EDITOR'S NOTE: The day after Sri Lankan won the T20 World Cup, we're publishing this piece on the lengths Sri Lankan fans go through for cricket. The story is partly, that, but also about the accompanying piece on How To Get To Kandy, part of our series helping you get around the whole island.
Go to work in the morning, leave to Kandy in the afternoon, watch a cricket match in the evening and be back in time for work the next day using only public transport? It’s possible. Tiring, a little uncomfortable and far from luxurious, but possible.
Timing is everything. So planning everything less than 24 hours before the match starts is really not advisable. If you have any common sense, you would’ve planned all this well in advance. We were extremely lucky to have still gotten tickets for both the train and the match. Speaking of which, how exactly do you get to Pallekelle? Never been.
Match day. The intercity express leaves at 3:35 PM. Though we only started moving towards Fort with 15 minutes to spare, giving us enough reason to panic. Surely, we must’ve forgotten something in the chaos.
Halfway to Kandy, we hear that the match had been delayed by rain. The good news? There’s more of the match for us to watch. The bad news? No umbrella. Totally didn’t see the rain coming. Oh and, we realised what we forgot – accommodation. No worries, we’ll improvise. We reached a very wet Kandy at 6:00 PM. There was still a slight drizzle, but the match was back on.
Trying to say Pallekelle properly in heavily-accented Sinhala is a challenge. Somehow, our tuk driver understood us and so, with the sudden confidence boost gained from speaking the language, we went on to negotiate price. We happily hopped in the three-wheeler thinking we agreed on Rs. 400. Turns out we agreed on Rs. 800. Just imagine the look on the tuk driver’s face when we only gave him half the money and started walking off.
Pallekelle International Stadium is about 15km away from the centre of Kandy. The road is hilly and at night, rather chilly. It’s also quite dark, with lights only from roadside kadés and oncoming traffic, until about a kilometre or two away from the stadium where you can see the floodlights lighting up the night sky.
The stadium was empty. We pretty much had a whole section to ourselves, so taking up more than one seat wasn’t an issue. One of us managed to fall asleep next to a loudspeaker. That’s how tired we already were. Sri Lanka lost the match in the end. No hard feelings though. Thankfully, the tuk drivers shared the same sentiment and didn’t decide to run off somewhere to drown their sorrows so getting back to town wasn’t an issue.
At 11:30 PM, Kandy is a ghost town. Seriously, the whole city is completely shut. The only signs of life are the cops on the street, the occasional long distance bus and a Bank of Ceylon ATM playing some hauntingly happy music. We must’ve done about 3 rounds of the city, walking down every street before our bodies slowly started shutting down. Now when I say the whole city was shut, I mean the whole city. Even the hotels and pharmacies had their lights out. We walked into Queens Hotel to find the lobby shrouded in complete darkness with a few people chatting in the shadows and only one light switched on at the reception. The staff on duty wasn’t able to give us a room for only a couple of hours. That would've set us back Rs. 7000 and therefore, that never happened. A midnight post-match discussion was held to pass the time instead.
By 1:00 AM, all attempts to find some form of accommodation were futile. So we improvised and made our way to the railway station. There was a train back to Colombo at 2:30 AM, but we made the mistake of booking the next one nearly 3 hours later. Passengers waiting for their trains seemed to have invaded the entire station, sleeping on benches and mats on the floor, etc. With no place to go and nothing to do, we didn’t have any of those luxuries. So we began to make ourselves comfortable. We dropped our bags on the front stairs to use as pillows, lay down on the floor, laughed at our predicament and miraculously managed to fall asleep despite the swarm of mosquitos from the rain. Naturally, we didn’t get enough sleep as we would’ve hoped nor did we sleep well. We were back up by 4:30 AM in an absolute state of disorder – hair in a mess, covered in mosquito bites and clothes reeking of things we couldn’t even imagine. After freshening up in the canteen upstairs, we waited impatiently to run into the empty train. The man who sat next me had seen me in the cricket kit I was wearing from the day before and asked if I came to watch the match. In my broken Sinhala, I explained how we came from Colombo the evening before. Turns out, he was one of the many others who make the journey on a daily basis. But that’s all I remember. From that point on, we were knocked out - all the way back to Colombo.
We were back in the city by 8:30 AM, exhausted and worn-out. All in all, the entire journey took about 15 hours. But it was a weekday, meaning I still had to rush home, clean up and make myself presentable for work. I was an hour late, but hey – not bad, right? And just when we thought the adventure stopped there, about 24 hours later, we were at the foot of Adam’s Peak. True story.