Travels with V
”India light” and its capital
Colombo part one
Five things not to miss in Sri Lanka:
- Best beach: Unawatuna. Not sure everyone agrees, we weren’t in Trincomalee or neighbouring Mirissa, that many love. But Unawatuna was our favorite.
- Best must-see: Sigiriya. Enourmously impressive however you look at it. A lot of climbing, yes, but abolutely worth the effort!
- Best trainride: Nuwara Elijah – Ella. Many think it’s one of the world’s greatest rides, along high ridges with spectacular views.
- Best eat: Kingfisher in Unawatuna. Sublime food joy and romantic beach dining.
- Best natural experience: Yala national park. But also Mineriya that has the most reliable elephant watching.
We had probably planned according to standard formula 1A, and booked the first couple of days in the capital Colombo, before strapping on our backpacks and exploring the rest of the country. But once there we actually regretted that plan, because Colombo is not a city with lots of exciting must-sees. It’s a noisy, crammed and run down city with a few sights easily seen in a single day.
The first incident was a classic. We had gone out for a walk, and just one or two blocks from our hotel a very sharp dressed and nice looking man stopped us. He asked the question we would later hear a thousand times: -Where are you from? We said: -Sweden. And he became very enthusiastic. -You are incredibly lucky, he said, -Today is the one day that the Gangaramaya temple is open to visitors, it only happens once a year. We said: -Ok, where is it? But remarkably there was already a free tuk-tuk beside us, so we climbed in and went off.
After about ten minutes we stopped outside the temple, and the driver said: -Twelve hundred rupees, please. -What?! We were flabbergasted. Then V quickly snapped: -This journey could not cost more than one hundred! -Twelve hundred, said the driver. -No way! We’ll give you 150 and that’s it!
Things were heating up. We couldn’t negotiate a reasonable price, so we said: -Ok, we’ll call the police. But to end the dispute we gave him 400 rupees and he drove away quick as a weasel. We were still enraged entering the temple where we realized we were doubly fooled. The Gangaramaya temple is always open, a quite popular tourist attraction because of all the odd stuff they have gathered.
Cabinets with ivory carvings, chests overflowing with old watches, glasses and bank notes, lotus embroideries, an old Rolls Royce and even a stuffed elephant. Plus the usual temple stuff, painted buddhas everywhere, grinning demons and prayer wheels. More puzzling than interesting, actually. And they wanted a donation, but we didn’t give them any money. If they’re short of cash, why not sell a few antique watches?
Near the city center there are some large lakes or dams, and in one of them, not far from Gangaramaya, there is a temple built on an island, looking like it’s floating on the water. It could have been very fine and serene if it wasn’t for two things. One, the water in the lake is green. Puke green. And two, the modern day Colombo has towering new buildings growing up all around the place, so that the island temple now looks a bit tiny.
We walk around the lake and then head straight west, out to the ocean front and a long grassy stretch called Galle Green. It’s a popular spot for Colombians in the hot summertime to get some relief from the cool sea winds. When we’re there it’s almost deserted, but on the nearby promenade young couples occupy the park benches. They’ve got big umbrellas that cover the upper body parts, kissing in public is not accepted.
We follow the length of Galle Green all the way up to Fort, a commercial and administrative area with guards holding rifles and shining steel walls. We had been told that Fort was the place for nice restaurants and even bars, but that someone was evidently misinformed. We didn’t find a single one.
What’s it like to ride a tuk-tuk through the streets of Colombo? Check it out here:
In the next chapter we discover more of Colombo, see bats upside down in a park, get fooled again (!) and see problems caused by religion.