Web Analytics

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


By PN Sampath Kumar
Concluding Part

Our stay in Colombo was taken care of by the Colombo Dock Yard. The Guest Relations officer of the Guest House helped us immensely in chalking out the trip.

Colombo has traditionally been one of the major commercial hubs in the sub continent from at least mid 19th to mid 20th Century which has attracted professionals from all over the places including India. Colombo has a rich maritime tradition; the tea, cinnamon and other spices from this land are even now very much sought after all over the world.

Colombo City Road drenched in rain
Colombo Railway Station
Current day Colombo is a modern city trying to regain its glorious past. There is a sigh of relief among the Sri Lankan people at the end of the internal conflicts. At last peace is returning back. Under a proper leadership, this land has the potential even to overtake Singapore in the very near future.

Colombo is the best place to shop items like gems (sapphire is mined from a place called ‘Ratnapura’) and readymade clothes. Sri Lankan tea, painted masks and batik works are also in high demand. Though coconut is a local produce, costs SL Rs.45/- (Indian equivalent of around IN Rs20, which is high by the Indian standards). Similar is the case with locally cultivated vegetables, rice and pulses.
Coconuts on sale
Masks displayed in a shop
Galle face hotel
Slave Island Area
“Peta” is the main market place where one can bargain  any item under the sun. There are good shopping malls which are relatively costly. Galle Face Road is the business centre and the beach on one side of it is the weekend escape for the families. National Flag is hoisted here. This is where the major hotels (including our TAJ Samudra) are located and also most attacked place in Colombo by the extremist elements. Adjacent to this is the “Cinnamon Gardens” the posh residential area. Places like Slave island are home for government and commercial offices.
Lord Ganesha kept inside the Monastery worshipped by Buddhists
Ganga Ramaya Monastery

Murugan (Karthikeya) temple
Colombo is the home for the Ganga Ramaiya Buddha Vihara, a Buddhist monastery, a couple of famous Hindu Temples dedicated to Kartik and Shiva, a mosque and a Portuguese church.

Sri Lanka has a number of world class beaches. Selecting a couple of beaches to visit during a short visit is difficult as there are quite a number of them to choose from. We took the coastal route through the west coast to reach  Galle, the southern most point in Sri Lanka. The railway and road go side by side and was pleasure watching sea on our right throughout.

Sea on our right while going
In between, we passed through a village (in the sea coast) of carpenters specialised in making Sri Lankan Furniture. They still make those wooden easy chairs and rocking chairs which has market all over the world. These carpenters are excellent artisans who also made excellent masks and craftwork. En route near Hikkaduwa beach, we visited one mask museum  dedicated to promote the works of the artisans.
Masks Museum

Hikkaduwa beach
Hikkaduwa beach is one of the famous tourist destinations around 60 miles south of Colombo. It was about 10 am in the morning, the most horrible time possibly to visit a beach. The sudden rain added to the spoilsport. No wonder, the beach was deserted.

We ran into a building, having “Hikkaduwa Diving School” written on top. The inhabitants there offered us to take to sea to show us the famous coral gardens and the underwater world. We readily accepted in exchange of SL Rs. 1500/-, which according to our driver was a good deal.

A couple of Kilometres into the sea, has in stock the most beautiful views of the underwater life. We get a good view of the underwater life through the glass bottom of the boat. It was fascinating to watch flower like corals in different designs (cabbage coral is one of them) and shapes and the multi coloured fishes swimming in group. I found it difficult balance myself to take proper photographs. Sea was rough. We turned down his offer to take us to go further to watch dolphins.

The effect of dreaded Tsunami would have been even more severe had there been no Coral reefs in the coastal sea. Incidentally, it was in Hikkaduwa, the devastating tsunami overwhelmed a passenger train killing some 1,500 passengers.

Half an hours journey from Hikkaduwa brought us to Galle. This town is also known for the devastating Tsunami which killed thousands. Galle is a decent town having Railway station and a good Cricket Ground (international cricket is played here). Portuguese and later Dutch built Fort and maintained their control over here. Ruins of the Fort and a functioning light house are the major attractions. The town and the antique shops resembled our own Fort Cochin Area. Yes, both the places are sharing similar history. Galle was the ancient seaport. Cinnamon is said to have been exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC.
Galle Fort gate
An Old Building inside the Fort
Galle Fort
A Lane inside the fort
A Light House at the Southern Tip
The "modern" history of Galle starts in 1505, when the first Portuguese ship was driven there by a storm. However, the people of the city refused to let the Portuguese enter it, so the Portuguese took it by force. In 1640, the Portuguese had to surrender to the Dutch. The Dutch built the present Fort in the year 1663. They built three bastions, known as "Sun", "Moon" and "Star". The British took over the country from the Dutch and preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of Galle.
Unawatuna Beach
Three miles further south East is one of the 12 best beaches in the world (at least that is what they claim this to be). “Unawatuna”, the 4km expanse of palm-fringed sand is a paradise for all those who enjoy the silence of the sea and dive deep into the blue waters of the ocean. There is a reef protecting the beach, which makes it perfectly a safe haven for bathing. Other major attractions of this southern beach include shallow waters for swimming, and diving.
Unawatuna Beach
It is the most favoured beach for all those looking for some exciting water sports like scuba diving or snorkelling, which, of course, we did not venture into. We spent bathing floating and swimming in this beach for about 3 hours. It was only in the evening our son readied to leave this beach. This, according to me is the best beach that I have taken bath.

Unawatuna Sea
Unawatuna Sea
Post Tsunami, for about a couple of years, there were nobody ready to return to this place. Many of them migrated to central Sri Lanka. Only in the recent couple of years, tourism has started picking up, thanks to the efforts of the government and also the interest shown by the international tourists.

Back in India, after a fortnight, we checked once again what all places we missed to visit in Sri Lanka. Definitely Trincomale, the famous harbour of the British (Thirukkonamalai in Tamil, famous for the Shiva Temple, as important as Rameshwaram or any other Jyotirlingas), Kathirkama (Kataragama), the historically important Skanda Kumara (Kartik) Temple in the southern Sri Lanka, a couple of very good beaches in the East, “Yalle” National Park, Adams Peak, and the disturbed North. Now that the shipping services are restarted between Tuticorin and Colombo and another one due from Tuticorin to northern Sri Lanka, a second trip to this land is thinkable. That is the beauty of some places; you tend to visit again and again, like your home town.