As the 7am diesel train to Kandy pulls out of Colombo Fort station, leaving behind the early Sunday morning activity pulsing through the steamy Sri Lanka capital, there is ample time to settle back and study my fellow passengers. They are a diverse lot.
Two Expo Rail trains a day make the 121km trip from Colombo to Kandy, and then on to Badulla, carrying a privately run air-conditioned car with special fares (absurdly cheap by Australian standards), wi-fi, power sockets and meals served by keen-to-please, if inexperienced young attendants.
The carriage seats are a little worn, the food is no more than adequate and the video screen showing Bollywood dancers is an unwanted distraction. But all of this is forgotten as the train starts its gently swaying journey to the green heart of Sri Lanka.
On a platform at Colombo Fort, a smartly uniformed police inspector had asked me about my destination and pointed me in the direction of my train.
Sri Lankan officialdom retains that stiff but polite demeanour, a relic surely - and not the only one - of British colonial rule.
There was time before boarding the train only to grab some fruit and water from the already busy market stalls on the approach to the station where, in the booking hall, I was confronted by another local oddity.
I had a ticket for the train but discovered that this was only a ticket to exchange for another ticket that would actually allow me to board.
By and large, Sri Lankans are a nation of people who respect each other's privacy.
They will greet a smile with an even wider smile. Stopping to change money at a bank in a small but commercially busy town in central Sri Lanka, a female bank teller carries out the transaction with minimum fuss and sends me on my way with a shy smile.
Ceylon Government Railways laid the first tracks in 1858, a 54km stretch between Colombo and Ambepussa, before extending the line to Kandy nine years later.
The railway was built to transport coffee from the hill country to the port of Colombo but when the coffee trade was wiped out by disease, the embryonic tea business stepped in as a new rail customer.
Fellow passengers in the compartment are mostly couples, split between young and in-love Sri Lankans heading to the hills for a break and middle-aged Western tourists opting for rail travel rather than road.
A keen sense of anticipation is the common thread as we pass beyond the Colombo city limits and watch the spectacular Sri Lanka countryside unfold.
En route to Kandy, station- masters in freshly-pressed white tunics watch the passing parade on the platforms, where mango sellers move from carriage to carriage selling their fruit, and young men play daredevil, leaving it until the last second to jump back onboard the already-moving carriages.
Train travel in Sri Lanka is such an enjoyable and inexpensive way of getting around the country that even a 20-minute delay in the arrival of a connecting train from Kandy (Peradeniya Junction) to Hatton - deep in tea country - is spent usefully by checking out the old diesel engines heading south to Nanu Oya and Haputale, and north as far as Vavuniya and Trincomalee, on the Bay of Bengal.
Hatton is a good place to leave the train for a few days to enjoy the tea country. We stay at Tea Trails adjacent to Castlereagh Lake in the Bogawantalawa Valley, where four colonial-era tea planters' bungalows provide up-market accommodation and outstanding food.
Each bungalow has a manager, chef, butler and support staff to welcome guests, as at a planter's home.
Scenic walking trails link the properties (which are from 5-15km apart), and in-house guests are encouraged to move between bungalows for their meals if they so wish.
Back on the train, Expo Rail's video screens offer advice on etiquette, such as: "Don't lean over your passenger to read what he is reading. This can cause discomfort." And: "Avoid consuming food as it may cause an aroma."
And there's another coming up on the video screen: "Don't panic in the event of an unusual event." Later, I dutifully refuse to panic even when I see a large snake slithering across the track.
On a subsequent train journey from Bentota to Galle there is only second class available so I scramble aboard along with the hordes of excited local travellers - it is, after all, a national holiday weekend - and I find myself squeezed into a cool spot at an open door.
The two young Sri Lankans next to me reckon they have the best seats on the train - riding on the footplate.
Sri Lanka is changing. There is a new airport to make access easier to the central wildlife areas, international luxury resorts are popping up everywhere. Fingers crossed, the trains will keep rumbling through the hills and valleys to allow visitors the opportunity to see the best of Sri Lanka at a slower pace.
Seats must be reserved before departure. Seats can be reserved within 10 days of departure but book early as the observation car is very popular and gets booked up fast, especially during school holidays.
The luxury ExpoRail carriage offers two trains a day on the Colombo to Kandy and Badulla route carrying a privately run deluxe car with special fares, wi-fi, power sockets and inclusive meals. www.exporail.lk.
A similar air-conditioned private carriage is now running on other trains on the Colombo to Kandy and Badulla route, and on the Colombo to Galle and Matara route.
The train departs Kandy at 6.15am and arrives Colombo Fort at 8.45am. It departs Colombo Fort at 3.35pm and arrives at Kandy at 6.05pm. There is a stop at Peradeniya Junction in both directions for connections to the south. rajadhani.lk.
Mark Smith, producer of the website seat61.com, recommends the first-class observation car on the best daytime trains from Colombo to Kandy and Badulla. The observation car is normally at the rear of the train (occasionally behind the locomotive).