Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sri Lanka - day 1

"So you're really doing this?" My sister asked.

"I am."

"Well done. And good luck!" She said.

I had called to tell her that we were flying off the next day. To Sri Lanka. For nine days. With parents. And parents-in-law. And sister-in-law.

She was not the only one who thought it was a crazy idea. A friend told me she hated travelling with extended family. "It's a pain to plan and coordinate a holiday for so many people, all living in different places, and then everyone has a different personality and taste and wants different things and it's all SO CHAOTIC. You're crazy to do it." She said.

Yes, it was a crazy idea. But it was also something that we'd wanted to do for a long time -- take the whole clan for a family vacation. Especially before the four parents got too old to travel with ease. Of course, I have made my peace with the fact that it is near-impossible to include my sister in such plans. (She lives in the US, is not a citizen yet and their President is crazy and I've advised her not to leave the country till he is impeached.)

Our dream family vacation almost happened with Mauritius last year, but at the last minute, an emergency cropped up and my-laws had to pull out. So now we were pinning our hopes on Sri Lanka, determined to make it happen.

And happen it did.

Of course, it needed a high level of coordination on everyone's part, to do the tickets, visa, travel insurance, research, bookings and itinerary. The India folks (let's call them Team A) gathered at Chennai to take the flight to Colombo together, while Viv, Xena and I (Team B) flew directly there. Team A was supposed to reach several hours before us and the plan was that they would wait at the airport for us. However, their flight suddenly and rather dramatically got delayed by 7 hours so things turned out the other way round.

At Changi airport... Team B is all set to fly!

We reached first and waited for them... 

...and waited...

...and also self-entertained while we waited...

...while Team A was put up in a fancy-schmancy 5-star hotel in Chennai!

The moms chit-chatted, of course, with the kinda-sorta-bored dads looking on...

...only until they found their true calling, of course! (Is is just them or is dads+newspapers really a thing everywhere?)

In line with my expectations, Colombo airport had a very 'India' feel to it. But I was very impressed at how fast immigration and baggage claim was -- all of 15 minutes! I told Viv that this India-wali-feel but Singapore-wali-efficiency was quite disorienting for me. 

Speaking of India-wali-feel...

I took some time to admire the way the female airport staff wore their saris. They looked very much like Indian saris, except that there was a layer of ruffles around the waist and their immaculately-pleated pallus were ankle-length. 

And oh, never had I ever seen fridge and washing machine shops inside an airport! We actually saw a guy lug a giant fridge home after his flight! 

Finally, Team A reached! Of course, there was a big fat reunion -- it was rare for Xena to see four grandparents at once... and they all flung themselves at her, and so did Tootooie! (Tootooie is Xena's nickname for my sister-in-law. You can read the long story behind the nickname here.) At the airport, we also met a very close family friend of my in-laws, who lives in Colombo and was helping us with currency exchange. 

We spotted our driver waiting for us, holding a sign with my name. He led us towards our big blue van. There was plenty of room for all of us, the luggage and then some. We were starving by then and asked our driver to take us to a lunch place at once.

The roads looked just like those in India.

Our driver found us a Sri Lankan buffet place and that's where we had our first taste of real Sri Lankan food. It was very spicy and very yummy!

Thankfully, the buffet had enough options for everyone. My parents are hardcore carnivores, while my in-laws are pure vegetarians. (This was another thing I was nervous about when planning the trip -- whether both sets would find enough food to their liking and be comfortable eating different things at the same table. Thankfully, everyone was very chilled out about that.)

One of the items in the spread that was a big hit with everyone was a dessert made with hung curd and honey. It really was as simple as it sounds, but everyone loved it. In fact, I had to glare at my diabetic parents to stop them from taking a second helping. 

We made another stop along the way to get a local SIM card. It turned out to be 250 Sri Lankan Rupees in the city; the shop at the airport was selling it for 1300! 

The city sights soon gave way to a more countryside feel as we headed towards our first stop - Habarana.

My dad was so impressed at how everyone on two-wheelers wore helmets, he kept taking photos of them!

It was a looooong ride to Habarana, but Xena had fun...

... hopping from one grandma to another....

...and once in a while gracing a grandpa or two.

Her absolute favourite person in the whole van, of course, was her Tootooie! (In case your eyes can't focus elsewhere due to the presence of that distracting snack packet, that is a very spicy and yummy masala snack we found in a roadside shop along the way.)

Holiday mode: ON!

We saw pet fish being sold on the roadside, packed in plastic bags with water. 

I'd almost forgotten that it was almost Christmas, till I spotted this rather lean and eerie-looking Santa outside a mall. Wait, does he have a red face? Why??

It was a very, very long drive, and everyone passed time through bursts of naps, zoning out, admiring the views, snacking and chit-chatting. My dad-in-law had many nuggets of information to share, fondly nicknamed by Tootooie as V-factoids, and they would continue throughout the holiday.

I went to sit with my dad for a bit, considering we generally don't get a chance to talk much. In 20 minutes, he had fully updated me with everything that was happening in Indian politics. Wow. I knew he was passionate about discussing politics, but after he had gone all the way back to the Rajiv Gandhi era, I had to stop him. There is only so much politics I can take.

So we started talking about his favourite topic -- gardening. As I had expected, he wanted to take something to plant in his garden back home, nothing big, just... A COCONUT! Goodness. But that is Dad. I think he has resolved to bring back something from every part of the world to plant in his garden. Whenever we travel, he finds a way to take a seed, a fruit, or a cutting for his garden.

With nine people in the van, there was an insane amount of cross-conversations going on. At times, it got really hard to follow who was saying what to whom. And that, of course, resulted in plenty of laughter. My dad was telling me how Rahul Gandhi had once declared "I'm a Shiva bhakta!" and Tootooie heard it as "I'm Shoib Akhtar!" Oh, how we laughed. In fact, I was thinking about it hours later and laughing!

It was getting dark but we were still on the road. I started to feel carsick. My nausea was made worse when our driver, in an earnest attempt to keep us from getting too restless, played a CD of Hindi songs that the poor soul thought we would appreciate greatly. We would have. Except that the first song went something like “Hotel mein khana khaaye, chhodke ghar ke bhojan ko, dil na dena sautan ko, aag lage uske joban ko”. (I am not kidding; this song actually exists.) We were too polite to say anything, but I resolved to be better prepared with our own music for the subsequent days.

After what seemed like eternity, we finally reached our AirBnB destination. It was a bungalow with four big rooms, right next to a forest. The cook and housekeeper stayed in a house located just behind the bungalow. A delicious dinner was waiting for us -- idiyappam, chicken curry, potato stew, grated coconut curry, brinjal curry and slices of pineapple. The highlight for everyone was a spicy and tangy Sri Lankan side dish called sambol, made of red chillies, onions and lemon juice. We really attacked it.

Soon after dinner, we retired to our respective rooms for some much-needed rest. Everyone was exhausted. The holiday would kick off tomorrow!

Click here for Sri Lanka - day 2!



  • Hi Sayesha, I do follow your hop-scotch blog and it has been so useful to plan my upcoming Srilanka trip. Can you recommend the company that you have booked the vehicle to travel in Srilanka. I am going to travel with a huge group of 16 people and looking for a reliable agency to for transport within Colombo and beyond. Appreciate any leads. Thanks in advance!

    By Blogger sagarika, at 12:14 PM  

  • Hi Sagarika,

    We used a company called Colour Lanka Tours (https://www.colourlankatours.com/) and they were absolutely fabulous.

    Email them and get a quote first: Info@colourlankatours.com

    They were also quite helpful in tweaking our itinerary.


    By Blogger Sayesha, at 8:04 PM  

  • Thanks Sayesha for the prompt reply :)

    By Blogger sagarika, at 11:29 AM  

  • Nice and interesting information and informative too.
    Can you please let me know the good attraction places we can visit: Chennai To Colombo Flight

    By Blogger komal verma, at 3:09 PM  

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