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Touchdown in Colombo


My heart rate picks up a few notches and relieves my sleep-starved mind. The little blip, which had outrageously masqueraded as our Boeing 777 over the past three hours; is now nudging the black bold letters, Trincomalee. Sri Lanka, that tiny atom, swatted aside by the Indian land mass as we left Changi airport, suddenly rallies on my little TV screen. I can feel my wife tremble next to me, somehow I don’t think it’s due to the freezing cabin climate. We are now flying over the eastern coastal city of Trincomalee, and I know descent on Colombo is imminent. I should know; rituals leave their imprints. The public address system stirs to life as the Captain issues warning on his desires, we strap up. The last minute scramble for the toilets erupts in earnest; my wife seems to be in two minds, then settles back. There is that delightful shudder as our bird braces for the dive.

We had commenced our countdown almost ten months ago when we bought the tickets. Conspiracies were hatched to obtain the longest leave. It was pleasant affliction as the calendar ticked off the slow march to December. Then the last minute scamper to buy Christmas gifts and souvenirs. It was an eternity since our last visit; a year can travel on its haunches. My reverie and my ribs get a rude jab from my wife, as she deliriously whispers “Hunas, Hunas”. Of course, the little digital blip is flitting over Kandy, the once Imperial bastion of the Sinhalese. It’s a beautiful hill city, where the last local sovereign ruled, but somewhere tucked away below is Hunas Falls Hotel. This holiday retreat has sworn eternal fealty to nature and has for ages served as a magnet for honeymooners. We too were lured on our honeymoon and now survive shamelessly on its natural handouts. Girdled by a ring of mountains and lulled by the sound of a graceful waterfall named Hunas, we had experienced the benign edge of nature as never before. Those pure mountain waters had lashed my puny fame often, an innocent fetish that I could not shake off. The hotel swimming pool had competed pitifully for my graces. I can feel my mouth water; images of a mountain top buffet with a western and eastern medley can be quite evocative.

The sudden lurch reminds me that I am still in the clouds. My wife smiles knowingly. A few pricks of light pierce the thick cover below. It’s a far cry from the constellation of lights that blasted the dark side in Singapore. My mind is in excited turmoil and functions out of any accepted order. Memories of Earl’s Regency make a vengeful return, yet another exotic discovery we made on our last trip. It was a last minute selection that yielded rich dividends, within striking reach of Kandy city. An elegant five star getaway; overlooking some stunning mountain scenery and the legendary Mahaveli River. The Mahaveli is the longest river in Sri Lanka and its banks are crowded with history. So a sacred dip was never in question, the fine pool earned my scorn yet again. We had schemed well in faraway Melbourne, Hunas and the Regency took shape as the plot thickened. They seem awfully close now.

A bit to the South of Kandy, yet another big bold name shifts into focus, Nuwaraeliya. It was the favorite escape of the colonial masters, a city in the clouds. Perfectly manicured lawns and golf courses and undulating waves of luscious green tea carpets set the scenery. High peaks lord over it all. Little England as some call it, a bold reference to the love that colonial Britons showered on it. I have lost track of the times I had been there, school holidays always found us en route to the central highlands. Nostalgia can be unforgiving, but being so close helps. We would stay over at some charming bungalows in Bandarawela, a city quite central to this area, and blest with a divinely impartial climate. Then we would patrol the countryside devouring waterfalls and lakes along the way. I really owe my parents big time, they had left me treasues, which the material cannot measure. Diyaluma Falls; a sexy and slender waterfall had cleansed me in its waters. It unfurls over rocky ledges leaving a legacy of stepped pools. My knees had quaked when I negotiated the treacherous rocky trek to her lair. It lies along a road that snakes through some arresting scenery, sheer precipices add to the adventure. Adisham Monastery, now a famous catholic retreat, cloistered in a misty forest had provided us top grade lodgings once. It hides close to Bandarawela and Nuwaraeliya. The good monks run a self-reliant community, growing organic apples, pears, and other local fruits. I know my wife craves a revisit; she couldn’t have enough of it last time. Well I have done my best to enrich that past; they are all on our current hit list. Another rude dig in the ribs brings me back to cabin. “Negombo, look Negombo” she purrs, her hometown now appears on the flight path. Little Rome as its fondly called, a city of churches of course; and another city by the sea. One of those churches, St. Peter’s, had rung its bells with gusto when we whispered our “ I Do’s.” I have gravitated between Kelaniya my hometown and Negombo scores of times, conjugal duties cannot be tampered with. We will be sleeping there tonight. The lights below gather resolve; sluggish pre dawn traffic can now be clearly spotted. Negombo is so close to the main Bandaranaike airport.

I can feel my breathing beginning to labor, the Christmas loop as I remember it moistens my eye. Freshly cut pine trees came to our doorstep from Upcountry, the chaotic Colombo traffic that my father weaved through on our Christmas shopping rounds have left firm impressions. Carols ruled over the airwaves and my father would take us from toyshop to toy shop, finally drawing the line at the fireworks mall. The skies over our house in Kelaniya got violated from blazing skyrockets, while roman candles and Catherine wheels lit up our garden. These virile festive memories haunted me in Melbourne.

Can I have another stab, relive that past, I dream on. A rude crunch, a slight shudder and touch down in Colombo. I can finally stop dreaming.

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