Raja and company left after breakfast to Nuwara Elya, a scenic hill stations of sorts near Kandy (someplace close to where myth says, Sita was held in captivity in the famed Asoka gardens) and we decided to chill in Negombo and perhaps check out Colombo. A leisurely breakfast and then Anjali and Shobhs hit the sea while I did what I do best - watch the ocean.
The fishermen were setting out in those thin fishing boats - they could not be wider than a foot and a half at best. What do fat fishermen do? I could not figure out their design and what and why. They certainly seem easier to pull up and into the water unlike the heavier versions in Goa.
I was intrigued by the lack of population - this beach would have been teeming with people - tourists, vendors, fishermen - in India. Here it was a couple of boats, a few locals. The beach itself was pretty deserted otherwise. Another thing I noticed was the lack of beach side shacks. Not a single structure on the length of the beach. perhaps a regulation which makes sense. They maintained a healthy distance from the water line too. Clean.
The ocean by itself was not very friendly here. The beach falls sharply and I did not find it very inviting to walk along the waterline as I would have liked to normally. I spotted one of those orange coconut sellers and decided to try one of those. Sweet again. But no pulp.
Vidyuth would have been proud of me. I remember a few years ago when we were in Goa on a cricketing assignment, we'd drive past these coconut sellers everyday and I told him one day 'Viddu, every day I pass these guys I feel like having a drink of coconut water. Then I think again and by the time I make up my mind they are gone.' I could not forget the look on his face. 'Old man, all these days you've been thinking of whether you should drink coconut water or not?' I told him that's how my decision making was - or was it my money consciousness. 'We must do something about it,' he said and well I pulled up at the next roadside coconut seller and we drank coconut water. Heavenly. I've come a long way from there.
While on the roadside snacks there was another trip with the South Zone Under 22 team to Guwahati during our Engineering college days and we all took a bus to Shillong. On the way the bus stopped at some roadside place where a pretty girl was selling the sweetest pineapples I ever ate. I suspect now that she added to the sweetness of the experience. Vidyuth, Venkatapathi and I were eating the pineapple when I mentioned that I would not mind marrying the lovely pineapple seller and settling down to a life of selling pineapples (or in all likelihood eating them) in the road that leads to Shillong. Our team manager Srinivasan overheard me and reminded me that I should perhaps postpone my marriage plans since we had matches to play still. That ended one possible love story of mine. Wonder what she is doing now.
Anyway the sun got pretty hot shortly, which explains the line of thought, and we returned to the comfort of our room. The idea was to check out Colombo after lunch. We walked about the Negombo street which is a beautiful place, 200 metres from the sea, full of nice shops and eateries that remind you of Goa somehow. We finally stopped at a small restaurant where we got the devilled prawns and Lion's beer (both recommended by Vijay Lokapally - Vijay I ticked off all the items on your list) along with some Sri Lankan cuisine - the names of which I forget now. I liked this place - the chef took pride in his work and put his picture up on the wall - I like anyone who does that because I know he will put some effort behind it. Anjali had a go with her fish and chips.
I can sense a difference in the family dynamic this trip - and then I realised that it was that we were now like three of us what with Anjali now growing up and behaving like a small adult with her own likes and dislikes, wants and don't wants. That's what children do I guess, come by, grow up, delay our ageing (or in some cases accelerating it) and then move on with their lives.
After lunch we contemplated on hiring a tuk tuk or even taking a bus and then got lazy and hired a taxi for half a day for 50 USD. Our man Chiron Rajapaksa was a slick businessman and dealt with all needs quickly - and throws in some extras for the price of some USDs. A young boy landed up in an Indica, the worst I have seen in the trip, and we put ourselves in his hands. Off he took us, Mel, past the fishing market in Negombo which he says is a great sight, the canal which runs along the road almost at the road height, the lagoon filled with fishing boats.
Within half an hour we were inside Colombo. Nice quaint houses give you a European feel, an old world feel and we sped past the busy financial districts, the trappings of commercialism - the World Trade Centre, several interesting high rises, a huge hospital, one building which was actually two - one building standing on its own and another leaning on it. We stopped at a huge temple but unfortunately it was shut for the afternoon so we set out again to the Gangaramaya temple, a lovely structure with a lot of stuff to see. It has meditation halls, a huge ancient bodhi tree, museum and even a cat. From there we headed to the museum and spent some time checking it out. It's worth spending half a day here as it pretty much traces Sri Lankan history and heritage in a very organised manner.
It's well staffed with courteous staffers - a pleasant change from our brusque security guards who have no clue (with the exception of one chap I met in Chowmahalla palace who knew a bit about the stuff on display).
A stop by at the Independence square, drive past the Sinhalese Cricket Ground, the ACC Head quarters where I am sure Venkatapathi comes often, the lovely cricket grounds with young mothers and their young cricket-mad sons.
A huge ground with multi purpose sports where one Olympic prospect surely, a lass with long legs practiced the high jump. A drive past the butterfly stadium, a lovely piece of architecture, named after a politician (they seem to be ensuring that they live on forever). We passed by the President's house, the old Parliament house and headed to the Galle Face Green. This is a burst of open land amidst all this commercial activity and you suddenly realise how important something like that is for the people to unwind and relax.
It's a huge ground by the sea, rectangular in shape, where people flew kites, very interesting types of kites and not the plain vanilla type we have in Hyderabad. On the benches close to the main road and away from the sea and the promenade sat several couples whispering away and then you realise that with Valentines Day coming up the next day there must be plenty to whisper about. I wonder what they would have said in the heat of the moment that they would regret later, but the moment is all they have and possibilities are made only by opening those doors so we left them behind, holding hands, waists, searching for lips with their eyes. Wonder what it is with this lips business - something Freudian surely.
The promenade was beautiful. You could walk along leisurely, look out at the sea, enjoy the street food. Thee were several stalls, most of them named Nana and Anjali had a great time teasing me about my stalls.
I asked Mel, our cab driver, what was best to eat and he pointed to some vadas - eat the crab vadas and prawn vadas he said without a moment's hesitation. I trusted him like no other and ordered the same.
The stall owner Kumar, an expressionless young lad who should be spending time at the benches, picked them up, dropped them in some black oil and in a while they were ready to eat. Absolutely delicious. The best food I ate in Sri Lanka. Go to Kumar's stall and eat prawn and crab vadas and return is there is one thing to do in Sri Lanka. Anjali ate an ice cream. I tried some chicken shawarma, drank some ginger beer and we generally stuffed ourselves silly. Meanwhile the sun was setting and we slowly dragged ourselves past young mothers chasing plastic balls that were sailing away in the breeze, past the amorous lovers on the benches and into the Indica.
Mel took us through the main part of the town, the old fish market, the famed Ministry of Crab restaurant which is owned by famous cricketer (they are all so hush hush about it...it is owned by Sangakarra) and which has rave reviews about the size and taste of crabs. Anjali had researched the place and being a crab lover wanted to go, but owing to some coconut-water-freeze moment of mine, the trip was abandoned. We later planned on it again but it never happened and till today remains a point of contention and a reminder to me never to listen to this voice of mine that says - no, no, don't, later. The possibilities I lost because of that voice, the devil itself are many. A book on it someday.
There is a healthy betting industry in Sri Lanka and they sell lotteries and sports betting tickets all over the place. The betting houses seem pretty prosperous going by their sizes and distribution networks. Mel said he also buys lottery tickets every day! I hope he wins one. They bet on cricket also perhaps, unlike in India, because it says sports, and seem quite happy with all that activity. There are dog races too Mel said, perhaps a colonial hangover.
The ride back was interesting as we chatted with Mel who told us about his family, his Buddhist wife, his in laws who indulge him by coming to church and how he indulges them by going to the Buddhist temples, his young daughter Tiana who is now ten years old and who he says he named without knowing what it meant because it sounded pretty, the cost of education and how he plans to give her a good education, where he buys fish for the family parties and so on. He has a tuk tuk he said and offered to take me along to buy some local sweets the next day. I promised to call him. It could ahve been in Goa, except that Mel in Goa would have been far more arrogant and caste, class, skin, community, region, nationality conscious
Back at the hotel and we relaxed some. A light dinner and we were done for the day. Tomorrow is the last day at Sri Lanka. Should we head out to the beach for a midnight walk? Somehow it did not appeal. And so the day ended on a slow curtain.
|Fishing boat in background with Anjali and Shobhs in foreground|
|The canal by the road side - looked good enough to take a boat ride on|
|Temple - closed till 4|
|The leaning tower of Colombo - upcoming hospital?|
|The ancient peepal tree|
|Museum - imposing building|
|Galle Face Green|
|A better perspective - lovers benches on the left|
|The promenade - lovely|
|Prawn vadas - they taste better than they look|
|Anjali feeding crows with Kumar in the background|
|Kumar giving me an expressionless pic - watch out for him, he will go places|
|A poignant moment in Anjali's ice cream eating life - eating ice cream on Galle Face Green|