We have already started out on our three country visit, with Colombo, Sri Lanka, being the first destination. We left from Jinnah International Airport, Karachi and I’m not going to tell you the stories of our adventures at the Lahore airport first and then at Karachi. Let’s save this for another day!
As soon as we left the lounge at Jinnah International Airport and reached the Airbus A320 operated by Sri Lankan Airlines, we were pleasantly surprised. To tell you the truth this was the first time for me after 20 years to fly by a Sri Lankan carrier. The last time I flew it was called Air Lanka and it had a very little of something to boast of. But not this time!
We had bought a great deal, where we got ticket out of Pakistan to Sri Lanka and then to Singapore and back for around 600US$ (approximate prices). Considering the distance that we would fly and the low price, I expected something of an average service. I did not look forward to entering a well-kept plane and a squeaking fuselage machine would had been great for this amount of money.
But what I saw were leather covered seats in economy class. Yes I’m not exaggerating anything it was grey leather all over the place. The boys and girls of the cabin crew were nicely dressed and their initial contact gave a hint of courtesy. Boarding was swift and on time, despite the fact that it was handled by ground crew from Karachi.
Now the Sri Lankans decided to crush us with surprises. As soon as the service started all of us were taken a back with surprise when we saw real glass instead of those disposable plastic cheap things on the trays. Then we discovered that we had real silver instead of plastic spoons and knives. And that was not it. They were serving free wine and beer. Some airlines do serve free beer in the economy class, but beer + wine at the rate of a highly discounted flight; that was something.
Well to tell you the truth, I readily told the steward that I liked their beer and he made sure to keep it flowing till we landed. Beer was not the only thing that he provided us. When we told him that we were going to Colombo and to Sri Lanka in general to shoot a material about multi-ethnic social structure of the country, he spilled out so much information, marking places on the map and telling us about the places of interest that I even thought that we didn’t need to go anywhere. That’s how nicely he explained everything.
Well if you are in Pakistan and flying out towards the South-East or Far-East, make use of the great service at a very low rate, provided by Sri Lankan Airlines. Contact your travel agent today to get the best rate.
Now it seems too good to be true and my fantasies were initially shattered as soon as we landed at Bandaranayke International Airport, Colombo. I learned my first expression of Sri Lankan bureaucracy as soon as I reached the immigration counter. One of the passports was not machine readable, so when the immigration officer got to that passport, he said: “Oh this is a problem. But don’t worry I’ll help you, you help me?” I did not get the real idea of this expression until he repeated once again when another of the passports in our team was not read by the scanner. He again said: “I help you. You help me”. This time I understood what type of help he wanted from me. Well as soon as the whole party went past the immigration counter I helped the immigration officer. So be prepared that Sri Lanka is just another country with all the pros and cons of any society.
Coming out through the Customs control, we understood that although this airport is also referred to as Colombo International Airport, it has nothing to do with Colombo. It is not at all in Colombo. It is somewhere near Negombo, which is about 40 kms North of Colombo. So we decided to not go to Colombo and find ourselves a place to stay in Negombo. We checked with different hotel booking counters and to our great regret, people operating airport outlets, take arriving passengers as stupid souls who can be ripped-off easily.
We spent more than 1 hour going from counter to counter (there are 7-8 counters on one side), before I went up to the taxi office and asked the manager there to get us a taxi to go to Negombo center. He asked where exactly we wanted to go and when I told him that getting to the center we will find a place to live. He offered to help us out and we accepted his offer. He helped us find the number of rooms that we needed at a good price.
Well if you are planning to come here and you don’t know where to stay, your best option is airbnb.com. Best option is to get a B&B, because everything else is expensive. If you don’t want to make online payments, then your best shot would be to either contact the same person I contacted at the airport or to just take a taxi and go to Negombo center to find yourselves a hotel or a guest house. If you want to head straight towards Colombo, mount Lavinia is the place you want to go. Once again Colombo is tricky. Mount Lavinia is Colombo but it is south of the city center.
If you are looking for beaches only, then you should head for Galle and further east along the coast, say to Hambantota. Beaches in Colombo, Negombo and the adjacent areas are not very clean, but not hazardous. So you can take a swim, but you can have real beach fun in the south. I post details as we get there!
Before I leave you till the next article, just want to remind you that Sri Lankans also try to sell commodities at a higher rate to foreigners, so be ready to negotiate softly, unless you don’t have a tight budget or any budget at all!
Keep visiting us and stay up-to-date regarding our progress. We’ll bring you more of Sri Lankan society, as this is our main task, but we will give you a glimpse of the country and tourist attractions as well. Stay with us to see it all!