Colombo’s glitterati, its movers and shakers, have a new home till the middle of next week – ‘Little England,’ the hill station of Nuwara Eliya (meaning City of Lights).
So named because the British discovered and developed it in the early 18th century, the upper strata of Sri Lankans have taken to the place, just as their British rulers did. During the season, which just began, the whole hill town transforms itself to a big market place – and the narrow roads hardly cope.
Vehicles jostle to move and lurk around for a parking slot, their engines running and its occupants watching eagle-eyed to spot a vehicle that might vacate a slot, assorted shops that just prop up for the season occupy all pavement space and jut on to the roads, in-your-face marketing armies way-lay people and their vehicles with offers of freebies, and pedestrians, beggars, and inebriated holiday makers, make their aimless way in search of their aims.
The partying began as early as Wednesday, which was the last working day for many in both the public and private sectors. In Sri Lanka, the day ahead of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is also a holiday. And, most establishments open on April 18, rounding off a week of holidays for the ‘Aluth Avurudu’ (New Year) season.
The holidaying suits the well-heeled for many reasons: In any case, most Sri Lankans would not work during the New Year. Everyone heads home, and Colombo almost shuts down. In fact, it is not unusual to see super-market retail chains – the ones that normally are open from early morning to 11 pm – down their shutters at any other time of the year. Domestic helps, drivers, maids and workers from abroad, white and blue collar job holders – all head home ahead of the New Year.
Also, Colombo gets very warm in April. Though periodic showers bring down the temperatures, the mercury shoots up again the next day and hovers around the 40 deg C mark. Yet another reason for the mass migration to the cooler climate is the horse racing in the hill town, in the Race Course, founded in 1875. The racing comes with quite a bit of paraphernalia – assorted parties, fashion shows, and other revelry. There is also the well-maintained Golf Club, founded in 1889. The water hazards are actual streams and rivers, and these are obstacles on the journey to six holes. Plus, the glitterati are not out of touch since everyone that matters in the establishment and out of it are in the hill town.
But there are some in the city who would rather not drive up the winding A-5 to get to Nuwara Eliya. “It’s finally the same crowd. You end up meeting the same people, in almost the same kind of parties. Only the setting is different,” said one entrepreneur, who did not want to be named for fear of being chided by his friends. “I went for a few years. Each time, I had to come back and take a holiday!”