The sun began to set and the crowd moved as one to the ocean view. The drinks were momentarily abandoned and despite the hazy evening, everyone was determined to capture their first Sri Lankan sunset. Apart from the city rushing past our mini bus windows on the drive from the airport, this was our first roof top view of Colombo.
As the sun sank below the horizon we sauntered back to our high stools, swopping travel stories and renewing friendships (this was a bloggers press trip). The bar lit up as the sunlight faded and the music kept time with our rapid conversations. Canapés arrived and we relearned everyone’s food quirks as we had our first taste of Sri Lanka.
The following day we stepped into the early morning sunshine and back in time. The open top, snub nosed World War 2 Jeeps lined up in the hotel drive were to be our intro to Colombo and its myriad of sites. Menacingly black, sleek and beautifully refurbished, we slid along the bench seats facing each other along the back of the vehicle. Setting off in our flamboyant convoy to be immersed in an unfamiliar city.
With Mosques, Christian Churches and Hindu and Buddhist Temples sitting side by side, this is not a nation divided by religion but one of friendly tolerance. We passed the striking red and white brick work of the Jami Ul Alfar Mosque, the calm blue serenity of the St Peter’s church and the incredible Old Kathiesan Kovil with its Pyramid roof clustered with Hindu deities in a profusion of colours.
Arriving at Independence Memorial hall, commemorating independence from Britain in 1948, we jumped from our jeeps to take advantage of the buildings open sides, which let a gentle breeze break through the increasing heat and meandered through the corridors created by the carved pink stone pillars.
After fifteen minutes our convoy set off for Viharamahadevi Park and the huge golden seated buddha and then on to the replica of the Aukana Buddha, a standing statue in grey stone. Both peaceful and contemplative places.
The sun was now quite high and the early morning advantage of the open vehicles was starting to feel exposed. We stopped for refreshing coconut water at a roadside stand, the vendor hurriedly hacking at the orange orbs to get us all quick refreshments as we sheltered under the trees. We watched in fascination as the seller wielded the machete startlingly close to his palm, deftly slicing the outer casing from the coconut, handing each one over with a brightly coloured straw in the top.
We set off again for Pettah Market. The architect designed buildings of the business district giving way to corrugated canopies and a plethora of signage, like flags at a festival decorating the rudimentary buildings. A faded blue Nokia hoarding, a multicoloured Buy One Get One Free, textile traders and IT centres, all vying for colour with the large faded parasols and the flash of bright checks in the men’s dhoti. We turned into the narrow market street, basking in the shade of the ramshackle buildings, slowing to walking pace, taking in the atmosphere whilst the locals waved and smiled trying to entice us out of our cars to take a closer look at their stalls. Despite being a tourist destination this is also real Sri Lankan life, this is where saris, bed sheets, pots and pans and mobile phones are bought, but also gems of gifts to take home.
Bursting from the shade we made our way back to the hotel in traffic that staggered along in an organised muddle; cars coming from every direction as if working on some local secret code to avoid colliding. We arrived back safely, if now a little hot and dusty, said goodbye to our guides and wonderful transport and took off to relax by the pool.
This had been a perfect introduction to Colombo, the sights, sounds and smells of a city.
I was the guest of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. All flights, transfers, excursions, food and drink were included. All opinions are my own and I wasn’t paid to write this post. I would like to thank Udara and Arunoda from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau for organising our trip.
Whilst in Colombo I stayed at The Kingsbury Hotel
Our tour of Colombo was with Colombo By Jeep
I flew to Colombo on Emirates via Dubai