Pettah market was quieter than I expected, but it was Sunday. Although described as one of the top ten things to do in Colombo, I was the only tourist there; the only white person there; the only European woman there; and yet I felt somehow at home and certainly not nervous. It is how you imagine an Indian or Sri Lankan market to be, only cleaner and calmer. Outside the station, as I cross to enter the streets of Pettah a man approaches me. I respond politely to his questions, but as he continues to follow me, I am forced to vigorously ignore him. He gets the message and disappears. This is not a market for tourists. The shops and street vendors sell ordinary everyday things. Despite this area being a predominantly Muslim pocket in the surrounding Buddhism, there is a plethora of bright red plastic Santa’s for sale and Christmas trees incongruously next to coconuts.
While I photograph the Hindu kovil another man approaches. Anthony, the Buddhist, is older, more friendly. Jet-lag prevents me from immediately realising he wants money, but he seems harmless. He offers to take me to a nearby mosque. I let him and take photos at the request of his friend the caretaker, though the inside is not particularly photogenic. He takes me to the Old Town Hall, but then I must ask him to leave – I want to explore on my own, to take in all the sights and smells without interruption; to just wander.
Soon the humidity is too much. I take a tuk tuk back to the hotel’s air-conditioned coolness.