“Ceylon is where heaven was”, Chekhov

291 Views - Published on - October 21, 2012 by Raza Ali
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“If the sun sets in heaven, as it sets in the bay of Bengal, trust me heaven must be a very beautiful place”, Anton P. Chekhov said this about Sri Lanka (Ceylon) after his visit in the early 19th century.
Chekhov was not wrong about the beauty and we witnessed it ourselves. Well Chekhov was in Colombo in the early 19th century but a piece of memory of his visit is still preserved in Colombo.
On our second day to Colombo, we had plans to visit the university of Colombo to meet prof. Hettige, who heads the department of sociology. Our interview with prof Hettige was very informative, but it has nothing to do with what I’m going to tell you today.
After meeting everyone at the university we had to go to the Grand Oriental Hotel, where Anton Chekhov stayed during his visit in the early 19th century. The hotel has preserved his suite in the exact shape as it was back then (Although they have an LCD TV in the room, which I believe could not have been a part of the interior in the 19th century).
As soon as you enter the lobby you will see a statue of Chekhov to your left, with a memorial plate stating that he had lived in this hotel during his visit. We came up to the receptionist and as soon as we mentioned the word “Chekhov” he readily called a hotel staff and sent us with him to the suite.
As we got out of the elevator, I felt like going back in time. I imagined myself walking through the corridor with Chekhov, who for me is one of the greatest short story writers of all times. we walked through, me and Anton pavelevich talking about his impressions about Ceylon and he very benevolently told me how astonished he was by the beauty of the land and the hospitality and calmness of the people. Talking about all of this we reached the door of his suite and as soon as the door opened I experienced a time jump. I entered the 19th century Grand oriental suite and saw the table where Anton Pavelevich sat writing his story “Guseev” and the bed where he slept in the night and the window through which he looked at the Colombo harbour and the city. I saw the telephone set (which I believe couldn’t have been functional in 1802) on the side table along the bed. I was offered a chair and I sat for a few moments in the company of Chekhov, before I was asked by Wasif to vacate the room so that he could record the interior for the film.


I came out of Chekhov’s room with a heavy heart, because we had to leave and I didn’t know if I would ever see Chekhov again.
As we got out of the hotel it was raining heavily and we were forced to run to the vehicle and cancelling any other planned activities return to our hotel in Negombo.
Coming back to Negombo, we decided to go take a swim in the rain. I mean not bathing in the rain but swimming in the Indian Ocean under the rain. It was a fun experience, because first of all the beach was vacant and secondly the wave height was more than ordinary. It was fun floating on those waves.
After the swim we sat in front of the hotel and ordered King Coconut.

Well it might sound a little too fancy, but in fact it is just an unripe coconut with an opening on top to insert a straw and to drink the coconut milk (which is also refferred to as coconut water). This was the first time for Vera and Wasif to drink this water. Well what Vera thought about the taste is not writtable. Wasif as usual couldn’t gulp anything new.


That evening we decided to take dinner at the hotel and why? Well it was because of the same rain, which did not stop since the day. By the way some words about the rain that I’m mentioning here all the time. Earlier the rainy season started in Sri Lanka in May and ended somewhere in the end of August, rarely extending into September. But now since the 2004 Tsunami there are two rainy seasons. We got stuck with the second rainy season, which starts in the mid of October and goes on till the end of December. So for those of you who want to come to sunny Sri Lanka, the best time is from January to April and then August through early Ocotber. Otherwise you will be forced to sit by the beach under the shade and drink King Coconuts.
Others who prefer a little bit of alcohol instead of coconut water, there is this Lion beer; very local and very strong. The bottle size is 0.63 liters and the real alcohol content is quite different from the one stated on the label.

Lion Beer
Other stronger drink option is the Sri Lankan Coconut Araak (I don’t even know how to classify it. Either it is a rum or a liquor or some sort of coconut vodka). Araak is not expensive and has a good taste. If you will be in Sri Lanka and if you like to check the local alcohol Araak is the best option.
Tomorrow will be a hectic day for us. We are starting out too early and our trip will take us to Kandy, to the tea plantations and then to the Adam’s peak, where we will climb up in the night. Why in the night? Well you’ll have to read my account of the trip to know that.
So Stay with us and enjoy the joy ride!
See you next time with tea.

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