Grim is probably a good way of describing the atmosphere in Colombo when we (yours truly and spouse) landed there. The civil war was picking up momentum and the city was probably not in the best of spirits. But that did not dampen the hospitality. There were warm Ayu BhuvanS all around, questions on intent, sizing up of our wallets and commencement of a feeding frenzy by tour agents, Â all within the first ten minutes of arrival. In short it felt like a typical Asian tourist welcoming ritual despite the grimness in the air.
A few minutes of haggling later we got ourselves a ride to Negombo, a quaint little beach town near Colombo. Looking out of the window proved unsettling because often I found myself staring down barrels of big guns installed on the road side. There were men in uniform milling about everywhere. Our vehicle was stopped a few times, our passports were scrutinized and we were given once-overs a few times before we reached Negombo.
The plan was to rent a motorcycle and see as much of Sri Lanka as four days would allow us. Talking of plans, I am from the school of thought that believes that there are two kinds of trip one can embark on. One kind is planned to the minutest details and the other kind where you make just-in-time decisions. Over the years we have had our share of botched plans, missed connections and forgotten tickets. So we decided to let Sri Lanka be of the latter kind. We just had a skeleton of a plan that we could flesh out later. Or not. When we arrived in Colombo, we had been married for eightÂ days. We were enroute to Maldives which was to be our conventional honeymoon. At the last moment we decided to squeeze in an unconventional 4 days in Sri Lanka. Where best toÂ go out on a blind date with serendipity than in Serendip?
However we soon discovered that lack of plans doesnâ€™t guarantee botch-up immunity. The day before the intended journey, we found out that our tickets were booked in two different flights which were 12 hours apart. That would have cut short the Sri Lankan trip by a day. So I set out to do what I do best, namely sweet talking customer care reps into cleaning up the mess I get myself into. Sri Lankan airlines graciously changed our tickets to the earlier flight. The next problem came in the form of paper work. All through our grand plans, we had not given much thought to the fact that you generally need a small piece of paper called license to ride a motorized vehicle. Both of us had valid motorcycle licenses in India, but no International permits. But we put our trust in the general lawlessness that prevail in south east Asian countries and it came to our rescue.Without much ado, the folks at the rental shop handed us keys to a 250 cc Honda. Just out of curiosity, I threw the question on the table. â€�Should we be worried if a cop flags us down?â€� After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, he said â€œSir, you look Sri Lankan. They wonâ€™t stop you. But madam you keep your helmet and sunglasses onâ€�. Â
After having learnt the secret of passing off as a local, it was time to put it to test. We stashed our luggage at the rental place, filled up the fuel tank, got ourselves a slightly expensive seafood lunch and set off to Sigiriya. We settled on Sigiriya based on the suggestions from the rental shop guy. Staying true to our plan to not plan, we had not done much research on what-is-where in Sri Lanka. Consequently we had no idea on what to expect at Sigiriya. The driver who drove us to Negombo from the airport came to our rescue. He informed usÂ â€� Sigiriya is big rockâ€�. Big rock must be interesting,we reasoned and set out to see the rock that was to be our point of return.
The ride was pretty uneventfulâ€¦ wellâ€¦ actually make that prettyÂ but uneventful. The roads were narrow and had lush greenery around. It reminded me of Kerala. It looked like Kerala. It smelled like Kerala. The only thing that was stopping me from believing I was indeed in Kerala was the colorfulness of the auto rickshaws. They come in all shades unlike the muted ochre and black ones in Godâ€™s own country.
Any road trip which lasts more than a few hours demands a stop at a roadside tea shop and this was no exception. After about three hours of drive, we stopped at a roadside shack to enjoy a hot tea based concoction with jaggery. Due to our ignorance of Sinhalese coupled with our lack of proficiency in sign language, we had to settle for drinking the brown liquid without any clue on what it is called or made of. It was warm, sugary and had an interesting flavor. A weary traveler cannot ask for more
A few hours and many small breaks later, we reached Dambulla. Unfortunately,the stadium at Dambulla was to host an international cricket match the next day. As was to be expected in such a situtation, all hotels inÂ the areaÂ had at the very least doubled their rates. We decided to drive ahead to Sigirya in search of more reasonable accommodation away from the madding cricket crazed crowd. After reviewing a few accommodation options on the way, we settled in on a small bed & breakfast place a few miles off the city. The B&B was run by an extremely polite old man. It was a basic, no frills place- clean, with hot water and good food. I would highly recommend the place if only I could remember it's name.
Both of us, we are schemers. We plan to plan, then plan and re-plan and plan some more till the plans fall apart, hit the ground and sprout new plans. With plans come expectations and with expectations come disappointments. This trip was to be an experiment in letting life be, seeing where it takes us. Granted that it was an experiment within a controlled environment. But it was an experiment nonetheless. A big step for obsessive compulsive planners. We had to fight temptation to chalk out the itinerary for the next day.After a good dinner, we decided to call it a day because our resistance to planning was wearing thin.
We had to see the big rock is all we knew and we were content in the knowledge that it was all we knew.