Please come with us to the Police Station
'Tourist Guide Lecturer - Ceylon Tourist Board' was the designation printed on Priyantha Ratnayake's business card. He was also a partner of sorts in an outfit called 'Rail Tours', which he explained isn't confined to just rail tours, but tours by road as well. We went into his office located in the Railway Station building.
Actually, my face lit up when he said he conducted rail tours and was hoping he'd be able to manage two tickets in the 'Observatory Class' to Kandy. "That can be arranged," he said rather confidently. He picked up the phone and spoke with someone in Sinhalese. "Sorry! All seats are booked". Tell me something new.
Instead, he suggested, why not drive to Galle and Kandy? He took a piece of paper and scribbled some quick arithmetic. "I'll give you each trip at 9000 rupees, to and fro with some local sightseeing included". Hmmm, interesting! The hotel travel desk's price was astronomical compared to the Tourist Guide Lecturer's offer of 36 rupees a kilometer.
"Done," I said after satisfying myself that there wasn't any Catch-22 anywhere, no fine print that I'd missed out on. Pick up time was fixed at 8 am and we'd do the Galle trip first, followed by Kandy on Monday. He accepted 60 USD as an advance and asked for the balance to be settled in Sri Lankan rupees at the end of the trip, to which I agreed.
We left his office and decided to walk the short distance to a seafood restaurant suggested by Priyantha that served authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.
By now the sun was beating down hot. Half-a-kilometer ahead was that seafood place, hopefully air conditioned and I was eagerly looking forward to a chilled glass of Carlsberg. I had my Olympus and Canon cameras slung around me and as is customary with me on trips to new places, I started shooting pictures of the roads, buildings, much to the amazement of passersby, people at bus stops and people from within buses. Inspired by this large fan-following, I climbed up a dilapidated bridge and took pictures of the Hilton Hotel and two nearby buildings that closely resembled the now destroyed twin towers of the World Trade Centre.
Mission accomplished, I walked down the rickety staircase, and there were these two men standing at the foot of the bridge. More fan-following, I thought. Something about their looks made me skip a heart beat. The guy in civilian dress was fine, but what's the younger chap doing in a police uniform?
"This is a high-security zone and photography is prohibited. Please come with us," ordered the man in mufti and led us away to the police station across the road.
Yikes! What did I get myself into?
Next: Which Prison Cell will be mine?