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Colombo By Night: 8 Hours In The City

Many of us like to think we’ve spent enough days in our city to know it inside out: the complex system of bus routes, the best places to grab a late lunch when you’re almost broke, the quietest spot if you want to be left alone on a weekday evening. But come nightfall, Colombo is a different world altogether. Our photographer, Christian, roamed the city one night, and was able to capture the following scenes and portraits around Colombo, after the roads had cleared and most people had headed home.

22:18 ‒ We started our night in Slave Island, at my friend Firi’s home. We walked around the area for a while and discovered this barbershop. It is apparently quite famous: French filmmakers came here to shoot a documentary film on mustaches a couple of years ago. See if you can spot the photographer in the image.

22:43 ‒ We then met up with one of Firi’s friends, Dasun, a fellow photographer. We decided to take the bus towards Pettah, since we hoped to take some photographs of the nightlife in buses. This idea went south when we discovered that the bus to Pettah is overcrowded even at this time of the night. We got inside nevertheless, and I managed to lift my camera to snap a picture, even though it felt like I was being squished to death.

23:26 ‒ Strolling around Pettah for a while made me realise just how deserted Colombo really is at night. I always knew Colombo wasn’t much of a nightlife city, but seeing the normally bustling streets of Pettah empty like this was a surprise. This guy didn’t seem troubled by the emptiness of the city, and took a nap in a battered old lorry.

23:31 ‒ One thing that kept catching my eye was how the more colourful buildings lit up under the beams of the streetlights. It didn’t bother me anymore that there weren’t many people around.

23:37 ‒ This late at night, the people you’re most likely to spot in Pettah are men at work. You’ll see men unloading goods from lorries and getting ready for another busy day. This young lad stood in the back of the lorry with an almost full moon shining over his head.

23:43 ‒ Or you’ll see security guards, just going around, doing their job.

00:13 ‒ A neon cross glows in the dark and drowns the area in a deep red. I realised right then that I was most inspired by the colours the city unveiled at night.

00:13 ‒ A neon cross glows in the dark and drowns the area in a deep red. I realised right then that I was most inspired by the colours the city unveiled at night.

00:38 ‒ We had been walking for quite a while now, almost three hours, and my “not used to walking anymore” feet had begun to feel the distance, when I looked up and saw this guy grinning down at my weakness.

01:46 ‒ We walked through neighbourhoods unfamiliar to all of us, completely deserted and quiet. I kept stumbling upon houses lit by neon lights that gave the surroundings a surreal look and feel.

02:09 ‒ We decided to take a taxi to change locations, and drove through the city towards Colombo 7. This area was completely dead; not a single soul around, while only occasionally, a car drove by. But it was beautiful to see the empty roads, lined by old trees standing amid complete silence.

03:01 ‒ We continued walking around that area and then decided to move closer to the seaside. A taxi took us to Marine Drive, where I took this photo of Firi’s silhouette.

03:55 ‒ We then walked all the way to the Galle Face Green. Now my feet felt wounded and hurt a lot, but we kept going. We sat on a bench and enjoyed some snacks and a cool drink while watching the waves crash in at the beach. I was feeling super tired and looking forward to my bed, when I spotted this shopkeeper having a smoke long before sunrise.

04:58 ‒ After resting at Galle Face for a while, we decided to return to Pettah, to visit the markets. On the way there we saw men at the old Cargills building, preparing newspapers for distribution.

I was really tired now and feeling slightly disoriented. My eyes were attracted by odd shapes and forms.

06:00 ‒ Finally, dawn. And wonderfully surreal, too. A perfect end to a long night on the streets. Colombo at night was not what I expected, but it is amazing in its own way.

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