Sunday, November 22, 2015

A real walk through the real Colombo

We start our Singhala lessons for real tomorrow morning at nine. They're at the place several of the Fulbrighters are staying at, a large colonial place called the Shangri-la Bungalow. Shangri-la is just one town over in Dehiwala, which we pass through every time we're on a bus into town. So I proposed we walk there to check out the scene. Just a quick mention that as Shangri-las go, our place is pretty sweet. 

While so much of Colombo seems stretched out along the Galle Road I'm super interested in what lies east of the main road. Our walks up Templers Road to the Siddulhepa Ayurvedic Hospital, where we've enjoyed a few massages, take us east, but just so far and no farther. Today we made a real foray into the real Colombo. 

To get to the bungalow you could walk north on Galle Road and then turn right at Hill Road, following it practically to the doorstep of the house. I was curious about the hypotenuse of this fairly rigid 90 degree route and dead curious what lay in the precincts between our Mt. Lavinia digs and the bungalow. 

So we set off at about 9:30. A bit late but I was banking on the concept st least that we'd be walking northeast instead of directly east, so there would be some shade. The curving walled streets, sometimes with the occasional overhanging tree did give us some respite from the heat. 

We were able to follow almost all the way through on Pieris Road or lanes that went in that approximate direction. There were ups and downs, plenty of unlabeled roads, and enough chances to consider that we might be lost that it felt like a real walk. We passed one or two spots that were centered around either a market or a Bo tree and Buddhist shrine. These places have their own names and I think it's safe to assume they were once villages on their own. Very cool to get that feeling of history, and the feeling that the city grew outward to the villages, finally swallowing them. 

The streets were vibrant, especially near the shopping areas, and traffic was not that hard to deal with, maybe because it was a Sunday morning. Just the same some of the vehicle mirrors coming my way threatened to smack me into a drainage ditch or onto a barbed wire fence. Not the nicest outcomes for a Sunday stroll. 

Not a lot of bicycles. Not a lot of walkers. But we felt comfortable on foot and managed to see a lot. Local color, local dogs, local city scapes. We passed several canals, some decent sized waterways, factories and plenty of saloons (mens' barbers). I've wanted a haircut and shave (plus facial massage please) for the past couple of days but didn't want to break up the walk with what could have turned into an hour luxuriating. Also didn't want to get treatment too far from home and then walk home the distance and not feel that clean. 

When we had almost reached the bungalow I spied Salmal Mawatha. Amazed, we took several pictures. I had read Ru Freeman's "On Salmal Lane" a few years ago and passed it on on Janet. She passed the book, a child's-eye view of Black July on to a couple of friends. It was a haunting book and unexpectedly reaching the place, fictionalized or not, gave me goose bumps. I've never been a literary tourist before but I guess there's always a first time. 

Finding the kids at home we were able to convey our excitement about finding Salmal Lane and they eagerly took down the name of the book. We'll see if anyone has the time to read it. 

Coming home was a lot quieter and seemed shorter than getting there. It was great seeing the old lanes on Colombo and getting a better feel for Dehiwala. So many people have it as their address. 

It's a Colombo that's somewhat threatened by the upcoming "Megapolis" but I think a piece of the city that will survive intact, in spite of the larger buildings already going in there.  

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