Thursday 30th November – Sunday 3rd December: Colombo

When heading to a new country, it’s always advisable to check the weather. Turned out we arrived in Colombo at the tail end of an unseasonable and highly unusual cyclone, so we were greeted by monsoon-style rain. Luckily we’d already organised a driver to bring us to the delightful Taru Villas Lake Lodge, so by midnight we were installed in our huge room and shortly afterwards fast asleep to the sound of ribbiting frogs.

By lunchtime the next day the torrential rain had stopped for a while so we ventured out for a walk nearby, around the local park housing several museums, then along the sea-front, or at least as close as we could get to it given the vast amount of high-end, high-rise hotels and apartment buildings being built. One notably high-rise building was a Grand Hyatt hotel, not yet completed, that we later found to be somewhat controversial.

A great deal of Chinese investment was also apparent, and the discomfort of many local people about this was made apparent to us at various points on our subsequent travels. Overall there was a feeling in Colombo that it’s trying to become another Singapore, but that the benefits of doing so would be heavily skewed towards a small number of people and external investors.

As the rain was starting again we took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, and decided to dine there. This was an excellent choice:

The hotel itself really was very beautiful; a colonial-style building decorated with a modern, minimal taste – polished concrete is presumably a very practical choice in a humid climate, and looks great when softened with more traditional furnishings:

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Hotel transport

The hotel itself was next to a local playing field, where we watched various games of cricket, rugby and football taking place in the somewhat boggy grounds (hover for caption):

A visit to the local – and somewhat famous – Gangaramaya temple was interesting if a little baffling. There was an impressive reclining Buddha, a white jade carved stupa and a huge and rather lovely Bo tree; – so far, so temple-y – but the weird thing was the ‘museum’.

It was billed as ‘Spreading to several halls, the impressive collection of Gangaramaya has been added to through generations. Every nook and cranny and inch of wall is occupied: Buddha statues, intricate wood or ivory carvings, valuable furniture, curios, a separate section of ola leaf writings, inscriptions and extremely rare vintage cars.’

This was certainly true, but what wasn’t clear is WHY?? Nothing was labelled, indeed there seemed to be no curation whatsoever, just a series of jam-packed glass cabinets filled with what could have been priceless watches, jewellery, old cameras etc or could equally have been a load of old junk.

Likewise the car collection; several old models of Rolls Royce, Jaguar and ancient Mercs (and goodness knows what else as it was impossible to see them properly given how they were stuffed into the ‘museum’), rotting away under a leaky roof, with no care taken of the paintwork, bodywork or upholstery. A peculiar and very disappointing waste of beautiful and apparently ‘extremely rare’ engineering. One wonders why, if all these things are so valuable, they are stuck mouldering away in a temple ‘museum’ when they could be sold to collectors and the money used to help the needy.

The nearby lake was more interesting – clearly this was something of a gentrifying neighbourhood as the lake had been – more or less – cleaned, and had a walking path around it populated by ducks, geese, a turkey (!) assorted dogs and cats, and monitor lizards: (hover for captions)

Anyway, it was lunchtime, so off we headed to what is apparently a classic weekend lunch spot, the Ministry of Crab:

Messy but fun and very tasty!

As we had to collect our various onward travel train tickets pre-booked through Visit Sri Lanka we took a tuk-tuk to Fort/Pettah station. The picking up process was surprisingly easy, so we then meandered through the narrow streets of Pettah Market in an attempt to find the Dutch Period Museum, which turned out to be closed for refurbishment. Instead we headed to the Pettah ‘floating market’, which turned out to be a somewhat dreary place.

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Sad stalls. Stinky lake. Water tower in the background.

Apparently set up as a re-location of the current market street hawkers, it clearly wasn’t working;  more than half the units were empty, the lagoon upon which the market pontoons ‘floated’ was foul and the fountains long-dead. The whole place had an air of melancholy which was somewhat lifted by the sign for ‘Sawn boat rides’:

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Sunday was our last day and we had planned to spend it going to the nearby National Museum and possibly the National Art Gallery nearby. We were foiled however by it being a ‘Poya‘ day, so there was nothing else to do but chill out in our lovely hotel, then go for a massage at Spa Ceylon (clearly godless heathens being open on a Poya day!) then for an excellent dinner at new pan-Asian restaurant ‘Monsoon‘ in nearby Park Street Mews.

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