Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sonali goes to Sri Lanka

Our veteran contributor - Sonali Sokhal - goes to Sri Lanka. Here's what she has to say!!


If the arrival lounge of an airport gives you a microcosmic glimpse into a country, then Sri Lanka’s airport is nice enough to make me want to cry. I know comparisons with my own country are unfair, but seriously, the carpets in the airport corridors at IGI airport look like someone shat on them. In contrast The Badranaike International airport smells good, looks squeaky clean and shiny new and makes you feel Ayubowan!

My traveling companion……….

My husband is the sleeping partner of this trip. No, it’s not a dirty weekend unfortunately, but a business trip for him and holiday for me, where he is absolutely busy with meetings, dinners and even a flying trip to the Maldives. My real traveling companion this trip has been my son, Aryaman who at five and half is like a small sponge soaking up the knowledge of the world. In some ways this trip opened vistas for me that went beyond visiting another country. They showed me how beautiful it is to bond so exclusively with another human being, in the guise of your little boy. We spent every minute of this holiday together, and he bravely accompanied me on snorkeling trips, shopping expeditions, a corporate dinner and even sat on the beach patiently waiting for his mad mother to come back from a dip in the ocean.


In non-chronological order, I need to begin with Hikkaduwa because that place has a piece of my heart. The Coral Garden’s Resort where I stayed on this pristine beach paradise is ostensibly the best hotel here, but please don’t go with visions of a luxurious resort. It’s basic! Front office managers speak barely passable English, and it took me close to an hour and lots of flashing of an Indian passport to check in. The rooms, service and quality of food is also basic, but then so is the price. Thankfully the five star loving husband was away in the Maldives and the pacifist Buddhist staff was spared an Indian volcanic explosion typical Delhi-ite style. It’s for old retired couples, large families, very serious honeymooners, or simply beach lovers like me. But, what they are really selling is that pristine bit of beach which you can see from your room. Sleeping to the pounding of the surf, and waking up to an awesome sunrise on the horizon was worth the lack of basic luxuries for me.

The beach is not just pristine; it is poetic, evocative of verse, clean, and absolutely safe. But, that’s not just what I went for. I went for PADI scuba diving courses and water sports facilities that litter every beach resort in Sri Lanka. This is wind surfing and scuba diving haven, albeit at cheaper rates than Phuket.

But, the diving instructor did not understand my impatience.

“I came from very far, only for this.”, I whine, pointing to the four hour scuba crash course that includes sessions in the swimming pool and two dives in the sea.

He shakes his head. Its not that he doesn’t want to make money, but the sea is too rough and I am a greenhorn at this sport.

As a palliative, he offers me a snorkeling session the next morning, asking me to pray for calmer sea.

“Maybe you won’t see too much…” he warns.

Reckless and impulsive I chance it and we start off the next day at 8: 00 am. My little son trails behind us, with the promise of the ride in a glass bottomed boat. My snorkeling guide (and I am always lucky with them) is a lean, mean product of the beach with sun bleached blonde hair, pure muscle and tattoos.

“Are you Sri Lankan?” I ask curiously.

“Yes, but nobody thinks so,” says the hero smugly.

(Warning to all hapless princesses surfing the high seas……our prince could be too in love with himself to help you when you get stuck on a coral bed or the piranhas come)

Visibility was poor, I scraped my knees on coal, and the damn guide disappeared on me. But the few brief minutes o swimming with school of fish almost tickling my belly, had me entranced in Paradise! Some things have their own rewards.

Luckily alcohol is dirt cheap all over Sri Lanka, and the currency conversion helps so it wasn’t altogether a bad end to a stressful morning. I ended up with an impromptu body surfing lesson from my cute instructor; the son got a great session in the kiddie pool, with some Gaulish children and life after a nice Sri Lankan style punch and devilled crab was decidedly good. The latter was served at a restaurant called ‘The Beach’ which has found itself in every travel guide for its fresh and exquisite seafood.

On the way back the shoreline plays hide and seek with us. Blue Ocean, small bays, atolls, and backwaters are fringed by palm trees. A grim reminder is broken down homes and mass graves are what remain of the Tsunami which gave this island country a taste of the wrath of the ocean.


The Blue Elephant, at the Hilton, Colombo was shut, for security reasons. A brief foray into a casino called Bally’s with entry only for ‘foreigners’ was sweet but dimly lit and full of vague half breeds. A gossipy receptionist at the Hilton assured me that most nightclubs have gun toting young brats swaggering around and messing up the scene. The bars at the Hilton however were peaceful and happy. My husband’s Sri Lankan colleagues were a nice motley mix of men and women, all dusky, and beautiful and with mellifluous voices that make you forget what they say half the time.

Samanthi, my husband’s colleague is responsible for my travel plans and trip. She organizes a lovely dinner for all of us at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, on Mt Lavinia beach, about 30 minutes drive form the city. An old charming dowager of a hotel, the beach restaurant is five star version of a shack and offers grills in the shape of a fish market. Choose your own fish, crab or lobster. After some research Aryaman and I suspect that the crabs scuttling on the beach could possibly be the poor creatures ending up on our dining table.

Sri Lankan women………..and Sri Lankan men!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To begin with as a race, they are much nicer than Indians. People are educated, polite and smile a lot. They are calm, take things easy like anyone living on an island paradise would, friendly and warm. Colombo reminds me of the Mumbai or Calcutta of the eighties. The staff at the private lounge where we have Breakfast everyday are inordinately curious about everything. Commenting on my sandals, a young woman assure me with stars in her eyes, “Indian is a big country. I believe you can really shop there. One day I will go to India to shop.”

While the women still seem a little held back, it’s the men who have me goggle eyed. Whether it is at the parlour, on the beach, in the shops or in the hotel, they smile at you with dark eyes and long lashes. Dusky and pretty most of them seem polite. A lot of the younger lot have blonde hair and piercings which make them look like funky islanders anywhere in the world. They laugh a lot, chat with you like old buddies and make you feel so chilled, that you forget the North Indian paranoia that is second skin. In terms of feeling safe, secure, alone, and abashedly admired, in the nicest possible way, my vote goes to the Sri Lankan men.

Sight seeing and Shopping:

Any guide book will tell you hat there is loads to see in Sri Lanka and loads to buy. I didn’t go for either. To be honest the thrill to my nomadic bones as the fact that this country has mercantile holidays. I could see the sea wherever I went, and had a great gin at the old romantic Galle Face Hotel. I didn’t see too much, and I didn’t shop at all. My only commercial experience of this kind was at the M. Pierce salon, where I wanted a spray on tattoo and funky hair colour. I walked out half way when cock-eyed Mr. Pierce accosted me with mineral spirit to clean my face. But that is another story………………..


aparna said...

had me nodding to everything you wrote. i think i have a post on srilanka from the 90's here too- must be in the archives. and even then this country was best described by " india, without the hassles":))) cheeky but true!

Anonymous said...

The Indian hospitality industry has seen a major hike in the recent times owing to the astounding industrial growth of the country. The growth in the IT sector has also hugely led to the revolving fortunes of the metros and major cities of the country. Offshore business flowing in and the eagerness of the MNCs to come up in India has led to the obvious growth of the hospitality sector also. Most of the big names in the hospitality industry from India and abroad have their properties in the important commercial hubs of the country. However, surprisingly, the hospitality industry is not that vigorously promoted in one of the most important metros of the country, Kolkata. In the past decade Kolkata has also seen major industrial growth. But unfortunately, the West Bengal state Government hasn’t shown much inclination towards the development of the hospitality industry of the state in general and the hotels in Kolkata in particular. Inspite of the repeated appeals from the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India, the state government hasn’t come up with steps that would boost the growth of the hospitality industry. Most of the suggestions and appeals made by the Association have gone unheeded. On the contrary, the state government increased the luxury tax payable by the air conditioned budget hotels in Kolkata and the ones in the rest of the state by a whopping 650%. Change in excise duties, reduction in the bar license renewal fee etc have also not been worked upon. In one word, the government seems to be underestimating the need to strengthen and boost the hospitality industry in the wake of unprecedented industrial growth. With proper etching out of the taxes and fees payable by the hotels of the state, the state government can make the business hotels in Kolkata and other renowned hotels of the state bring in huge profits for the state.

lodging in prague said...

I really appreciate for sharing of what you have experienced.It's great because you and your son got the opportunity to have each other in this kind of traveling...