A Google search of the “meaning of Colombo” reveals the ironic twists of life. In Italian the word means “Dove” – a symbol of peace!!! Yet it was this symbol which was missing in this city for 2 decades before peace returned 3 years ago. It was my return to Colombo, a city which is close to my heart, after 11 years! In the Jan of 2001 when I visited last, the tension was palpable. Those were the heady days of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and I still vividly remember the security blanket over the city, 5 rounds of checking at the airport and the locals discussing about the audacity of the Tigers the previous day, almost every day.
This time around, when I visited the last week, the city wore a relaxed look, the weather was great and one can sense optimism all around as the country was making attempts to make peace with peace itself.
Landed early in the morning and the drive from the Bandaranaike International airport to the city reminded me of the drive through God’s Own Country and its coconut palms. Was surprisingly pleased to see “Airtel” signboards lighting up the road all the way and made me wonder if “Har Ek friend” was made Zaroori in Sri Lanka as well! The Taj Samudra where I stayed last time as well, gives a good view of the Indian Ocean facing the Galle Face Green and is one of the oldest hotel properties in Colombo. Old it is and I must say that Taj Samudra has lost a bit of its sheen and seemed crying for some renovation investments though the staff more than made up with their gracious smiles.
Sri Lanka by its sheer proximity to our country, closeness of culture and racial origins must be a good market for Indian companies to expand their business. With peace returning to the country I noticed that many Indian companies have been quite quick off the block to sell their wares in Sri Lanka. So it was not surprising that Indian car manufacturers like Maruti, Mahindra and Tata had a good share of the road pie. In fact I could see more “Nano”s firing in the streets of Colombo than in Mumbai, smartly positioned as the “Budget Taxi” ! (I meant Nanos whizzing past – don’t know why this word fire keeps cropping up when talking of Nano!)
Cricket evokes the same passion in Sri Lanka as in India, it appeared. Just a day before, Sri Lanka was bundled out for 43 runs against the South Africa in an ODI (lowest ever score) and in the dinner conversations with my friends, I heard that Srilankan cricket was being ruined by politics! Doesn’t this sound too familiar to us??? At the same dinner, as discussions veered around the World cup my dear friend popped a very uncomfortable question. “Don’t you think that the World cup final was fixed by the BCCI??” My friend went on to add that “20 mn Srilankans were compromised to keep 1.2 bn Indians happy”. Well looking at the way Team India has performed post the World cup one would start giving credence to my friend’s belief!!
Bollywood and its stars are again quite on top. No wonder Sri Lanka is already on the map of IIFA. Most of my friends had already “caught up” with Don 2 and were quite lavish in their praise about the movie and the Don himself. I thought Indians were less charitable!
A quick read of the local newspapers reveal the deliberate attempt by the Government to make peace with peace, about the rehabilitation efforts of the LTTE cadres, the construction projects in the North, the 3 language formula being adopted (In fact 2012 is named as the Trilingual year), .., … I also read with interest the proposed visit of our most popular Ex-President Dr. Kalam to kick off the Trilingual initiative in Jan.
Just at the end of the Galle Sea face – I was told that the sea is being reclaimed to build properties that will “Lasvegas-ize“ Colombo. The country of Buddha was beginning to “bet” on luck or ill luck of tourists to prop up its tourism revenue !!! It’s my belief that for a country to succeed in tourism, friendliness must be in its DNA. And Sri Lanka has plenty of that. Just on landing at Colombo I found that my pick up from Taj Samudra was not to be found. To my utter disbelief and pleasant surprise, few guys from the competitor hotels sensed my problem and made alternate arrangements for me to reach the hotel safely !
Proximity to India, pristine beaches, natural wildlife trails, Elephants, no language barriers, availability of Indian food,.. all these make Sri Lanka in general and Colombo in particular a very attractive holiday option to Indians. And add to that extremely friendly and warm people. I’m yet to explore all the above – all my previous 4 trips being on business. At the end of the trip I just promised myself and my Srilankan friends who kept on pushing me to come on a vacation that will soon return for a holiday to a place which is as down to earth as its people as its embraces peace !!