The planning for the trip started over a cup of coffee on any normal day, and that the trip turned out to be extraordinary. There was no disagreement about the fact that all of us wanted to breakfree from the mundane and just be us. So we started with Goa which Ren thought was boring and common. Then we moved to Kolkota, but Resh’s uncle lived there. Next was Mumbai, a place that Resh and I had never been to, but again Ren had family there and we could not visit either of these places without paying a customary visit to family. So I rejected both the options. We then moved to Hyderabad, a neutral choice, but what would we do there. That is when we went international. Why India? Why not out of India? So what were out options, let’s see – Andaman – too expensive, Laskwahdeep – not exciting, Thailand – Urggh, Sri Lanka – YESSS!!
So the decision was made – we were going on a trip to Sri Lanka in February sans family – the best part 🙂
I booked the tickets the next day, lest they change their minds. Ren was a little surprised – so we are really going – is what she said. I took charge of the visas, delegated the where to stay to Resh and what to do to Ren. Resh and I knew that Ren wouldn’t start looking for what to do until we boarded the flight. Now this was the topic of conversation at every lunch and evening tea – what we would take, what we would wear, how many pairs of shoes, the list was endless. Resh the manager sent out calendar invites and set meeting times to discuss our upcoming trip and these meetings were serious.
So finally the day came – Feb 22 when our spouses dropped us off at Trivandrum International Airport, with the biggest smiles on their faces happy to be free for a couple of days. If it was evening, they would have celebrated the happiness with clinking glasses. We tagged along with our luggage which was quite a lot for 3 days and 4 nights. As we waiting to board, Resh got into a conference call to keep the lights on and Ren was seen leaning against a pillar kuchikooing with Subz – she did this so many times during the trip (aaah!)..
Finally we hopped on Sri Lankan Airlines and sat next to each other with a gleam in our eyes and smiles stretched from east to west – We were actually on a flight to Sri Lanka and just us! We observed everything and passed comments on everything. The air hostesses were kind of plump and dressed in Sri Lankan attire – seeing that Ren wanted to dress up in their costume and take a picture. We thought they showed off too much skin 😉 The men on the flight looked a bit scary to us, but probably they were scared as surely we must have appeared as aliens. After an hour of flying, during which Ren claims she saw the tip of the Sri Lanka, we landed at Bhandaranayake International Airport, Colombo.
The hotel we finalized was Galle Face which is a 4 star luxury hotel founded in 1864. We got our on arrival visas stamped and went on to convert some Euros (courtesy frequent flyer Jayan) to Sri Lankan Rupees. We also bought a calling card to inform our families that it was sad but true, that we had arrived safely. While Resh and I were doing this, Ren hooked up with a travel agent who gave her his number and promised to call to book a day’s trip to Kandy (more about this later). By the way, Ren did finally find some places for us to visit and also conjured up some Sinhalese words, which she alone knew.
As I was the hotel in charge I called them to find out about the Airport pick-up they had promised on arrival. After walking up and down the terminal, a 6 foot dark guy walked up to me and said – Galle Face Airport pick-up. We hopped onto his dirty, stinky, dusty car which had no A/C praying that he was genuine and would take us to the correct place. After an hour long drive, which seemed like forever, we reached Galle Face Hotel. On the way, we felt we had been transported back to Kerala. There were road-side shops, traffic with no idea on who went where, honking and people jaywalking.
We checked in and and went to meet the person at the travel desk to arrange a tour of the city. He arranged a chauffeur driven Merc to drive us around the city. We went to check out the room, and boy it was HUGE!! With colonial chairs, a huuuge bed and wooden floors, it was just perfect.
We changed to dress #1 and went down to have lunch. It wasn’t lunch, it was a feast!! One of the best buffets we had eaten. The restaurant was sea facing with the Sri Lankan flag hoisted on the beach. A lighthouse, the sea, the flag, benches on the porch and the endless ocean filled the view. Bliss!
After lunch the travel desk informed us that our car was ready, and we hopped onto the Merc, and the driver – old chap, showed us around. He spoke pretty good English and this was a blessing. He drove around the World Trade Center, Independence Memorial Hall, Bank of Sri Lanka, Indian Bank, the President’s house – with the army guarding his residence, on the streets where cricketers lived, war memorial and to Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple. We got our first jolt here. This place was on Ren’s list of must see places, and as we entered there was an old guy who demanded that we leave our footwear with his agent who charged an exorbitant price to take care of them. Our instincts got the better of us, and we decided to leave the premises. We stood outside and watched the other entrants into the temple, and they kept their footwear in a separate place where they didn’t have to pay money. That is when we realized that we were FOREIGNERS and we could not go by local rates.
On our way the driver told us that we should probably have dinner at one of the restaurants at the Dutch Hospital Complex. This was an open quadrangle with various restaurants offering a bistro style dining. The entrance smelled of cigarettes and liquor. We paused to think if we should enter, and we even walked up to an army guy and asked him – is it safe for three girls to go in here? He laughed and said, yes. We walked in an OH MY GOD – this was going to be one of the best dinners of our life. It was not only the food, but the ambiance was just so good. We sat on one of the cement benches in the open air quadrangle, ordered food from one of the restaurants and felt the cool wind in our hair. The world trade center rising up to the sky right behind, lit up brightening up the dark sky. It was noisy yet peaceful. We were in a place many miles away from home, in the company of each other, just having a good time. The icing was pending. We walked back to the hotel, on the walkway alongside the beach, late in the night, the mellowed sound of the waves, stars shining above us and world to ourselves. We yapped, we laughed, we sat in silence on one of the benches looking out at the sea. One of my fond memories from the trip.
This was a day of adventure, not so much for the places we visited but for the mode of transport to Kandy. Remember the guy from the Airport who told Ren he would call. Ren set up a cab with him to take us to Kandy. So after breakfast this guy calls Ren and says that he driver was waiting outside the hotel. We gave him a few instructions and to each one he replied with the word OK. We three were off to an unknown place with a stranger in an unknown country. Some courage we have! Just to feel safe, like in the movies, I told Resh, ‘hey my uncle is on duty at the military post today, but said that we can call him if there is a need’.. For people who have watched Kilukkam would recollect Revathi telling Mohanlal that “Uganda-de pradhana manthri ente ammavan aanennu”.. After all this bantering we understood that the driver apparently spoke no English – except for the word OK! Ren called the travel agent and gave him instructions, which was translated to the driver in Sinhalese.
Our first stop was the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. It was overpriced, but we were phirangi and had to pay a heavy price to see the orphanage. The skeleton of the elephant was a sight. Apart from some real phirangi’s we were the only visitors there. And like the original phirangees we too rode an elephant. Ren and me on one, Resh by herself. This thing is really huge, how does it carry its weight.. ? After sweating it out in the hot sun, we called the Sinhalese driver and hopped on his cab and continued our sight seeing trip. Next stop was Royal Botanical Garden which turned out to be acres of green carpet. Pine trees towering into the sky, orchid garden, a huge park with kids running around like the bogies of a train, couples romancing in hide-away corners – it was all there. We had lunch at a restaurant inside the garden overlooking the pine trees.
Outside the garden we bought 3 identical bracelets as a keepsake from the trip. Our next stop – Buddha’s relic temple – Kandy.
A huge temple, four time bigger than the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum. After climbing some steps, and passing by a narrow alley we reached our destination. The place where Buddha’s tooth is stored. The architecture and surrounding was no different than a temple in Tamil Nadu. Most of the people there were praying, and we were looking around. We sat on the steps of the temple and took in the peace and tranquility of the place. Around the temple, some steps led to another hall. The opposite side had a door to exit this hall. We entered the hall and looked left to find a HUGE statue of Buddha in white. Standing there looking at the statue of Buddha descended us into a state of peace and calmness. Just looking at the image, we felt the strain of the day, stress of our life drifting away. Another fond memory from the trip.
There was a cultural show in an adjacent auditorium, comprising the dances of Sri Lanka. We jumped in there and more than the dance what we liked was that we found a place to rest our bottoms :). After the hour long show we left Kandy for an adventurous ride back to Colombo. It was dark, and although we were with this driver since morning, not one instance in the entire day led us to trust him. His driving had turned rash, and we took turns in taking a nap. We were scared – shit scared, but on a brave front and sat firm. At 9.30pm we reached the hotel and thanked God that we reached back safely. After dinner we went to see a stage show opposite the hotel. There was this girl dressed in a red flashy dress singing songs in Sinhalese.. made no sense to us but still we stayed on and listened.