The Town I would have chosen to live in, had I been born again in Ceylon, which is also the “name” I have always preferred, for the tiny teardrop of an Island that was to be my home, for all of twenty six hectic, yet glorious years that I enjoyed enormously, before having to leave, very reluctantly in order to migrate to Australia.
I still vividly remember my very first visit to this Town in the verdant hills of home. My Uncle Fred de Kretser was an engine-driver with the Ceylon Government Railway. It was around the year of 1944 and I was very nearly eight years old, when Uncle Fred spoke to my mum asking for her permission to take me on-board his steam-engine for a trip to “New-Raliya”, as we used to pronounce the name while we were still quite young. Mum gave her permission and it was one of those thrills that any young lad could only dream of, travelling for about eight or nine hours on-board the ENGINE of a real train, helping, of my own free will, the Fireman or 2nd in command, to U.Fred, throw in, as much as my small hands could, lumps of coal into the engine’s furnace, to keep the train chugging along at a steady pace.
From Moratuwa, where we started off, until the main railway station in Fort, our train kept stopping at every station and I remember being too busy looking at what the fireman was doing and helping him, to notice much else. U.Fred drove the train, pulled down on the “whistle-cord”, at intervals and just before leaving each station we stopped at. I was feeling quite proud of the fact that I was part of driving the train myself.
We got off the train in Fort to have our lunch in a nearby little Station cafe’, then entrained again, to start our exciting journey to New-ralia, and I didn’t have a clue how long the journey was going to take, didn’t care either, as I was enjoying this free ride simply because my Uncle was an ENGINE DRIVER !!, How good was that ?.
We moved along steadily, and I was beginning to get a bit weary as an assistant fireman, and decided to take in the surrounding Countryside, proudly waving at Villagers, from time to time, and then, a few hours later, arrived at a Station that I cannot remember the name of, but this was where another engine was hitched on at the rear of our train to help push us along, as we started to climb into the hills.
I remember it so well. Once we started to climb, even the hot, humid temperature in our engine started to regularly get cooler. Now, I started to enjoy the engine’s furnace again. It was just starting to get dark, outside. We had just passed a few other stations without stopping, which meant that our train was now considered to be “running express” until our final arrival at our destination. However, the scenic beauty of these places that we passed by, was beautiful, cool, and green, and even at the setting of the sun a sight magnificent to behold, especially for a very young lad, on his first trip, so far away from Colombo.
And so, here we were at last, at Nuwara Eliya, as the name-sign at the station taught me. It was the weekend, and my Uncle was now off duty until the following Monday, when we would be heading back to hot & humid Fort. The shame was that I did not get much of a chance to see very much of this beautiful Town, but what I saw, really impressed me. Fresh apples, grapes, and other fruit, grown in N.E. were plentiful. We could not dream of having such quality fruit and vegetables in Colombo. We had arrived at N.E. fairly late on Friday evening. I remember Saturday morning being quite cold, and had to pull on my thick woollen jumper, then watched the day warm slightly as the sunshine came in, giving us a beautiful bright sun- shiny day, with an ice-blue cloudless sky. We roamed around Nuwara Eliya Town, practically empty, compared to Moratuwa or Colombo, admiring the green Hills and Vales around us, and I kept thinking of why we could not live HERE, rather than in Colombo. The weekend sped by, and as I watched the mist starting to come in, on Sunday evening, I really felt a pang of regret, softened only by the thought of my locomotive ride back to Moratu-Mulla, where mum had a good feed of tempered rice and curry waiting for Uncle Fred & her favourite son, who got stuck into it. We were back home, but the story of Nuwara Eliya goes on folks, so please keep reading. eLanka tries it’s best to bring you, it’s members, interesting tales that will no doubt bring back many memories of Ceylon and times that were second to none, in that era.