Depending on who you are, and where you’re going, transportation here in Paradise is often an adventure in itself.
Like almost everywhere else in earth, we’ve got cars and trucks and busses aplenty, motor bikes and push bikes too. You’ll occasionally see an ox cart, even on busy Colombo streets, and out in the countryside, tractors and rotary hoes are routinely used as much for transportation as they are for work in the fields. And yes, strangely, people still walk, too.
I’ve posted previously about our little sea plane that takes off from the Kaleniya River, just north of the city, but the quintessential mode of transport remains the tuk-tuk.
I’ve spoken before about tuk-tuks at every corner, and you’ve tried to squeeze into a three-wheeler with Kumari and me and all the shopping, or imagined the serious base beat emanating from Wasantha’s boom box, so this will be no surprise. What I haven’t expressed adequately, I don’t think, is the fun – and ease – of hopping a tuk-tuk. Whether it’s a quick ride from place to place in Colombo, a long-haul trip up through the mountains to Kandy, or the seriously ‘I-think-I-can’ ride up the almost perpendicular rocky track to the meditation centre, it’s always fun to tootle along, wind in your hair, in a tuk-tuk. Last year as a lark, and a fun way to raise money for charity, ‘foreign’ drivers were invited to participate in a round-island tuk tuk race.
But there’s a revolution afoot on the new Southern Expressway. No tuk-tuks allowed. No push carts, pedestrians, bikers, cyclists, tractors or bullock carts either.
Like everywhere else, only cars and trucks – and some busses – are permitted on this 96 kilometres of dual-carriageway from the southern edge of Colombo to the southern city of Galle.
Built at a cost of seven hundred million dollars, it’s our first modern highway, and it’s had some teething problems. During a recent Monsoon storm it had to be closed for a day or so because of a mudslide – the raw red gash still visible on the hillside. The speed limit has had to be lowered from 120 to 100 km per hour, and strangely, one is not permitted to stop and take pictures of the view. Now, this is a great shame, because these 96 kilometres are a rare and wonderful trip through the beauty of rural Sri Lanka – pristine rivers, hillsides and forests, ghostly rubber estates, elegant coconut estates and tea plantations, fruit farms, cinnamon gardens and vibrant paddy fields.
There are no exceptional beauty spots. What is exceptional, in this, one of the most densely populated countries on earth, is that the road cleaves through 96 kilometres of undisturbed countryside – replacing 5,000 plots of land to do so. Except for the occasional farmhouse, temple, kovil or tiny hamlet, this is timeless rural Sri Lanka – a feast for the eyes that only days of wandering the narrow bumpy back roads would otherwise open out for us.
To go with our shining new expressway are two state of the art rest stops bracketing either side of the road, mid-point of the journey. Aesthetically beautiful, they’re a far cry from the ugly utilitarian versions I remember from Australian highways, and what’s more, they’ve been designed to place two small size six footprints on this unspoiled environment.
They’d need to. Built almost entirely of glass, the energy required to run 24-hour a day air-conditioning to make a stop at one of these crisp modern ambalamas bearable, would otherwise be astronomical.
Ailsa’s Transportation challenge this week set me rambling.