The aircraft touched down, and an immigration form and few lines of questioning later, I was out taking in the warm Sri Lankan air outside the Bandaranaike airport. I immediately started sweating because of the humidity. Mobitel SIM: On, Sri Lanka Rupee: Bought. Ten minutes later I was in a bus to Colombo. The Bandanaike airport is not in Colombo, but a town called Katunayike. A nice road connects the airport to the city of Colombo. I called my host to let her know I landed at the airport, and on my way to the city.
First Look at Sri Lanka
When I did my research I learnt that Colombo was a city to use as a base, or a city that can be skipped for something else, like a beach, a mountain getaway, a tea plantation, a desolate homestay. But only few of them stay to know Colombo better for it has a lot to offer. Any city I travel to, I first want to know if I can live and work in that city. I chose March, one of the hottest and unpleasant time of the year to travel to Sri Lanka. Most of them do it during the winter.
The bus sped to Colombo, and I could see the lush green forests by the road. If Colombo decides to grow bigger than it is, these trees have to go, but I hope it never happens. Throughout the travel in Sri Lanka, you will see that Sri Lanka has preserved green cover, cities are clean, clean roads, historical artifacts well preserved.
People of Colombo
Few years ago I asked a friend about her insights about Sri Lanka. She said that the people are hostile towards Indians because of the botched attempt at intervening in the Sri Lankan civil war. Contrary to what she said I did not meet a single person who had a hostile attitude towards Indians. It had been a long time since then, and the Sri Lankan forces had been victorious in the long and bloody war. People had put it all behind them. The people I met had a laid back attitude, no rush. They were content, and more than happy when they meet foreigners, and do not treat Indians any different. There is lot of Indian influence in the automobile industry, culture, and also food. The city of Colombo has seen a fair share of attacks by the extremists, and riots against the minority Tamils in the past. But I see that was in the past. Colombo has grown way beyond that now, and is now emerging as one of the best cities to live in Asia.
Colombo has a good transportation system unlike rest of Sri Lanka which tuk tuks or the trishaws are the lifeline. In other Sri Lankan cities I either used tuk tuks or walked long distances. But I was more than happy to travel in city buses. Most city buses are Lanka Ashok Leyland. There are Chinese made mini buses also. Colombo is well connected to cities like Galle, Kandy. There are trains people use to get to work in their offices in Colombo. I met a lawyer who travels to to her office in Colombo from her village in Balapiya (on the way to Galle). Transport is cheap, and some bus conductors can speak English.
Vibe of the City
City was clean as was the rest of Sri Lanka. Locals are friendly and helpful. There are lot of expats living in Sri Lanka. You hear languages from all over the world being spoken. I don’t know how Sri Lanka was ten years ago, but today there seems to be a budding startup culture. People have lots of ideas, and they using new ideas to solve local issues which is inspiring to see. The Pettah, the Fort, and the Galle Face areas is a hotspot I believe. This city is not only the financial capital of Sri Lanka, but also the startup capital of Sri Lanka.
Eating Out & Shopping
Eating out and shopping is expensive. Dining would cost as much as it is in Mumbai or Bangalore, may be even more. Because there is a big expat population, there are lot of restaurants and cafes serving international cuisine. However if you are visiting Colombo, eating local cuisine should be the goal. It is as cheap as or cheaper than Indian food.
The downside is the tourist pricing even though citizens from SAARC countries pay less than other tourists. After living and traveling in India almost all my life, I got to see foreigners being charged eye watering amount to see sights. I got the taste of it in Sri Lanka. Another downside is that tuk tuks charge you a lot, and would do anything to get you to use their tuk tuks. I was walking from Fort Railway station to the bus station, when a tuk tuk driver stopped, after learning that I wanted to get to the bus station to ask about buses to Jaffna, he grabbed my bag, put it in the tuk tuk, and talked me into sitting inside his tuk tuk. He drove to the bus station, got off the tuk tuk with my by bag in his hand, me on his heels, he went to where buses to Jaffna would be stationed at night. “This is where you should come, ok?”, he said. After this he took me back to where I should catch my bus back to my accommodation. He charged me Rs.300 for something I could do on my own.
Could You Live Here?
Colombo has a great vibe, a great city, nice people. There are lots to do here. But could you live and work here? Absolutely. It is one of the most dynamic of cities. Being hassled by touts and tuk tuks will not be an issue if you learned the way. If you have an opportunity to live in Sri Lanka for an year, in a city like Colombo, take it. Cities like Galle, and Kandy are just a half a day’s trip away from here.
If you’re here only for a visit, consider reading this article.