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What! No Cigarettes?
Colombo City as seen from my Hotel Window
Click to zoom!

Not the most comforting of words a compulsive smoker like me wants to hear.

It was close to 11 in the night (my bedtime back home) and here I am in a country I've never been to before, listening to this guy in utter disbelief telling me that they don't sell cigarettes in the duty-free shop because smoking is banned in public places. "When is the next flight back to Bangalore?" I almost asked. "Of course, cigarettes are available in shops," he announced. They better be, I said to myself!

The whole of Sri Lanka must have heard my huge sigh of relief.

Ironically, incoming passengers can't buy cigarettes, but outgoing passengers can. Some consolation. But then, seasoned traveler that I am, I've honed my skills to plan for the unexpected. I had two packs of Benson & Hedges in my suitcase and enough to see me through for the next 2 days at least. I was sure to find a shop somewhere and stock up. I wasn't taking any chances. I found it rather hard to believe that a whole nation, however small, would give up smoking overnight just like that.

Anyway, there was plenty of Scotch to choose from. I picked up a bottle of The Old Grouse and a bottle of Jack Daniels, which also happens to be my wife's favourite. I was tempted to go in for the wine 'Buy-2-get-1-Free' offers, but then, I couldn't imagine myself surviving 4 whole days on just wine alone. I like my stuff hard.

At the exit, my attention was drawn to a man briskly waving a placard with my name on it. Ah! Our transport had arrived. I waved back to the driver in acknowledgement. I changed some money - we needed Sri Lankan Rupees for daily expenses - and wheeled our strolleys towards our cab driver, Amith, who greeted us saying, "Ayubhowan", meaning 'welcome'.

At 11.30 pm we got into the comfortable Toyota for the 45-minute drive to Hotel Global Towers, in Colombo.

Next: Hooray! No pot holes.

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