Prior to my trip, I already knew Sri Lanka was no modern metropolitan with mega skyscrapers, and that was perfectly fine by me because I wasn’t looking for an adventure in a city anyway. I had also anticipated the gorgeous natural scenery from the countless pictures I found online. Yet, what I did not expect to discover was a sleepy island nation cocooned in a post-colonial bubble. Sri Lanka has an authentic old world charm that often made me feel like I had been transported back in time.
Out of the many train trips I have taken, the Sri Lankan train experience is one of the most memorable. From the old fashioned carriages, hand-painted station signs, antique timetables… These are rare sights in an urban setting.
I quickly discovered that the best seats to enjoy the views were on the footboards of the open doorways. As the train wound about the bends, carefree teenagers hung out of neighboring carriages. I believe this is actually illegal, but somehow any fear of danger or the need to comply with rules seem to be the least of everyone’s concerns. There was something very liberating about that.
Train snacks were a real nostalgic treat. I recall a vendor who came down our aisle with a huge basket of warm peanuts fried with tea leaves. He wrapped the shiny nuts in a piece of used paper that looked like his child’s homework. It reminded me of the single lined A5 exercise books I used back in primary school.
Although I am no huge history buff, I do appreciate places that retain remnants of its heritage. Galle Fort has its past etched within its stone walls. I love the unexpected twists and turns of the alleys and its little quaint shophouses.
Colombo, despite being the capital, is quite unlike that of its hectic congested counterparts in developing Asian countries. Life here feels more slow paced and relaxed. Maybe it has something to do with its geographical position – being an island on its own and undisturbed by all the competitiveness happening on the other side of the ocean.
The city’s Pettah neighborhood is home to a huge lively bazaar with a haphazard mix of shops and pushcarts that was overwhelming but fun to explore.
Another interesting hangout is Galle Face Green. It felt like a huge seaside carnival set in the 70s when having fun meant snacking on cheap deep fried food, flying colorful paper kites or splashing about in the water. This must be what it feels like when my parents reminisce about the good old times.
Happiness certainly seemed a lot simpler there…