A city with a character

A city with a character

Ruins, timeless architecture; mysterious and charming, landscaped gardens and tiled houses, the long and green promenade, hotels and resorts catering to tourism, and infrastructure, to support industrial vibrancy – make Colombo, a melting pot of contrasts.

Ruins, timeless architecture; mysterious and charming, landscaped gardens and tiled houses, the long and green promenade, hotels and resorts catering to tourism, and infrastructure, to support industrial vibrancy – make Colombo, a melting pot of contrasts.

Like many South Asian port cities, Colombo too saw its fair share of history unfold thanks to spice wars, beginning with the royalty until the 16th century when the Portuguese usurped control from the Kotte kings, followed by the Dutch and then the British; with all of them leaving their mark on everything; food, culture, dressing, and architecture.

This city that was once the capital of Srilanka, until 1978, then went on to become the commercial capital. Being one of the busiest ports was an added edge bringing with it trade in textiles, handicrafts, ceramics, precious and semi-precious stones and spices among others. The prominent religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity bring with them their enchanting influences adding to the diversity.

Landing at Colombo

I just had three days and two nights to spare to travel to Colombo, that too for the first time; and all I could manage was a connecting flight from Hyderabad to Colombo Via Madurai; a quick detour further cramping the time I get to spend.

An invitation from Movenpick Hotel that enjoys a sea view, took care of my boarding – luxury coupled with comfort, tastefully done, spacious and airy rooms with tall windows that bring in the bright Srilankan sun and the amazing sights of the Indian ocean are just what you need to get back to after an active touristy day. For me, it was one of those rushed vacations that turned out to be much invigorating in a lot of ways.

Movenpick hotels, recently acquired by the Accor Group of Hotels are usually contemporary city hotels and resort properties. In Colombo, its more like a 5-star business/leisure hotel built in a bustling location, not too far from some important shopping areas like the Pettah market in the fort area, the Paradise Road, one of the oldest mall, Liberty Plaza that is just along the side of the hotel, Galle Face Mall, Marino, High end handicraft store Lakarcade among others.

The high-rise hotel's sea view is some what compromised due to other tall hotels under construction in the vicinity; however, the hotel makes up for it with its spectacular roof top bar. The drinks menu features some amazing cocktails made by infusing fresh seasonal local fruits. Do try the Gal Pol, which combines the locally available Coconut Arrack with Soursop and the seasonal special passion fruit puree.

Between the Asian grill, Robata (dinners), and AYU, the all-day diner, the dining options boast of an amazing variety. The Sunday buffets at AYU have a special section for Srilankan dishes featuring the amazing spices, sea food and vegetables – Mutton curry, Crab Red Curry, Kakiri Ambula, Brinjal Moju are few of the dishes I tried and they were deliciously spicy, in addition to the local desserts; when in Srilanka, eat like a Srilankan should be the motto, for best experience.

One must also not forget to mention the classy Executive Lounge in the hotel, 'Mansion' that includes a display of amazing art as part of the décor.

Sights and sounds

There was no way one could have managed to do all the shopping I did and also visit the important places in Colombo if it was not for the Tuk Tuk Ride arranged by the hotel. The ride is available at a price depending upon the duration, and we chose a half day ride that comes with a well informed and uniformed driver who doubles up as a guide, and takes you along in this enchantingly refurbished open top tuk tuk amply stocked with refreshments, coconuts, beer cans and water. I and my co-tourist Anna from Ireland drew a lot of attention as we drove past the Galle Face Green, the busy business districts, the Pettah market, which was closed since it was a Sunday, along the new Lotus Tower – touted to be the tallest in Asia, Beira lake, the oldest railway station, and enroute we did manage to visit a handful of local attractions.

We visited the Gangaramaya Temple, which is a Buddhist shrine that enchants you with its serenity, especially when you go during the prayers when the chants and the bells fill the air with devotion. This is one of the most inclusive temples that even had one of the donors who was a Muslim.

In addition to the resplendent shrine and the main statue of Buddha in the Vihara that draws you to it with intricate carvings and its sheer size; the temple is a house to thousands of artifacts, objects, statues, countless invaluable collections of Buddhist iconography and even materialistic luxuries that people from all over the world have donated, giving it a museum like feel.

You will not pause even a moment without seeing one wonderful item or the other. We also saw the war memorial that was recently restored. And before retiring for the day we tasted a couple of local street food, spicy, rich and amazingly tasty. The Sunday Art Market along the walls of the National Museum was a pleasant discovery; one can also visit the government owned store Laksala – a treasure house of handicrafts that also houses the famous Ceylon Tea, spices, and the semi-precious stones and Gems, which are a specialty of this country – more than half of the world's Gem varieties are available in Srilanka.

What is heartening to see in Colombo is the focus on preserving antiquity, be it the traditions, art and artifacts or the buildings, along side development that makes this, a city with character and unique identity.

l While the dry months of December to March are ideal to visit this island country, the monsoons too are being considered to be a good option when the verdant greenery turns to brighter hue and the multitude of scenic locations can be viewed in new light.

l With some planning one can now fly with Srilankan Airlines that offer direct flights from a few cities in India including Hyderabad.

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