Landing in Colombo Sri Lanka I was starkly reminded of the poor unsuspecting people from the villages of Pakistan who were promised to be taken to Dubai, only left to be put on a launch at Manora and brought to Seaview Karachi. Having never seen a metropolitan city like Karachi, they were deceived into thinking this really was Dubai!
I felt like I was one of those people. It seemed that the plane flew from Karachi and continued flying over Karachi round and round in circles before landing back from where it had taken off. I felt cheated. Deprived of the thousands of rupees I had spent.
And the more and more I travelled into the Colombo city from the airport, the more my fears grew. It was Déjà vu. The only thing that broke the spell was the fact that my driver couldn’t speak Urdu. Or English.
When I asked him if he spoke English, he said yes a little bit. When I then asked him how far to the destination, he couldn’t understand it, no matter how hard I tried to simplify the English phrase.
This satisfied me that I was really in Sri Lanka and that my plane ticket was not wasted.
But if you remove this little detail out of the equation, you would be hard pressed to distinguish between Colombo and Karachi, right down to the airport.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN COLOMBO & KARACHI:
- The Karachi airport wore a deserted look when I checked in. It appeared to be a shadow of its former glory when there was a hustle and bustle all around. The check-ins, the immigration, even the CIP lounge was deserted when I entered it. It was only later that people started coming. The same goes for Colombo airport. It wore the same deserted look. At the immigration there were only two people standing in line in front of me. I was through it in a flash, even though I didn’t have a visa, and just the processing online.
- Unlike Karachi, the Colombo airport has a covered outer area in which are all the telecom, restaurants, taxi and tourist company stalls. But that’s where the disparity ends. Very much like Karachi, all of them are cajoling you to visit their stalls and buy from them. Hell, even the telecom operators like Etisalat are exhorting you to buy from them. Now this is something more advanced than even Karachi.
- As soon as you step outside, the humidity engulfs you like it has been waiting for.
- You step outside, and all the taxi walas pounce upon you. One of them is so persistent that when I tell him that I’m waiting for someone, he takes out his mobile and offers to call the number. So sweet. Or deceptive.
- The trip from the airport to the city although not identical to Karachi’s, isn’t that far off. And when you enter the city and drive around, it seems you’re navigating the streets of Karachi. No make it Lahore. That’s because Karachi streets are not deserted at 10.30 on a Saturday night. And it’s not that we don’t touch the main areas. We pass through the Premadasa stadium, the prison, a food street and what have you. Maybe Sri Lankans are an early morning people.
- All the big bad franchises that are in Karachi are here. We passed McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut. I guess Hardees must be around somewhere as well.
DISSIMILARITIES BETWEEN COLOMBO & KARACHI:
- The toilet was far more cleaner than any I’ve experienced at Karachi or any airport in Pakistan for that matter. I’ve heard that Sri Lankans are very particular about hygiene and cleanliness, and I got that verification right away upon landing.
- Rain is intermittent. Comes and goes without warning. You don’t have that in Karachi.
COLOMBO’S FIRST IMPRESSION OF ME:
Let’s see. Yeah, the airport staff was shocked that I intended to spend two weeks in Sri Lanka traveling solo. I think this has got more to do with me being Pakistani rather than the solo or the two-week part. That’s because a lot of GORAS spend months in Sri Lanka. Hell, the legendary sci-fi writer Aruthur C. Clark made Sri Lanka his permanent abode, and eventually died here.
So I was met with suspicion all around. At first the immigration officer asked me how long I intended to stay and when I told him two weeks, he asked incredulously, ‘’And you are on holiday here?”.
It could be that Sri Lankans do not have enough confidence in the beauty of their own land and it wasn’t because of my nationality. But then I was stopped midway by the immigration officers while the rest of the bunch was allowed to leave. And I had to open all my luggage to soothe their nerves that I wasn’t carrying any firearms or about to blow myself. The fact that I’m carrying a tripod with me doesn’t help matters much. Just adds to the suspicion.
So that was the first impression of Colombo. Let’s see how Sri Lanka treats me in the days to come.