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Chambers at Large on the Roads of Sri Lanka

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

I spent many hours on the road whilst exploring Sri Lanka, but thankfully I was being driven, which meant I could sit back and enjoy the scenery and whatever else happened by.

There are good toll roads crossing the country, which are beautifully adorned with pretty flowers and I noticed few of the neighbouring fields are wasted. There are rice paddies, thousands of coconut trees, rubber trees and palm trees; trees in abundance, reminding me that I need to plant more on my return home.

The countryside is glorious, luscious shades of green dotted sporadically with colourful fruit and vegetable stalls. There are also stalls selling local wares, such as basket weaving, pottery and other crafts. Houses are hidden within the foliage and are not overly large. One or two storeys. The red roof tops are quite striking in amongst the verdant greenery.

There are waterfalls to be seen, glorious tea plantations, hilltop views, wonderful buildings and bustling streets in towns and villages. Not forgetting the fabulous Buddhist stupas, Hindu temples and clocktowers everywhere.

As at home, cars drive on the left, but after that it’s every man (or woman) for themselves! The rules of the road, the Highway Code, or the Driver’s Manual, all go out of the window. The rule of the traffic jungle seems to be: whatever is the biggest vehicle in the vicinity at the time has the right of way. Therefore everyone keeps out of the way of lorries and buses, then comes cars, followed by tuk-tuks, and finally motor-scooters. My tuk-tuk ride to Richmond Castle was a little uncomfortable, but it’s a cheap way to travel short distances. I was happier in an air-conditioned minibus or car for longer journeys.

It's best to avoid pedestrians as well, but nobody seems to run across the road or hastily dodge traffic. A parade of school children were walking down the middle of the road on the morning I went to Yala, but many pedestrians amble along the roadway, taking their time. Traffic slows or simply moves to one side to avoid hitting anyone. There are zebra crossings but don’t expect traffic to stop just because somebody is on one. Thinking about it, traffic rarely stops, vehicles just keep on moving at varying rates of speed and people jump off slow moving buses.

Roundabouts do not mean giving way to traffic already on them. The rule of the traffic jungle applies to them and any junctions without traffic lights. In fact, I’m surprised drivers actually obey traffic lights, but there are lights counting down how long a vehicle will have to remain stationary before the lights change!


And then there are the animals…

Dogs are expected to guard their owner’s property and, as far as I could see, they did so with an iron will. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to encroach on their (or their master’s) land! My driver humorously called them “gangstas” as they absolutely refused to give up their territory and if the left hand lane was theirs, they would NOT move. It was therefore necessary to swerve to avoid hitting them too!

What was most striking were the road signs written in three languages: Sinhala, Tamil and English and on one toll road I noticed yellow signs warning of the danger of peacocks. And indeed every so often a peacock was in the centre of the road, causing my driver to slow, beep the horn, and pray that the bird moved out of the way. In fairness, the peacocks moved, not like the “gangsta” dogs.

Drivers were not warned to avoid Monitor lizards who wander onto the road at a striking pace (pardon the pun) as they unfortunately fall victim to fast cars. I saw several crossing the road without a care just making it to the other side, but one lay dead in the left hand lane of the toll road.

Cows chew the vegetation on the roadside too, but they seems to have more road sense than any other animal, sticking to the grass and they rarely wander onto the tarmac! (I guess because it’s unpalatable!)

Domestic buffalo make their way onto the roadside too in order to eat the vegetation, but they were corralled between the steel barriers and like the cattle kept on the grass.

My first sight of an elephant was on the road from Colombo to Kandy, a working beast plodding along the road with its master. (Apologies for the poor photograph but I excitedly took it through the windscreen of the car!)

Monkeys (or more accurately macaques) can be seen on the roadside too, but usually in the trees. One of two may cross the road, but drivers merely swerve to avoid them too.

Travelling by road proved to be an adventure all by itself in Sri Lanka and I’m only glad I wasn’t behind the wheel. I’d have been a danger, and wouldn’t have seen as much as I did. Thanks to Neel, Harin and all my drivers. Congratulations on a job well done!


***


My journey through Sri Lanka was AMAZING. I'd recommend anyone to go. Well worth a visit. Please click on the links to learn more about my three week stay.






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Fascinating to see all the animals on your visit! I am glad to know you had a driver….both for your safety and for the fact that it allowed you to take all those photos you posted.

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