right and dared to look out of the window when the train skirted the ridge called "Sensation Rock" you risked a nervous breakdown because a thousand feet below, you could see the roofs of thatched village houses and expanses of paddy fields - all in minature. There was no protective barrier along this length of track and the train was travelling on the edge of a sheer precipice ! Once this nerve shattering climb was negotiated, the terrain evened out to a level run upto Nawalapitiya. It was past Nawalapitiya that the real torturous climb began all the way to Nanuoya and from there to a spot on the track between Ambawela and Pattipola which is the highest point on the railway. After this it was 'downhill' all the way in the plains of Uva to the terminus at Badulla. On one of these trips I happened to be in the compartment up front behind the locomotive, and a very friendly guard took me into his section of the compartment from where I could see the driver in his cabin and observe this Canadian powerhorse in action. I was introduced to the driver, Mr.Wadugodapitiya an old Trinitian, and a senior driver in the Ceylon Government Railways. It was he who gave me the trivia I quoted earlier on the Canadian diesels.I have done many trips by train in other countries and can tell you that the trip from Colombo to Badulla should be classed as one of the great train journeys of the world. Apart from the spectacular scenery through which the track goes through, specially in the hill country, just consider the near impossible gradient which the train traverses.......In fact there is a place called for some unknown reason, "Soda Bottle" bend on the line between Kotagala and Great Western which is an engineering marvel. So steep is the gradient that at a certain point on looking out of the window if one is seated on the right side of the train, one can see the railway track in two tiers below - a graphic indication of the height the traveller has just passed through. And then there is the engineering masterpiece of the Demodera loop ! Once the train leaves Demodera station (two halts before Badulla) it goes full circle and at one stage passes right under the station which it has just left, on its way to Badulla ! Imagine leaving a station and then after about five minutes looking out of the window - or rather, looking up - to find the station you just left is right above you !! Talk about the realms of fantasy ! It is a matter of regret that the name of the engineer who devised this masterpiece has not been recorded for posterity. On the return trip past Nanuoya, one gets a clear view of Adam's Peak in the distance - weather permitting - until one reaches Talawakelle. At Nanuoya - and this is addressed to old Anthonians in particular - there is a little hill near the station, with a neat little bungalow on its summit. This was the home of Freddy, Paddy, Gerry, and Merry Guneratne when their Dad Alec Guneratne - an old Anthonian and legendary soccer star of a bygone era - was stationed in Nanuoya during his service with the Ceylon Government Railways. I once walked with Royston and Basil Hyde from their home on Scrubbs Estate, Nuwaraeliya to the Guneratne home at Nanuoya - a distance of four miles. We were entertained with cordon bleu home made delicacies by Paddy's Mum - it is still a warm memory that never fades and sparks nostalgia for a happy time and place...... But I digress, so I had better get back on track........From Ohiya station upto Haputale the track seems to defy gravity ! It is cut on the side of a mountain and runs at the edge of a precipice with heart stopping views of the little villages far down below. It is a hair raising experience which I term as death defying ! You have to sit on the left of the compartment to get your hair standing on all ends ! If you wish to play it safe, just sit on the right and all you will see is the side of a cliff. But the scenery which greets the traveller will live in memory forever. A panorama of deep valleys, green hills and lush countryside where nature has run riot with her paintbrush painting the land in colours of every hue......This kaladescope of nature's bounty penetrates your very soul to inspire and nurture the spirit........It is a photographer's delight and an artists paradise........and the bracing mountair air gives one a near supernatural sense of well being. The scenery on this entire journey is a nature lover's delight. From the lush hills on the Kadugannawa climb right upto Nawalapitiya, and then the beautiful tea country all the way to Nanuoya.There were no luxury compartments. There was 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, and an excellent Restaurant Car staffed by uniformed waiters. The catering was done by U.K.Edmund. For Rs.1.50 you could enjoy a delicious rice and curry and the tea was the nectar of the Gods. There was no Observation Car.I think today the "Menike" is powered by a German Henschel locomotive and has some Rumanian compartments. In my humble opinion the Henschel diesel does not in any way, shape or form look as sleek, majestic and inspiring as her Canadian counterpart. During my last visit to Sri Lanka in 2000, I was pleased to see some of the Canadian locomotives still riding the rails. On a trip from Haputale to Colombo in the "Udarata Menike" we crossed the "Podi Menike" the younger sister of the "Udarata Menike" which I observed was hauled by a Canadian diesel locomotive, "Montreal". With that I shall conclude this email. But the "Menike" - 'The Maid of the Mountains' or, as I prefer to call her 'The Maid of the Mists', will forever travel the corners of our minds in the realms of memory on a journey that has no end...Bernard VanCuylenburg.Bernard turned 70 on the 25th February.
Posted by Asela at 4:04 AM