Going on your first International trip always gives you goose-bumps (I’m sure many of you would vouch for that) and I’m no different. The planning began three months back when a colleague suggested that we go there for the T20 World Cup. Pre-planning included many things like booking tickets for the ICC World T20, looking at places to stay, what to see and other routine stuff that one would do before going on a vacation. Thankfully I wasn’t the one who was handling all that – my colleague did. Once all those mundane stuff was out of the way it was time to head to Sri Lanka. Before that though, a couple of sleepless nights were endured, anticipating what one might do there. There were a lot of shopping requests from various people which needed to be kept in mind. And there was one’s own list of ‘what-to-do’ to be taken care of as well.
Our flight was from Chennai to Colombo – a small matter of just 70 minutes, but what a 70 minutes it was. To see the flight cross the Indian Ocean when we were mid-air was a sight to behold. Watching it from the flight window gave me a different thrill. But the journey time was too less and in no time we were at the Bandaranaike International airport.
As soon as we landed in Colombo, we got to experience the hospitality of the locals. We had heard stories of how nice they were and their fun-loving nature through various outlets, but here we were actually experiencing it. Right from the cab drivers, to the tuk-tuk walas, to the staff at the hotel – we didn’t encounter a single moment which we would regret later. In a funny sort of way, almost all the locals have their names which matched that of a cricketer. We had Hathurasinghe Premawardene who handled our transport service, Indika Sampath was our cab driver, we met Eranga Lakmal a volunteer at the stadium – who said that Suranga Lakmal was from the same village he had come from. Even when we went to eat, we came across Chaminda at Pizza Hut.
If that was a strange coincidence, then the generosity and the soft nature of the local people completely floored us. Just to give an example, the tuk-tuk driver who had to drop us at Premadasa, lost his way and took us to SSC initially. To compound matters, the tuk-tuk meter stopped working as well. Seeing our anxious faces, he assured us that he won’t charge anything extra and he kept his word despite losing some money. Not only were the locals honest, but they follow all the traffic rules. We were surprised when we saw them stop at Zebra crossings to allow the pedestrians to walk to the other side. We told them this never happens in India and they were surprised.
If following traffic rules was their duty, then every driver should get a 10 in my book. And once you told them that you were from a foreign land, their respect and treatment increases. That’s what was so pleasing to see. And since all Sri Lankans are cricket crazy, starting a conversation about cricket seemed to be a good idea and boy do the locals know their cricket or what! Every one seemed to know the game, its culture, the history and one even corrected me when I wrongly mentioned that Sangakkara had studied in Colombo. He was quick to point out, ‘Sangakkara studied in Trinity College at Kandy sir’.
Wherever we went, be it Colombo, Galle or Udawalawe, the treatment offered by the locals made the journey memorable. There was always a helping hand, an advice and a quick clarification of your doubts though at times the English language and our Indian accent was difficult to comprehend for the concerned person. We met many crazy cricket fans inside the stadium and though we were surprised to see so many people being anti-India, it was all done in a jolly and good-natured way. There was no hint of malice or prejudice in their trolling and once the game got over, it was back to being friends again as they willingly came forward to have a chat and take a couple of pics with us.
Along the journey, got to meet a lot of interesting characters as well and made a lot of good friends, some of whom even offered us their contact details. Having experienced the warmth and the hospitality of the Lankans, it would take a very hard man not to love them and I’m certainly not one of them.
Our journey started from Colombo where we were based in Mount Lavinia at the lovely Royal Berjaya Hotel. It was a three star accommodation with a beach view. Just open the window and there it was – the beach right in front of your eyes with the railway track in front of it. The first couple of days were spent in Colombo, checking out places like ODEL, Cricket Club Cafe, Gallery Cafe, Barefoot and Cleopatra. One had heard a lot about Cricket Club Cafe and it was truly a special place. One could see lots of memorabilia on the walls and some rare photographs which included Sir Don as well. The atmosphere inside was calm, serene and the perfect way to watch a live game on TV with lots of food and drink options to while away your time.
The place is run by two Australians and a must visit for any cricket fan who is going to Colombo. With the shopping and the local places almost complete, we decided to spend a few peaceful moments at Galle Sea Face – Colombo’s Marine Drive, if you may call it. The place is famous to watch the sunset in the evening but we went there in the afternoon, still it was a fab experience. Once that was done as well, we decided to head to Galle to check out lots of impressive stuff we had heard about the place.
Must say that Galle didn’t disappoint at all. The Galle International Stadium was our destination and after a quick stopover we headed to the Galle Fort. The Fort is amazing for its architecture and its scenic beauty. There are nice places to shop and some pretty old but well maintained museums and an old DutchChurch. We had the opportunity to meet Stuart Law inside the fort and also see the Aussie women’s team. The highlight though of the Fort experience was to pose with the Python around the neck. If anyone is visiting the Fort, that is one thing one shouldn’t miss out on.
After the Fort was done, we wanted to head to Mirissa beach which was on our to-do list, but unfortunately it was already late evening and we decided against going there. The next day saw us going to Udawalawe – a forest area – to check in at Kalu’s Hideaway, managed by Romesh Kaluwitharana himself. And what a place it was as well! Stunning, beautiful and so peaceful – right in the middle of the forest. The perfect getaway if one is on a honeymoon. Brilliantly managed by Kalu and Co.
There was still a safari to complete in the morning and we managed to get a glimpse of a couple of wild Elephants, peacocks, a wild fowl, an Iguana and a green snake. With the safari out of the way it was time to pack our bags and head back to Colombo. Amongst all the places that we visited in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe and Kalu’s resort stand out for its natural beauty. Mind you, Colombo is not far behind – it’s a great city with lots of nice places and it’s very cosmopolitan too. Before our trip was done, we were so acquainted with Colombo that one could remember the areas with pincodes. Must say Colombo is an easy place to remember with lots of cleanliness to boot and not many tricky criss-crossing lanes.
Those who have gone to watch a match in India at the stadium know how difficult and tiresome a journey it can be. Even a water bottle isn’t allowed whereas the live experience is completely the opposite in Sri Lanka. Forget about water bottles, everything is allowed including beer. That’s how it should be as well and a perhaps something for the Indian authorities to take note of. But before getting in, everything was screened and checked properly before one was allowed entry.
We went to three of India’s Super Eight games and inevitably it was the game against Pakistan that we enjoyed the most. The atmosphere at the Stadium was simply electric as Ravi Shastri would put it. What surprised us though was the amount of locals who had turned up to watch a non-Sri Lanka game. The support was heavily one-sided with lots of locals putting their weight behind Pakistan. But we had the final say and that gave us a lot of pleasure. It was also nice to meet a couple of Englishmen who were rooting for us and were sitting right behind us. The Brit was in his elements and he certainly made a few heads turn with his antics.
As I had mentioned earlier, the locals wanted to see India out of the tournament and once they saw us in an Indian Jersey, the trolling would get even more louder. During the game against South Africa, they began singing, ‘go back home’ repeatedly and it only got louder once we were eliminated. All in good humor though and nothing worrisome about it at all. In fact one must say that one enjoyed the little banter.
The locals for sure made the cricket watching experience wonderful and though I had seen games live in India at Bangalore, one has to see a game live at the Premadasa to get a real thrill. For the Sri Lankans, cricket is a carnival and they don’t care about the result. All they want is fun and they make sure they elevate the atmosphere inside the stadium to another level.
Though India failed to reach the semi-finals, it was well worth watching the three Super Eight games and one doesn’t have any regrets about the cricket.
To summarise the trip in a few lines would be difficult, but Sri Lanka is a place one should visit at least once for its lovely people and its beautiful natural scenery. Thoroughly enjoyed the 6 days spent there and had some amazing moments. Made a lot of friends and got bowled over by the locals. In short, Sri Lanka was just wonderful. Sthutee Sri Lanka!