Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shopping in Sri Lanka

A bunch of us spent some 4 days in Sri Lanka last week. It was primarily a trip to do some shopping, and also to travel a bit. The only thing going for Sri Lanka, I thought, was that there were probably a lot more beaches to check out.

We managed to only see Bentota beach, and a little bit of the beaches closer to Colombo. Rest of Sri Lanka seemed not very different from India, except that it was maybe a little less crowded, people were a little more well behaved (they actually stop for pedestrians!), and food was not as great. Other than that, as an Indian you would probably feel right at home -- almost to the extent that you would expect these people to know Hindi. It even happened to us a few times -- we blurted out in Hindi to the auto rickshaw driver or the taxi driver, and didn't realize for a second why they didn't respond. Indian Rupee works just as fine in most places, you have to haggle your way through everything, and we didn't look out of place. We felt so much at home that we decided we should be paying the Sri Lankan fares for all parks and temples we visited -- which were of course much less then the charges for foreigners.

We stayed at the Hilton for the first couple of days. I had found out that they have squash courts at the Hilton, so naturally I went prepared. I got a chance to play squash after about 6 months, I think, and loved every second of it. It left me quite sore for the rest of the time in Sri Lanka -- and I felt all of it when trying to jet ski in Bentota the next day.

Our time in Lanka felt like we were driving around most of the time. Traffic seems really slow there. The drive to Bentota took us longer than upwards of 2 hours, and it is just over 60km from Colombo. The next day we drove to Kandy and stayed at the really lousy Queens hotel there. The hotel seemed to have been left behind by the British, and the folks who took it over seemed to have decided that by just letting it be makes it all the better. On the way to Kandy we stopped at an elephant orphanage -- still called that though the original orphans are now grandparents and parents of the rest of the elephants in the orphanage now. We had had some really good time up, close and personal with the elephants in Nagarhole, so it didn't seem that much of a novelty. Nevertheless, elephants are majestic, and command respect when you lay eyes on them.

The third day we were back in Colombo, this time at the Taj Samudra. This hotel was definitely worse off than the Hilton, but better located and decent facilities. Their dinner pricing was quite baffling though. They had priced their buffet at three times the price of the most expensive item on the regular menu -- not surprising then that hardly anyone touched the buffet.

The fourth day was a rare day when I went on a shopping spree for about eight hours at a stretch. We started at Odel (great for clothing, especially t-shirts), moved to House of Fashion (amazing for jackets -- unbelievably low prices!), Arena (which was apparently unceremoniously shutdown for no apparent reason), Paradise Road (really beautiful store, good selection of Dilmah tea, hand paper stuff, handicrafts and more) and then back to Odel to wrap it all up. At Paradise Road I also picked up a book called "Colpetty People" by Ashok Ferrey. I've read half of it now and it reminds me of RK Narayan quite a bit in its prose, and Saki and Roald Dahl in its stories and characters. The book has short stories bases in Sri Lanka, or with Sri Lankan characters. I like it so far.

Back in Bangalore, it seems just like it was before, only worse. The rains have helped make the traffic situation worse -- and I thought it couldn't get any worse. Bangalore seems to heading to some kind of a climax -- one day the traffic will get so bad that everyone will run out of petrol just sitting in the cars, and will have to leave their cars on the road to go home; everything will come to a standstill. It really does feel that way when it takes 2 hours to drive half a km here. And if the people ruling this state would have their way, all of us should soon start farming.

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