|Pallekele Stadium looks so green and nice.|
It is just a three hour plus flight to Colombo from Delhi. As a policy the Sri lankan Airlines does not serve whisky (my favoured drink) to economy class passengers. I had learnt this 10 years ago on my last travel on this airline. Last week this fact was mentioned with disappointment to my dear friend who happened to be travelling in the business class in the same flight as me. He was gracious enough to pull some strings so I could have a comfortable flight over much of India .
My wife Devicka and I were on our way to watch the India Vs Sri Lanka test match at Pallekle . This may sound a bit weird as I haven’t watched a test match on ground in last 5 years. Why would we fly thousands of mile for watching just a couple of days of test match ? Obviously there is a story behind it and it is actually a simple story.
My dear friend Murali Kartik invited me to Sri Lanka to watch the match and he added certain temptations to this invite. He was covering the series as a commentator and would be in Sri Lanka for around 2 months. The temptations Kartik gave me were not working and I wasn't convinced enough to book my air tickets so he finally gave me an offer that I could not refuse. The offer was so tremendous that I even convinced Devicka to accompany me even though she is always a reluctant traveler.
Actually Devicka has an old school friend in Negombo (Near Colombo Airport) whom we last met around 10 years ago during our trip to Sri Lanka. Much has happened in her life so Devicka was very keen to meet her. The weekend I planned for the trip also happened to be an extended one due to some holidays. Things were working out well as it was important for Devicka to look forward to the trip as much as I was doing for it to be a success.
|Negombo fishing boats|
Negombo is a coastal town near the Bandaranaike Airport and it is around 40 kms from Colombo. We reached our small hotel late at night and it was in the morning as the curtains were undrawn that it became apparent that we were close to the Negombo Lagoon and the fishing centre. The place was bustling with activity. On the other side of town are some lovely hotels on the beach but on this trip there was no time for the beach.
In the few hours we were in Negombo we walked to the fishing village, met Manisha and family by visiting their heritage house, drove around the Lagoon and the coast and had a hearty lunch before proceeding towards Kandy.
|Devicka with her Sri Lankan school friend Manisha at Negombo|
It was lovely meeting Manisha and her family . Her teenage son happened to be a die hard cricket fan and was pretty disappointed as India had already won two test matches and as we sat in their house, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul were walloping the SL bowlers.
The roads have become crowded in Sri Lanka and traffic is also pretty bad. It took us 3 hours to get to our hotel in Kandy. I had tried to book us in the same hotel as the commentary team but that hotel was full on the required dates. Luckily we had found a small boutique hotel called Clove Villa right opposite the Mahaweli Reach hotel . Clove Villa turned out to be very nice and homely place. Charlie was in charge there and he did a good job of serving great food. Mahaweli is the main river in this area and also known as Mahaweli Ganga. Clove Villa had nice rooms, homely atmosphere and a small pool. I plunged myself into the pool for an hour to get relaxed and then read a book .
|Thatched roofs and greenery|
As the day 1 of the third cricket match ended, the commentary team reached the hotel late in evening and Kartik asked us to come over to his room. He had a promise to keep !
Mahawale Reach hotel was nice hotel with good gardens and a nice pool. Normally the cricket teams stayed here but this time the Indian cricket team was staying somewhere else. We sat in Kartiks room and chatted with another prominent commentator Harsha Bhogale when there was a knock at the door. In walked Sunny Gavaskar – my childhood hero and one of the greatest batsman that world has seen. The next few hours were spent in the company of this soft spoken legend. Kartik had more than kept his promise.
Sunny Bhai had been more than a hero to me. During the days he was playing cricket I was quite obsessed with him. I had read his book 'Sunny Days' 6-7 times and did not miss any innings if it was being telecast. While friends in College had posters of fancy cars, pop artists and soccer stars on the walls- my wall adorned a poster of Sunny Gavaskar with Bish Bedi !
|This picture would soon adorn a wall in my house|
The Test Match
Pallekele was around 40 minutes drive from Kandy. It was in Baskaran’s tuk tuk (3 wheeler) that we were transported to this lovely ground. We had great hospitality seats and it was a fantastic day of cricket from India’s point of view. Hardik Pandya produced a sensational century and then Shami demonstrated a great spell of fast bowling. By the end of the day Sri Lanka was already following on and looking in dire straits.
Baskaran had come to receive us and his tuk tuk with VIP parking sticker was parked amongst the top end cars in parking lot. The security had tried to bully him by saying that this sticker was not valid on tuk tuk but Baskaran was a fiery little fellow. He wanted them to show such rule in writing, so they relented and he had his way. He took us all over the Kandy town; around the lake; on some hills and to shopping areas.Having worked in Qatar in company of Indians- he knew Hindi pretty well and tried to speak with us in Hindi whenever he would get a chance.
We have been to Kandy before so didn't need to spend time visting temples and other touristy places. The changes are apparent in this town also as in my mind I had this image of a quiet lake city. Now this city has also become crowded and polluted with honking cars and large population on roads. The area around the bus stand is the worst.
At the end of it all Devicka was dead tired but I had another evening to spend with Sunny Bhai and Kartik. Being an avid follower of cricket since childhood it was a dream come true to be in such kind of company. Talking to Harsha, Kartik and Sunny Bhai about cricket and listening to them gave a different kind of high. The hangover will remain for a long long time.
|Happy in the company of idol.|
Kartik also introduced me to Amalie, the head of Sony Sri Lanka. They were waiting for midnight to usher in her birthday and I become part of the celebrations. Amalie was kind enough to offer me another day of hospitality at the stadium the next day but as the match had become one sided, I declined the offer and decided to travel to Colombo the next day to spend a few hours before our flight.
We already had an evening train ticket but as train tickets were cheap, we booked for an earlier train so more time could be spent in Colombo. In any case there was nothing much to do in Kandy. Baskaran had helped us procure the tickets and then saw us off. He was one interesting character and we enjoyed his company throughout. Though it was a first class compartment, it wasn’t too impressive and the train really did shake and jolt a lot. It shook so much that reading a book was difficult. The lush green countryside was soothing to the eyes as the train hurtled through the scenic villages of Sri Lanka.
In Colombo we spent most of the time at the famous shop Odel. It has become fancier each successive time we have been there. It is quite large with different sections and one can easily spend a few hours there. They sell clothes, souvenirs, tea, jewellery and loads of other stuff. We also visited another famous shop nearby called ‘Paradise Road.’ We didn’t buy anything at Odel or Paradise road but just spent time roaming around and then having coffee. In the complex they have made a lovely area with stalls, bar and restaurants and I did grab a beer before we left for the Airport. The Airport has become pretty accessible from Colombo as a new swanky highway has been built. The challenge was to reach highway as Colombo is also flooded with cars now. In spite of all this it just took an hour to get from Odel to Airport.
|Odel Promenade for food and drinks.|
This was a short trip without a visit to the famed beaches of Sri lanka or the tea gardens of Nuwara Eliya. But thanks to Kartik-it will remain a memorable trip for us always.
|I love this picture of Kartik with Sunny Bhai|