February 2018


Onboard the Yal Devi
February 2018




The journey begins, Jaffna here we come!

She's the Princess of the Northern Line. The Yal Devi has been connecting Colombo and Jaffna since as far back as the 1950s. Chugging through villages and bustling townships, the Yal Devi offers an adventure that captures the spirit and beauty of the island.


Words: Keshini de Silva
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


It was around 6.20am when we reached the Colombo Fort Railway Station and the sky shined in a light luminous blue. The station was as always in a hustle. Passengers laden with suitcases and rucksacks rushed through the platforms, while everyday commuters hopped on to their carriages. Announcements bellowed in the air, in Sinhala, Tamil and English as passengers were guided to their respective trains. Amidst the rush, the Yal Devi stood patiently, with a long line of carriages.

Snack up

After leaving the Colombo Fort Railway Station, the Yal Devi does not stop anywhere for more than five to ten minutes until the KKS terminus. Be sure to pack breakfast, lunch, snacks and water before you board the train. There are a few shops and a cafeteria at the Colombo Fort Station.


We took our seats in the Observation Saloon. The first order of business was to pack our luggage on the racks and open the windows. At 6.35am, the wheels were in motion, the Yal Devi whistled her way out of the station overlooking the modern skyline of Colombo. Her destination was the Northern peninsula; her terminus was Kankesanthurai (KKS). For us heading to Jaffna, it would be a journey of approximately ten hours.


The first main stop was at the Gampaha station. As rustic wetland terrain surrounded us, the train conductor checked our tickets. It was thrilling to feel the air beating on our faces as the train sped forward and to watch it slow to a stop at the train stations.

Plan Ahead

To enjoy a scenic ride, reserve and book your tickets for the Observation Saloon in advance. Tickets can also be purchased in advance for the First Class and Second Class Reserved seating carriages.

Observation Saloon: Rs.1,100
First Class: Rs.900
Second Class: Rs.540
Third Class: Rs.335


When rocky outcrops filled our otherwise bright island scenery, it was evident that the Yal Devi was chugging past Kurunegala. Many excitedly pointed at scenes of village life while children were amused by the hypnotic shadows cast by steel bridges. The train came to a halt near the Galgamuwa town, where the Yal Devi had to pause a moment to make way for another train. Peddlers took this opportunity to sell snacks such as crispy vadai and various varieties of achcharu to the passengers.


Yal Devi is also one of the main trains taken by pilgrims and visitors heading to the heritage city of Anuradhapura. As we reached the Anuradhapura New Town station many started to gather their belongings, they would disembark at the next stop, the main Anuradhapura station. For those heading to Jaffna, it was time for lunch. Passing this station, over the tops of trees, the three great stupas of Anuradhapura were glimpsed. There were vistas of the pinnacles of the Ruwanweliseya and Jetavanaramaya. Yet, the best view was that of the Abhayagiriya, the island's second largest stupa. The top of the brick dagoba could be seen contrasted by the green of paddy fields and trees as well as the cloudless sky.

Yal Devi Express

Also called the Northern Intercity, this faster train reaches Jaffna in approximately seven hours. Similar to the traditional Yal Devi, her terminus is also KKS. The express is an A/C train and there is a cafeteria on board the train. It starts from Mount Lavinia, heads to Wellawatte and then travels to the Colombo Fort Station.


As the Yal Devi crossed through the dry zone terrain from Vavuniya to Jaffna, the landscape was filled with palmyrah (thal) trees. Salty breeze that swept over the lagoon greeted the passengers as the train chugged along the scenic Elephant Pass causeway. There was indeed a thrill in seeing the A9 road and catching sight of buses travelling to Jaffna. After Kilinochchi, on the left flank of the train, the towering white wind turbines came into view in an almost endless row.


While the Yal Devi slowed down at almost every station in the Jaffna peninsula, we grew impatient; we stuck our heads out and looked longingly for the Jaffna Railway Station. And when the station came into view, we saw passengers gather, almost like a welcoming party ready to greet the Princess of the Northern Line. We disembarked, ready to explore the city of Jaffna. As we handed our tickets at the gates, the Yal Devi chugged off whistling a good bye; she was en route to KKS.

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    The Yal Devi chugs through the scenic route along the Northern Line

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    Verdant paddy fields in the morning glow as the train passes Gampaha

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    Rock outcrops filled the scenery in Kurunegala

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    A charismatic steel bridge before Ganewatta

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    Destination Jaffna, full speed ahead

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    A glimpse of Abhayagiriya as the Yal Devi travels through Anuradhapura

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    Chundikulam Lagoon in Elephant Pass

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    Vibrant culture, a kovil in Kilinochchi

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    Chugging alongside the A9 through the Elephant Pass

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    Paddy fields with palmyrah trees, an iconic scene in Jaffna

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    Truly Northern – white wind turbines tower over a rustic palmyrah-filled landscape

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    Ten hours later, the Yal Devi at the Jaffna Railway Station

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