Pamela MacNaughtan

It’s been raining on and off today, but that hasn’t stopped me from climbing into a metered tuk tuk, in search of a local fruit and vegetable market in Pettah.

Pettah is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Colombo. The buildings are worn, and crumbling (as they are in many parts of the city). Most of the buildings are a dirty cream colour, or a grimy grey, however, there are occasional splashes of colour, then have also become grubby-looking over time.  This is a common sight in not just Sri Lanka, but many third world countries. Cities and towns that are old, and worn.

Sometimes I wish I could place my ear against the rough, dirty, worn walls, and listen as the building told me the tale of its life. History is one of my obsessions, which is probably why I find places like Colombo intriguing. When I’m given the option or exploring a posh neighborhood, or a worn-out area, I’ll pick the worn out area every time. Which is why I wanted to go to Pettah.

Finding a local place, where there are no other foreigners to be found, can be hard. It seems as though you always see at least two or more other people milling around. Finding ‘untouched’ places is like finding the holy grail of travel. Today, I found one of those places.

I asked my tuk tuk driver to take me to a fruit and vegetable market in Pettah. I wanted to get a taste of local life in Colombo, and not the kind of local life that lives inside a grocery store. I wanted a market. An outdoor market where locals buy, trade, and sell fresh fruit and vegetables. Life. The life of a country can be found in its local markets.

As the tuk tuk drove off the main street, and into a crowded market, my skin began to tingle. This is exactly what I wanted. 


I climbed out of the tuk tuk, and onto the slick, uneven cobblestone road. I took a moment to look around, my eyes jumping from stall to stall, and a smile slowly stretching across my face. I grabbed my camera and walked to the left, chatting with locals, taking photos, and ignoring the stares (and occasional leers).

After a few minutes, my tuk tuk driver Ruwan joined me. I wasn’t expecting him to show up, but I was glad he did. While I was at the market I decided to buy some fresh spices for the refugee families in Bangkok, and Ruwan helped negotiate the prices for me.

With spices in hand, Ruwan and I walked down the street lined with tuk tuks on one side, and trucks carrying sacks of fresh limes on the other side. As we walked I spotted piles of fresh ginger on the ground, and an old wooden table holding a rusty scale. I bought a large piece, and then followed Ruwan into the building.

The hallway was small. There were dirty white sheets on the ground, covered with towers of fresh limes, and male vendors sat on small stools. I smiled and ignored the comments as we walked into an open room. The floor was dirty, wet, damaged cobblestone. The walls were painted lime green and were dirty and worn. On the floor were sections of dirty sheets, with piles of fresh vegetables on top. Carrots, eggplant, peppers, cucumber, and limes. It was an odd mix. The building was old and worn, yet it had the refreshing smell of fresh limes.

I could have spent hours walking around and photographing this market.

My first day in Colombo was hard and frustrating, but as time has passed, I’ve learned to ignore the stares, leers, and comments. I’ve brushed it all aside, and I’ve learned to look beyond the superficial.

Colombo is a strange city, with little to no nightlife, or entertainment options. Police are everywhere, as are the military, and the drivers are insane (I need to write about this in a separate post).

Colombo does have several temples, the Indian Ocean, and neighborhoods that are worth a visit. Colombo has culture and plenty of history. Visiting Colombo is like my first visit to China. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone and forced to look at things in a new light. It’s a good thing – although I would have never admitted this on my first day here.



  • jeffery

    August 21, 2012

    hi, thanks for the comments. it was sure pleasure to read your article. i too like to see the other side of colombo rather than the concrete jungle. i will be going thre on 7/9/2012 for 4 days. if u have any guide articles to colombo i would apprciate. i plan to stay at the westeern hotel. any comments ?


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