July 22, 2012

India in Sri Lanka 2012

The colourful drive to Hambantota

Abhishek Purohit
A elephant in Hambantota, July 23, 2012
Hambantota: your chance to mix cricket with an elephant safari in the countryside  © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Slight trepidation as I queue up in immigration at Mumbai airport for my first international flight. The bureaucratic expression of the officer turns into a broad smile as I answer 'cricket' to his question 'purpose of visit'. "You are the first person, at least in my queue, going for this Sri Lanka series," he says. I settle into my window seat on the flight, and watch Juhu beach disappear quickly from sight. Didn't know it would happen, but there is an air of finality to the moment the plane crosses the last lights of the southern Indian mainland and the blackness of the sea takes over.

Colombo arrives in a flood of bright white lights, as opposed to the neon yellow of most Indian cities. The southern coastal town of Hambantota, the venue for the first two ODIs, is a long drive away. Our car, an old Nissan model, bypasses Colombo city, taking a two-lane road towards Ratnapura in central Sri Lanka. Apart from the fact that it is narrow, the road is in top condition. Hardly a jolt. This isn't India, alright. Here, they call two-lane roads what they are to be called - roads. Good or bad, but still a road. Unlike in India, where anything connecting two cities passes for a highway. Good or bad.

There is one thing common, though. Overtaking. Taxis, buses, trucks, everyone wants to overtake. It is a fine art, overtaking. Requires courage and skill on a two-lane road.

Bollywood makes sporadic appearances. "Rajesh Khanna [the veteran actor who died recently], very famous, very common face in Sri Lanka," says our driver Gamini. We stop at a small place for tea. It is playing Shankar Mahadevan's Nach Baliye.

More similarities to India. Cavalcades upon cavalcades of brightly-coloured pick-up trucks packed with people create traffic jams on the narrow road. Campaigning for some local election, I am told. Banners all over, large cut-outs of beaming politicians. "These politicians, they appear only during election time," Gamini says.

The vegetation gets denser after Ratnapura. It is difficult to make out where you are heading to; there is just the road and an impenetrable cover of trees accompanying it. After some time, the trees get thinner. The terrain gets flatter. We are in elephant territory. There are signs on the road warning people about elephant-crossing spots. The giant animals appear. In batches of three and four. There are some loners as well. Standing almost on the road. You realise why this place is more tourism than cricket. There are numerous national parks with many kinds of wild animals.

Could be a nice way to sell the cricket. A combination of an elephant safari and a game. Wonder if it would work the other way around. Probably not. Getting to the ground is the biggest achievement here. But that deserves a separate story.

Our destination is Tissamaharama, about a 75-minute drive from the ground, north-east of Hambantota town. Catchy name. Tissamaharama. Gamini makes it sounder catchier. The town is surrounded by lakes. We pass one of them. "Lake," Gamini announces in endearing sing-song Sinhala-accented English. "Tissa lake. Tissa-maaha-raaaama lake."

After six-and-a-half hours on the road, and one on the roadside, we reach our hotel, which is surrounded by fields. And more fields. Cricket? Er, how about a trip to Yala National Park first?

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Sarthak Mondal on (August 8, 2012, 13:56 GMT)

Sri Lanka is the place to visit if you want to enjoy nature

Posted by Matt on (July 31, 2012, 5:18 GMT)

Haha so funny to read the comments of Indians..any time anyone says or writes something that could remotely be misconstrued as an offensive or critical comment, thousands upon thousands of Indian internet users vociferously voice their disapproval. Calm down and stop missing the point.

Posted by fake rolex on (July 29, 2012, 16:27 GMT)

I'm really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

Posted by NESAN on (July 27, 2012, 12:31 GMT)

Abhishek,

You should take a visit to Northern and Eastern provinces (If the authorities permit) and see the conditions there and see the faces of the people there. This would really let you understand the real Srilanka. You will definitely find something is missing there which you can find in India...(It is not all about the smooth roads)

Posted by Aruna Fernando from Doha, Qatar on (July 26, 2012, 5:43 GMT)

Dear Abhishek, Great piece of writing. Proud of you to have spelled out you first glimpse of our beautiful country in a such a colourful manner. I wish if you could take that hint from Gamini and get across to Yala. As someone suggested, take the coastal road back to Colombo. Our hill country, is also a must in your diary, and area surrounding Dambulla too would give you a yet another flavour of my motherland. Do it you will never regret my brother.

Posted by Jagath on (July 24, 2012, 17:06 GMT)

Nice artical, appriciate it. My home village closer to Rathnapura . But I never used that road (may be Via Udawalawe (Awissawella) Natinal Park) to Hambantota. Sure, next time I would go this way to Udawalawe Natinal Park + Sinharaja forest!

Posted by Sri G. on (July 24, 2012, 14:43 GMT)

Hope Abhishek can write another blinder of a article in his flowing manner about the scenic beauty of his ride back to main city..We Indians can enjoy that better than the cricket now.. Looks like my plan for holidays in SL will be cancelled now after the 2nd ODI result.. -Ganeshan

Posted by sriganesh on (July 24, 2012, 6:03 GMT)

nicely put through.. Hmm..if i can get my leave grant approved, i will be in SL by the End of week..Please please let my boss read this beautiful piece and get me in to the beautiful isle..And i can get some quality work done away from the noice and clutter here...

kudos abhishek..

Posted by Javed Agrawala on (July 24, 2012, 4:44 GMT)

A wonderful country, aptly described. Thank you.

Posted by Kamiss on (July 23, 2012, 15:26 GMT)

the Journey is the reward my friend! Thanks for writing and enjoy your stay....

Posted by Raja on (July 23, 2012, 15:17 GMT)

Though I am from SriLanka, I have not travelled very much, beyond Galle, but in my few trips to Kataragama and Tissamaharama, I remember very well the Crocodiles and Monkeys trying to encroach the property of Tissamaharama Resthouse and the welcome shade trees lining the sides of the road to Kataragama, which I was told the brain child of former President Premadasa, who was assasinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. Whatever people say, I am glad that the Govt is developing the Southern city of Hambantota, which now gives people another reason to travel to the far corners of the South, where you would meet very friendly, honest, humble and helpful typical SriLankan people. As one reader has advised, one must experience the refreshing Tambili (king coconut) and the delicious Curd (yoghurt) with palmyrah or coconut treacle.

Posted by Leo on (July 23, 2012, 13:41 GMT)

Nice article Abhishek. But the comparisions you have made with India are not exactly the same. India is a huge country with top class roads to very bad roads, so assuming every Indian road as bad is wrong in my opinion.

Posted by Mastermind on (July 23, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

Great article!!!

Posted by ajanth on (July 23, 2012, 12:11 GMT)

hmm a refreshing change after all the hype..Good work by the writer. A trip back to SL would be a welcome change after all the rubble in India.. hmmm,, may be this week.. :) Nice work abhishek.

Posted by Ananda Herath on (July 23, 2012, 10:07 GMT)

Dear Abhishek, this is such a nicely written article, with frank and candid views. People like you are very welcome in our country. Talking of being musical, I think your name itself is very musical - Abhishek Purohit and your writings is equally so. Have a great stay in Sri Lanka.

Posted by Sreejith on (July 23, 2012, 8:27 GMT)

Missing Lanka after reading your blog. Lived there for 5 years till 2010. I couldn't agree more with you on the roads - top condition even though it is only 2 lane. Enjoyed driving across the island. Cricket was also fun to watch with all the bands & beers in full swing..Planning to watch the Eng- India T20 @ Premadasa !!

Posted by T.Thush on (July 23, 2012, 8:25 GMT)

nicely put through narrative.. As a indian i have paid few visits to SL and was impressed by the scenic beauty and the uplift the country had gone thorough. its a shame the road construction here are never ending and the common rubble and chaos that are found in all main roadways.. Hope to make a trip to Srilanka some time soon, not for the cricket, but for some quality time.

Posted by Arun on (July 23, 2012, 8:21 GMT)

Cool! indeed.. I wish I could be there in the island for T20 world Cup. Planning is in progress. Would be nice if offered more info..

Posted by Sunimal Perera on (July 23, 2012, 8:04 GMT)

Evokes pangs of nostalgia about a part of Sri Lanka that holds a special place in my heart, Hambantota. Indeed the cricket grounds should have been closer to the main drag in proximity to the beach and the main beaten track. The salt pans and Bundala are worth a visit too! Tissamaharama is a very significant place of Buddhism with its beautiful Dagoba which comes aglow during nights of the full moon Poya. It had a famous Resthouse on the edge of a small beautiful lake with a bird sanctuary on it.Wonder if it's still standing? Sri Lanka with her cultural embellishments, cricket and wildlife combined is definitely a tourist trap worth getting caught in!

Posted by Delhi India on (July 23, 2012, 6:50 GMT)

Abhishek, you may be incorrect in defining Highways as referred to in India. In India, there are 2 kinds of highways- National Highway (NH) and State Highway (SH). NH connects cities falling in different states, while SH connects cities falling in the same state. Thus far, the only roads that the common Indian people call highways are the ones branded as NH, i.e.- connecting two or more states. The SHs, unless very long in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, etc. are referred to as 'Roads' only even here! Moreover, NHs and SHs in India are better maintained than local roads. I am not comparing with Sri Lanka, but India is undergoing tremendous superficial progress- developing major connecting roads and few important cities, while ignoring the interiors of the less significant ones! So don't call our highways ill-paved, for they're the part of the same superficial development!

Posted by Randika on (July 23, 2012, 6:26 GMT)

Thank you for a very nice blog entry read it with delight. My first trip to India voer a decade ago was similarly filled with awe, and I visited your home state Maharashtra and Tamilnadu in that trip.. The vegetation in coastal Kerala is quite similar to that of SL

Posted by chaminda Dewage on (July 23, 2012, 6:19 GMT)

Having taken the Rathnapura road, you must take the beach front road up to Galle, spend atleast one day in a beach resort if your time permits you.. and take the new Expressway back to CMB. SL is a compact place with lots of attractions to expore.. may we say "Aauubowan" Come and enjoy the Sri Lankan ospitality..

Posted by dinesh on (July 23, 2012, 6:10 GMT)

nice outing and nicely put out by the author..Good to have a natural narrative , after looking at all the fast pace and hectic ways.. Good pictures conveyed about Sri lanka.kudos to Abhishek. Real good work.

Posted by Ruwan V on (July 23, 2012, 6:02 GMT)

I left Sri Lanka 15years ago. My father was bone not far from where Cricket is playing these days. I can recall all the wonderful days of my childhood spent around those areas, speacially lakes and paddies.. Love to come back again and have a bit of a taste.. I deeply miss Sri Lanka..

Posted by Nuzha on (July 23, 2012, 4:57 GMT)

Lovely piece of writing... I could picture the whole episode in my head and relive the drive!! Yes and like someone had said before....do enjoy the curd and treacle!!!! do not miss it!!!Enjoy the cricket and the rest of your stay in out little country!! The pearl of the Indian Ocean!!!:)

Posted by Calvin on (July 23, 2012, 3:55 GMT)

Nicely written, as it reminds me everything I know like a small movie.. :)

Posted by Jayantha Jayman on (July 23, 2012, 2:48 GMT)

Having been on the same road last year after also being in India, I will follow your blog with interest. The question of distance and time was for me in many ways very short: there was so much to see after returning to the Island after 25 years. Keeping up with your comparison, India with is vast distances offered much, but requiring much more time. Sri Lanka is deceptive: there is much packed into 100 km and if you are not alert you will miss it. Enjoy my ancestral lands close to Tissa... do not miss the food, especially the local yoghurt and treacle. The king coconut in the dry zone is also great, as are the various fruit. The people are wonderful. Enjoy all that... and cricket will always be the excuse to return.

Posted by Senaratne on (July 22, 2012, 19:47 GMT)

Thank you for appreciating Sri Lanka's natural beauty. I personally think it's was a good move to build that stadium there even though it would have been nice if it was more closer to the Hambantota city itself!

Posted by Roshan on (July 22, 2012, 17:21 GMT)

Very one wants to overtake..!! You got that correct :)

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