Ceylon Dreams IX: Exploring Colombo Without a Camera
Three tips for the traveler –
1. Tip generously (maybe save a few bucks on buying three pairs of elephant-printed pants and reallocate to the drivers and guides who give you good service)
2. Perhaps use a registered taxi service rather than go with a random tuk-tuk driver’s brother who happens to own a car
3. Always, always do a thorough check of your rooms and cars before exiting (don’t forget to lift the bundle of blankets on the bed and peer under)
It doesn’t take a scientist to notice that our generation (and actually all generations in this day and age) is obsessed with taking pictures. We lose the moment, the emotion, the scents, the tastes just because we want to capture it all on a cell phone. Only to forget about it for the next months to come.
Unless we post it immediately to Facebook or Instagram or Whateverchat and then check obsessively for the number of likes, determining how good a cup of coffee or how beautiful a sunset was, not on the actual experience but on the clicking of friends, acquaintances and I-only-added-you-to-be-polites. I mean really, do you want to see the entire concert through the tiny viewfinder of your camera? How can you even jump in the air and clap if you’re filming nonstop!? It is actually interesting to note this change in travelling these days– at any touristy spot, if you put your own phone down you’ll see couples, friends, solo travelers all around you with their arms stretched out, head tilted, pouting or grinning or pointing – some of these are so bad I want to walk over and tap their shoulders, to ask if they would like me to take their picture so that it doesn’t look like there are two head-shaped balloons floating in front of the Leaning Tower.
Anyways, back to Sri Lanka - after a bit of moping, I tried to flip the situation and think about how it would be to explore a city and experience things without the itch of capturing it on an electronic device.
Sri Lanka is a dreamy place, with its deep green trees and sudden rainstorms that trap you inside damp, cool terraces and entrance you with the quiet distracted music of rain on rooftops and tree branches.
Colombo is a pleasant, well-planned, clean city without the crass commercialism of other cities. Not the most thriving night life but enough cute, hip places to keep it interesting. We went to a café called The Coffee Bean the night we got back from Bentota, the café was complete with organic coffee beans and young men and women sitting upstairs on comfy couches, laptops and guitar cases. It was a bit pricey but a good combination of chic and cozy. Then there was the Barefoot Café which I fell in love with. It has a beautiful store full of bright red yellow blue and green colored yarn – teddy bears and baby giraffes, table mats and scarves, paintings and posters – it was the most artsy place we saw. The colors were so vibrant just walking inside made you feel like you were in a house made of rainbows. There was a lovely garden and courtyard with twinkling fairy lights curling up trees.
Another place I really liked was Flamingo House, located away from all the hustle and bustle, the bar and restaurant had a very cool, bohemian feel to it with giant flamingos painted along with mysterious Indian princesses and Buddhas, gilded mirrors and sweetly mismatched chairs. The food was excellent and the service was very good.
Since Fahad was busy the next few days with his conference, I spent the days exploring Colombo on foot and tuk-tuk. I didn’t stray too far from our hotel but saw nearby neighborhoods, the quiet serene Anthony Church, the candy-striped Red Mosque (or Jami-ul-Afar Mosque) which looked as if it belonged in Alice’s wonderland but was smack in the middle of a terribly crowded market, and since there were only men streaming in and out of the mosque, I decided not to go in. Which was kind of sad because it would’ve been nice to go and pray in a mosque in the middle of Colombo!
I absolutely loved the city for its simple, multicultural, multi-religious, placid beauty. The idea of standing at a junction and being able to see from the same point, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a church and a mosque – it was beautiful! I am sure the city has its own underpinnings of unease and intolerance, but the surface feel was definitely one of a seamless blanket stitched in a patchwork of different colors and patterns but together making a larger even more beautiful pattern.
My favorite part about Colombo was right across the main road from the hotel – Galle Face Green. A large green space divided the sea from the main road (which has some of the most expensive hotels in the country, large and sprawling, each decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas trees made of twinkles) while the edge of the lawns were cemented footpaths where fixed green cabins stood selling everything from fried fish to samosas to ice cream. Hawkers selling bright kites, glow-in-the-dark boomerangs and glistening soap bubbles sat around the park while little children ran crazily around them. Each cabin had a large blue dustbin next to it and I was just so impressed by the whole atmosphere
There was a short strip of sand and you had to go down stairs to the beach. I sat at the edge of the footpath with my legs dangling, watching the tremendous waves rush towards shore their anger and greatness starting large and then dwindling to a forgotten memory as it came closer, till they had forgotten why they had been rushing forward so, and then going back, bemused, musing.
A boy blew a soap bubble into the face of his tiny sister, who almost burst with joy like the bubble when she poked it with her finger; a mother clapped as her child ran past her trying t o propel his kite into the air and then finally it soared; a couple sat close by on a bench, her left foot touching his sneakered right one, both licking pink ice lollies.
The sun slowly set into a cloudy bed right above the waves, making the sky glow gold and pink, and one by one the bulbs in the green cabins flickered to life, lightning like fireflies in the darkening blue evening. It was the most peaceful beach front, the air was permeated with calmness and love and happiness, the kind that makes you smile as you walk by yourself, probably making you look a little creepy to the people nearby, but it cannot be contained inside!