One of the things I noticed when R and I first visited Sri Lanka* was the number of people on the move. Night or day, it seemed, the busses and trains were always jam-packed, and as the country’s middle-class has grown, so too are the roads.
As you’d expect (carrying the wanderlust gene), there’s nothing I like better than getting out and about to explore – and jumping into a car to head off into the unknown has long been one of my favourite pastimes. Once I had my own vehicle here in Paradise, there was no stopping me. Either alone, or sometimes with my friend Mo, I’d set out, without a map, in the general direction of Galle, say, or up toward the mountains, or the lake-studded plains north of Kandy.
Getting out of the city can be a bore – I ramp up the music, or choose a particularly riveting topic of conversation – but once the fields start to multiply you’re beguiled by what’s around the next turn, and the next …
… and before you know it you’ve plunged into the heart of paradise. Here, all around you is a rural idyll that is so beguiling it’s easy to see why – despite material poverty, hard work, marauding elephants … – Sri Lankans cave their gama, their home place, and why they always seem to be going somewhere.
Towards either the beginning, or the end, of my favourite road trip in Sri Lanka (more about my Garden of Eden Route in a separate post later), there’s a mini world’s end to tackle. Built by the British to access new tea country in the southern part of the island, the A17 tacks up the escarpment by way of ten elephant trunk bends – aliya wangu dahaya. Look, they’re even marked on Google Earth! The apex of each bend bears a “mile post” with the bend number – just so you know when it’s safe to resume breathing! No – seriously, it’s too beautiful to be scary, moving from conifer forest (planted by the British to fuel their tea factories) to temperate rain forest (or vice versa, depending which way you’re travelling).
On our recent trip up North, Mo remarked that she missed the roadside stalls – still every Colombo housewife’s ideal for fresh produce. We’d barely crossed back into the Western Province when we came across a spectacular collection of stalls where my diminutive dynamo of a friend just couldn’t resist stocking up. She’s small, as I said, but really, I don’t know how she managed to find room in the back seat among all those additional packages.
Come, jump in, and lets see what’s around the bend – I promise to turn back if it looks as though the road is about to take off through the paddy fields, or climb the bund of a lake … (in retrospect my heart is thumping as I recall those two adventures – though curiously at the time no alarm bells went off!).
As you can see, some rural roads are still little more than dirt tracks, and in the case of the road to Mo’s farm, what was once a built up road has been eroded over twenty odd monsoons into a series of undulating islands that is barely recognisable as a road (we did this trip on foot, following a local farmer who wielded a machete!).
In the last few years roads are being built at a rate not seen since the British were forging their way through the forests of the island to create their vast tea estates. There is a splendid new road up to Jaffna – they’re also relaying the railway line
– and dozens of other new or upgraded roads across the north, not to mention the new Expressway from Colombo to Galle, which will soon extend to the airport and eventually, I believe, up to Kandy.
Apropos the new roads, I had to laugh when I received this news alert the other day:
The President says laws on speeding are outdated and new speed limits should be in place allowing motorists to drive faster, due to road development. Daily Mirror, 8 April 2013
Mo and I had chaffed at the speed limit, on our Jaffna trip – here we were, travelling on this beautifully laid and marked road while vigilant policing restricted us to the speed limit of 68km per hour!**
While the road past the ‘cop shop’ could do with some upgrading, here in Colombo the road network is slowly being upgraded in an attempt to handle increased traffic. After twenty years, the Japan Friendship Road opposite Parliament – constructed to handle tropical deluges – has been finished and integrated into a series of beautiful parkland areas, and environmentally sensitive parking. In the old part of town, around Pettah and Hultsdorf, bunting and street cricket present a vision of timeless urban life, while along the Galle Face Green, the newly ‘carpeted’ road and relaid pavements are bringing people back into this, the most famous and beloved of the city’s parks.
Thanks Cee. for challenging me to put some of my roads into a coherent gallery.
* Back in December 1992.
** That’s 42.2532410721387 miles per hour for those of you who use imperial measurements!