India in Sri Lanka 2012 July 22, 2012

The colourful drive to Hambantota

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'

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 8, 2012, 13:56 GMT

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

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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..

  • testli5504537 on July 27, 2012, 12:31 GMT


    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)

  • testli5504537 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.

  • testli5504537 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!

  • testli5504537 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

  • testli5504537 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..

  • testli5504537 on July 24, 2012, 4:44 GMT

    A wonderful country, aptly described. Thank you.

  • testli5504537 on July 23, 2012, 15:26 GMT

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

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