Journeys – Part 1
by Devika Fernando
I live near Kandy, a historically important city with a population of about 125,000 that lies smack in the middle of the island. It’s the capital of the Central Province and part of the Sri Lankan up-country filled with hills and mountains and picturesque villages. Colombo couldn’t be more different. I should know, I lived in one of its suburbs for 3 years, and I don’t ever want to go back. As the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo boasts around 4.5 million inhabitants and is a metropolis right at the coast, part of the Western Province. If you’re looking for anything official and important, for entertainment and for modern high-rise buildings with luxury apartments, you’ll find it there. If you’re looking for teeming slums, smog, dirty politics and overcrowded roads, you’ll find those there, too.
The unimaginably slow, so-called intercity express train
To travel from where we live to the capital city, it takes us 5 hours by car each way, which means a whole day needs to be sacrificed. The physical distance is about 130 km, but it feels like a trip to the other end of the world. Most of the journey takes you through villages and towns, up and down mountains, around hairpin-bends and through stretches of beautiful emptiness. You can’t drive faster than 40 km/h for the better part of the trip, and you need to constantly be on your toes unless you want some frustrated, maniacal driver to hit your vehicle. Taking the train isn’t much better. The vista is stunning, but the train crawls at (less than) walking speed, the noise is unbearable and the roughly 20 tunnels make reading a difficult task. I shouldn’t complain, though, because until the British colonized the island and drilled through the rock, a trip from Kandy to Colombo took several arduous days involving bullock carts, jungles and accidents galore.
View of Bible Rock from Kadugannawa
All the stress aside, travelling from Kandy to Colombo has an exotic flair to it that gets my writer brain whirring. What fascinates me most – apart from the idyllic views of towering peaks, misty mountains ranges, oddly shaped rocky outcrops, impossibly green paddy fields and weed-choked lakes – is the hustle and bustle of life we pass by. You see a zillion shops, houses, schools, banks, restaurants and religious buildings, encroaching on the main road, much too numerous and close for comfort. There are constant traffic blocks, police check-points and crowds monopolizing the road. What adds to the fascinating flair is the fact that specific things are sold at intervals along the way:
Rambutan, mangosteen and durian
• When you wind your way down towards Colombo, you find inflatable toys and balls and boats and what-not lining both sides of the road in splashes of colour (don’t forget, going to Colombo means getting close to the beach).
• There is an aptly named town called Pilimathalawa where people specialize in arts and craft, or rather, in stone or plaster statues (pilima) of all kinds. Some of them are breathtakingly beautiful, others make me cringe with their kitsch and exaggeration.
• The crafty goodness goes on because not much later there’s a town dedicated to furniture and accessories woven from wood. The offers range from simple baskets over cupboards or tables and chairs to lampshades and statues made out of intricate wood weave.
• Up next are places where an array of vases, pots and decoration items made out of clay is on display. Pottery has always been important in this country.
• Following that comes a long stretch around the town of Kadugannawa where vendors sell steamed, salted corn on the cob and spicy snacks to brace yourself for the strenuous journey yet to come.
• Next you are met with girls and women clad in red-coloured traditional clothes who sell cashew nuts, roasted and unroasted. Cashews are available in supermarkets for an ungodly prize, but a little cheaper along the Colombo-Kandy road.
• Hold on tight, exotic fruits are last! It starts with durian, jackfruit, rambutan and mangosteens. Closer to the low-country regions, you can grab pineapples at bargain price.
With such highlights that never fail to interest me and will probably find their way into my book “Saved in Sri Lanka” (it’s in its draft stages at the moment), the negativity fades away a little.
If you have enjoyed reading about one of my journeys, stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about the real and internal journeys the protagonists of my books face.
More from Devika Fernando
Almost as soon as Devika Fernando could write, she imagined stories and poems. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany and in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing. Besides being a romance novel author, she works as a German web content writer and as a translator. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or thinking about writing. Her debut romance novel, When I See Your Face, is now available at Amazon.