The Colombo Escapade

Tripoto
4th Jul 2019
Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper

SRI LANKA- COLOMBO.

Wife: Why don’t we go to Sri Lanka?

Me: But you said you wanted to go there with your friends.

Wife: Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to materialize any time soon and we have 4 days off now and I think we should put it to use.

It was quite a task to zero in on a location to spend the four days we had taken off. I somehow always wanted to visit Sri Lanka, since I had heard a lot of wonderful things about the country.

The best time to visit Colombo would’ve been December or January, considering its equatorial climate, but then we also gave it a second thought and realized, we kept pushing our visit to Sri Lanka, for some reason or the other, and despite the fact that it is so close geographically to India, I had never visited it.

THE PLAN

I started searching for places to be visited in Colombo and realized that out of 4 days we had, 2 were to be utilized exploring the city and the other two would involve travel and unwinding post travel.

Honestly, I’d have preferred a direct flight from Bangalore to Colombo, but the flights were ridiculously pricey. What pettifoggery, I thought! I started looking for flights by using the round-trip option, and to my surprise I stumbled upon an Indigo flight option, which had 1 stop onwards in Chennai, and no stops while returning back to India. Sorted and booked. Now, let the hotel hunt begin!

We started looking for hotel options to suit our budget and also that satisfy certain criteria. The criteria being:

1) Closeness to downtown Colombo

2) Proximity to all the places to be visited

3) Close vicinity to the best recommended cafes (Wife is a graphic-designer and she has an obsession for cafés. Let’s just not get there!)

Hotel bookings were easily sorted using websites like happyeasygo, or wegotravel, or booking.com. Got a good deal and booked Hotel Mandarina on Galle Road.

Being a traveler with an Indian passport, a thought that constantly lingers in my head before planning a trip is the additional visa cost, and the painstaking immigration process.

Plot twist! Visa got sorted with just an online application. Hotel booking confirmation was needed to complete the application so yeah, good thing I booked that first. I got two emails from the Sri Lankan immigration, one for acknowledgement and one for approval, wherein the latter is the more important one.

Visa, flights, hotel, all checkboxes ticked, it was time to pack some shorts, shades and sunblock.

DEPARTURE

Day 1

When we reached the airport, we realized that though ground staff adequate enough for Indigo, the passenger crowd was way too much and the boarding pass took forever to be printed. We had a lady behind us waiting for check-in with her 20 bags and I remember thinking how we would have missed the flights if we had reached after her or let her cross us since she was trying really hard to do that.

I’d suggest reaching the airport about 2.5 hours before the flight departure, since most of the domestic flights are always overcrowded, and if the bus from the airport gates were to take you to the flight, the last call is usually made 25 mins prior the departure of the flight time.

We had a 5-hour break in Chennai Airport. Once done with Indian immigration process, we were in the seating area near the food court stuffing the faces with idly and Pongal. I remember thinking that early morning flight was a bad idea as my wife looked and spoke like she woke up after a bad hang-over.

ARRIVAL

As soon as we exited the flight, we were hit by this heat wave that just basically air-fried us.

During immigration I had kept all details and documentation ready, expecting the officer to grind me with questions and dare I say...Smoothest. Immigration. Ever. Not once was I stopped for having a beard.

Once out of the airport, the best option to Colombo is UBER. On reaching the hotel, we were greeted with welcome drinks and shown to our room. We were both starved and drained so ordered in some lunch and dozed off.

In the evening, we felt like going for a stroll and exploring the place. The best way to have the maps on the phone was to select a section of the maps on the google maps and download it offline thus no need for data or a local sim.

We walked around the Galle Road and kept on strolling around till we reached our final destination for dinner - The Gallery Café. It is a beautiful café with great food. I’d strongly recommend the place for a candle light dinner. The café has a small handicraft shop where my wife bought a bag and I bought two tins of exotic Sri Lankan green tea.

DAY 2

We got up early next day morning and munched on the hotel’s free breakfast as we discussed the places to be visited.

Renting a tuk-tuk for a day and have them go along with us wherever we go seemed like the best option. So, we exited the hotel looking for one and to our surprise we found one, within minutes of stepping out. We educated the driver on the places to be visited, and he seemed to know all the places and the route. Drivers, and other in Sri Lanka speak manageable English and fluent Tamil in certain places, making it easy to have a conversation.

Day 2

We started our tuk-tuk journey with the Galle Face Green, where people usually can go for a stroll. In the evenings, the place apparently gets some crowd, with the roadside stalls and the tangerine sunset to be enjoyed.

The driver showed us the Parliament house near the Taj Hotel. I remember when I sent a photo clicked of the parliament house over to my brother-in-law, who by the way is still a kid, drew a parallel with the Chicago Bank in Dhoom 3.

Photo of Galle Face Green, Colombo - Galle Main Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka by The Traveling Pauper

We visited the Red Mosque first which was a beautiful piece of architecture. My wife could not take her eyes off the place and geeked out about their symmetry in colors. Painted in a mix of red and white added to the beauty of the mosque along with its architecture.

The next stop from thereon was the Colombo Dutch Museum, but to our disappointment, the museum was closed for renovation. We next visited the Pettah Floating Market, and to be honest, we just found food stalls in the market and did expect more. Probably we visited the place at a wrong season.

The Lotus Tower which hasn’t opened up for visitors yet, was an absolute architectural delight. Having enjoyed the views, we enquired when it’d be open for visitors, and we were told sometime around September-October 2019. They didn’t seem sure though.

The Red Mosque

Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper

The Lotus Tower

Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper

Next on our list was, Colombo National Museum. Having read about the fact that it’s the largest museum in Sri Lanka, we had added the place, to our ‘must-visit’ list. We bought our entry tickets and got into the museum to explore the country’s religious and cultural past. Given that I am a history enthusiast and my wife an art enthusiast, what we got to witness in the museum was quite a fulfilling experience for both of us.

Colombo National Museum

Photo of National Museum, Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by The Traveling Pauper

Buddha Statue (4th Century) at the National Museum

Photo of National Museum, Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by The Traveling Pauper

On entering, they have a statue of Buddha meditating in the lobby section. Apparently, the statue is very old and dates back to the fourth century. The statue adds immense value to the museum and is considered a masterpiece. We were transported back in time, to all the historic periods of Sri Lanka. The museum is divided in sections and each section covered a period of time in Sri Lanka ranging from the stone age to the latest civilization. While I was glued to their gallery comprising the coins and currency collection, my wife refused to leave the gallery of the textile and jewelry history.

If interested, you can gather more information about this museum from their website.

Having gotten our dose of history, our next stop was Independence square. It was built to apparently commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule. At this very place in 1948, a ceremony was conducted indicating the start of self-rule by the Ceylonese Elected Legislature.

Photo of Independence Square, Colombo, Sri Lanka by The Traveling Pauper
Photo of Independence Square, Colombo, Sri Lanka by The Traveling Pauper

Once we get to the square, we can see that the Memorial Hall, is an open sided rectangle, with elaborate cement columns, with a tiled roof, and of course the lion statues surrounding the hall. The Memorial Museum is located in the basement. By this time, we were starving and were way past lunch time. It was time for the next café to be explored- Barefoot Garden Café.

The ambience was amazing but to my dismay no beers were to be served before 5 pm, so anyone visiting Colombo, needs to either order their alcoholic drinks before 2 pm or after 5pm. By the time, we had the food, it was already 4:40 pm, so we decided to stay, chat till its 5 pm, and then order the local beer.

Couple of beers down, we explored the Barefoot gallery attached to the café. This was a surprisingly bigger than expected. One would wonder whether the gallery is the addition or if the café is. My wife specifically loved their clothing collection as it seemed true to the Sri Lankan traditional silhouettes.

We headed back to the hotel, and just laid back and relaxed for the rest of the day.

DAY 3

We started the day with the trip to the Lighthouse. The Colombo lighthouse is located at a walkable distance from the Galle Face Green. They also have a lighthouse gallery café right opposite to the lighthouse. This location is called ‘Galboka Point’ and we can get a nice view of the sea and the harbor.

Galle Road Lighthouse

Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper
Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper

From there we went to Gangaramaya Temple, which was the most visited temple in the city. It had a modern architecture and has a cultural and religious essence as well. The architecture was an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Thai Architecture. The temple located in the heart of Colombo right by Beira Lake, hosts the largest festival annually and has a history of over 100 years.

Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper
Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper

The main parts of the temple were the Cetiya, the Bodhi tree, the assembly hall for monks, the relic chamber, education halls, and museum. In today’s date Gangaramaya temple is not just a place of worship, but also a place for learning.

The most intriguing part to both of us was that the temple acted as a museum with collection of artifacts that one does not expect to see in a temple. Old cameras, jewelry, spectacles, watches that were outdated were stored in glass cupboards for display. There were sections for old cars to old books and some rooms even with multiple replications of the same buddha pictures and no explanations behind these whatsoever. We just assumed that these items were donations from visitors but that theory didn’t quite fit in either.

There were other intriguing parts about this temple like the sculpture of buddha in meditation in an almost skeletal form, the jade buddha, the tiniest buddha statue and the hair relic of buddha. The museum was developed to what it is today, with the help of donors, and devotees from the Asian Region. The museum today, is home to ageless treasures, be it cars, coins, valuable Buddha statues, and ancient relics.

The Gangaramaya lake temple

Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper
Photo of The Colombo Escapade by The Traveling Pauper
Day 3

It was early evening and time for a coffee place. We made a stop at the London house of coffee, and we strongly recommend a visit to this one as well. Maybe I also have a thing for cafes

DAY 4 (Return to Bangalore)

The morning next day, was time to say goodbye to Colombo. We both hated the idea of leaving and the thought of getting back to work just made it worse. With a heavy heart, we took an Uber to airport post breakfast.

AT AIRPORT

Immigration officer: How was your trip? What places did you see?

Both of us: We basically just explored Colombo. We loved it!

Officer: What? That’s the least interesting part of our country. Come back sometime soon and explore better places

Both of us (In our head): If we return, we are settling here.

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS:

1) While travelling from the airport to downtown Colombo, take the bypass.

2) Definitely try the local cuisines, especially their ‘Kotthu parotta with curry’

3) Rent a tuk-tuk on a day basis, if there’s too many places to be visited within the city.

4) Use UBER if the last point is not feasible.

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