Colombo, the capital of the island nation of Sri Lanka, is a quiet, charming city with oceanfront developments offering a variety of architecture from its history colonial past to modern buildings. ‘Kolamba’ means harbour in a native Sri Lankan language. Historical records mention its popularity among ancient international traders for at least two millennia due to its large harbour strategically positioned along the east–west sea trade routes. Visiting Galle Face in Colombo is an excellent way to connect with this Emerald Island of the Indian Ocean. Meaning oceanfront, Galle Face is the favourite recreational place for locals and tourists who flock to it at sunset.
That view from my room at the nearby Ramada Hotel tempted me to get to the waterfront. A walk along the promenade is an unforgettable memory of mingling with the locals. Children flying kites in the adjacent open grounds added colour to the hues of the dusk as the sound of waves hitting the banks gave a rhythm to the relaxed walk. People enjoyed eating cut seasonal fruits like papaya, mangoes, olives, guava and avocadoes from the street cart. An exciting array of seafood, vadai, and other rice and lentil dishes attracted many to the next stall. The port in the vicinity is being expanded with a significant investment from China.
A glance towards the cityscape while sipping the refreshing cinnamon tea at the tea shop revealed a mix of colonial and modern buildings vying to make their presence felt in the prime space of the city. Taj Samudra Hotel combines modernity with traditional architecture, surrounded by lush gardens. Further, construction was in full swing at the new twin tower by ITC, another Indian hotel company. Later learnt from sources that one building will house a luxury five-star hotel with the most oversized rooms in Colombo, and another will have serviced residences when it opens in the third quarter of this year.
I walked back from the harbour, admiring the 19th-century Victorian architecture of the Galle Face Hotel. Across that is the Galle Face tower two, another Victorian structure housing many shops and offices, including the office of Sir Mohammed Macan Marker, on whose name the Galle Face Road is named. Ramada Hotel is just behind this tower. Good banquet space, a cosy garden corner(restaurant), a salon, a gym, a spa and ‘Baked’, The cake shop with a good choice of snacks has made it a popular hangout place for locals and tourists.
The visit to the Christ Church next door the following morning was enjoyable. The nineteenth-century church is well maintained with regular services. On a Colombo city tour after that, the bus passed along the existing twin tower that houses the World Trade Centre. Dutch buildings, remnants of the colonial past, are attractive for their unique architecture and house many public offices and a hospital. Guide John mentioned that the Dutch also built the Khan clock tower in the fort area, older than the Big Ben of London. Pettah market nearby has local shops selling all kinds of goods.
A stop at Independence Square is a must on the Colombo city tour. The red granite memorial built to commemorate the exit of colonial rulers from Sri Lanka in 1948 has fascinating sculptures. Colombo was earlier known as the garden city. Viharamahadevi Park in front of the Town Hall is a testimony. The large park has a giant Buddha statue at the entrance. Fountains, a mini zoo, a children’s play area, and a public library are all part of this park, which also serves as a venue for concerts and public events.
Sri Lanka’s key water sources have been lakes; civilizations depended on and developed around lakes. Beira Lake in the heart of Colombo city is spread over 65 hectares (160 acres). Gangaramaya Temple, situated on this lake, is among the essential temples in Colombo. The 19th-century temple mixes Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. The Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings like the Vihara(temple), the Cetiya (Pagoda), the Bodhi tree, the Seema Malaka (assembly hall for monks) and the Relic Chamber. A museum, library, school and residence for monks are also on the premises.
Sri Kailawasanathar Swami Devasthanam is an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to two significant deities: ‘ Lord Ganesha’ and ‘Lord Shiva’. The temple comes alive with the festivities of Thai Pongal, an annual harvest festival.
Sri Lanka has many common traits with India, and Ayurveda is one of those. I checked on Siddhalepa Spa in Colombo 7 to experience Sri Lanka’s version of Ayurweda. Apart from spelling the word with a ‘w’ and a few different names for oil and herb extracts used for my massage, much of the technique is similar to the Indian version of the traditional healing system. Siddhalepa Spa will complete 90 years of service next year and runs other spas at Mount Lavinia, Shangri La Hotel in Hambantota, the business class lounge of Srilankan Airlines and four European cities.
Colombo, a safe city for visitors, has interesting nightlife too. The imposing Lotus Tower, the tallest building in Sri Lanka at 356m height, is open 24 hours a day. The tower, serving as a house for television and radio stations, has an observation deck from where visitors can watch a bird’s view of the city. It also houses a telecommunication museum, a hotel, and a revolving fine-dining restaurant. The new attraction is visible everywhere in Colombo, especially with its changing incandescent hues at night.
There are seven casinos in Colombo. A group of lady writers tried the evening out at Bally’s casino after an early dinner. They have pick-up and drop-off facilities from many hotels in the city. A plastic card was issued after verifying the ID proof at the entry. Once inside, one can top it up with cash to play jackpot games or purchase table tokens. The vast hall was packed inside on the weekend. At Bally’s, an interesting feature is that online gamers can virtually participate on live tables. A Bollywood actress sang popular songs from Hindi cinema at the entertainment corner. Some Indian tourists had travelled just to try their luck at the casino. Hence, casinos in Colombo package tours that include airfare stay and game coupons.
The Indian Ocean Island of Sri Lanka has 20 prominent lagoons along 1338 kms of its coastline. Colombo’s neighbouring Negombo lagoon, famous for freshly caught seafood, is also included on every tourist’s itinerary for its beach resorts, tourist vibe and proximity to the international airport.
Getting there: Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka and is connected internationally through Bandaranaike International Airport, which is situated 35 kilometres away, near Negombo. A new Terminal is under construction at the airport.
Accommodation: Colombo has many star-category hotels, including homegrown Cinnamon and Shangri La hotels. Budget accommodation in terms of homestays and hostels is available too.
Local transport: Autorickshaws or tuk-tuks are a popular mode of travel. Tourist taxis are also available for travel within the city and to other attractions in the country.
Tours: Colombo is the base for touring historical and religious central Sri Lanka, the tea valleys of the South or the beautiful white sand beaches of Eastern and Northern provinces. All these can be reached within 3 to 5 hours of road journey.
Shopping: Exclusive shopping in Sri Lanka includes traditional masks and other artifacts, tea, porcelain, cinnamon and spices.
Written By: Madhura Katti
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