One Way to do Colombo

Earlier this year my wife and I visited the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, as a port of call while sailing onboard Cunard’s cruise ship, Queen Victoria…

This was the first occasion we had visited Colombo and we were determined to make the most of our visit. In order to maximise our day we had researched what Colombo had to offer the tourist and subsequently drew up a map to improve our chances of fitting everything in…

 

The order of our plan centred on google information as to the location of the Cruise Terminal on their map. Unfortunately the day prior to the visit we were informed  that this was not to be the intended berth and that Queen Victoria would dock some distance away in the container port.

There was also the embuggerance factor that organised shuttle buses would not commence until 09.00 and then would be going directly to a shopping complex some distance away from the heart of the city.

Once berthed we were one of the first to head ashore and soon found a taxi that would take us to the nearest of our listed objectives, The Red Mosque…

 

The above view was taken on Main Street while there is an entrance for visitors on 2nd Cross Street…

Interestingly we were viewing the Red Mosque just minutes before 8.00 am and a good hour before the first ship’s shuttle bus departed.  On our taxi journey route  I had noticed, just prior to our drop off point in Main Street, another  colonial building, The Old Town Hall…

So we walked back just three blocks along Main Street to take a look…

Within the compound of the Old Town Hall there is on display  a collection of historic vehicles…

 

…while at the rear of the building lies a colourful open air vegetable market…

On completion of our visit to the Old town Hall we retraced our steps along Main Street, past the Red Mosque, and continued a couple of blocks till we came to…

 

…The Khan Clock Tower…

The Tower is a popular landmark that marks the entrance to the Pettah Market district while also providing us with a perfect marker in our search for the Dutch Museum…

 

…on Prince Street. The 10 minute walk between the tower and the museum, along narrow cobbled streets, provides a special insight into  Petttah, the main Bazaar district with its bustling trade, shops and street markets all selling an amazing array of goods at bargain prices.

Returning to the tower we now continued our walk along the Sir Baron Jayalilaka Mawatha, and past the monument to Cyril de Zoysa…

 

Cyril de Zoysa was a great Sri Lankan philanthropist and his name is synonymous with the revival of Buddhism. He was the leading criminal lawyer of the Kalutara Bar and the President of the Bar Association and this particular statue is outside the Shrine attached to the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) Building. He was the President of the YMBA.

At the next cross road we took a right turn along York Street for the short journey to the Grand Oriental Hotel…

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Originally  the site was a simple, single-storey building, the home of a Dutch Governor. In 1837 it was converted into barracks for the British Army. The Grand Oriental Hotel was officially opened on 5 November 1875, and had 154 luxury and semi-luxury rooms.

 

Next up, and only just around the corner from the Grand Oriental was another of Colombo’s famous landmarks,  The Lighthouse Clock Tower…

Located at the junction of Chatham Street and Janadhipathi Mawatha in the Colombo Fort district..

Constructed in 1857 as a clock tower and at a height of 95 feet the tower was at the time the tallest structure in Colombo. The navigational light was added to the tower in 1867  and it was eventually decommissioned in 1952 when its light became obscured by nearby buildings.

Next up is one of the quirkiest and unnoticed historic monuments located at the heart of Colombo – the prison cell of the last king of Sri Lanka…

Hidden in the car park of the Colombo Ceylinco Headquarters  – some 200 yards along Janadhipathi Mawatha and a left turn into Bank of Ceylon Mawatha –  this rather unique attraction held King Sri Wickrama Rajashinghe who ruled the  Kandyen kingdom from  1798 to 1815.  Following his capture in February 1815  he was taken to Colombo and kept temporarily in this cell until he was deported to India.

 

Inside the cell are portraits of King Sri Wickrama Rajashinghe, his queen and the flag of the Kandian kingdom…

On exiting the car park continue initially along the Bank of Ceylon Mawatha to the end of the Ceylinco Headquarters , and set back in its own square is the building of the Old Colombo Dutch Hospital…

 

Considered to be the oldest building in the Colombo Fort District it dates back to the Dutch Colonial era in what was then old Ceylon. It has now been beautifully converted into heritage complex with shopping and dining precincts…

The well preserved historic building is a  popular visit stop with cruise ship excursion parties, most cafes and restaurants offer free wifi and good toilet facilities…

Suitably refreshed ourselves we now returned to the Janadhipathi Mawatha adjacent the Kingsbury Hotel…

…and a further 100 yards along Janadhipathi Mawatha and were at the Galle Face Roundabout…

…which sits between the Galle Face (waterfront)…

 

…and the Old Parliament Building…

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Built in 1930 by the British during the colonial  period it originally  housed the Legislative Council of Ceylon and now houses the presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka.

 

Turning firstly right at the Galle Face roundabout and some 800 yards along Chaithya Road we came across the first of the Port of Colombo’s two icons, The Lighthouse…

This particular 29-metre-high (95 ft) lighthouse was built in 1952 after the Old Colombo Lighthouse was deactivated when, as mentioned earlier,  its light became obscured by nearby buildings.

Located at its base is a naval gun battery that is used by the Sri Lanka Navy for traditional gun salutes and other ceremonial duties…

…while the plaza it sits on offers good  views of the ocean.

Continuing further along Chaithya Road the second port icon, the Sambodhi Chaithya…

A huge bell-shaped Buddhist stupa built at the entrance to Colombo Harbour, it has the distinction of standing on two massive diagonally interlocking arches, allowing the shrine to be seen from out at sea.

Returning to the Galle Face we now commenced our walk along Colombo’s seafront…

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…as far as the Galle Face Hotel…

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….before turning inland in the direction of Beira Lake and the next place of interest on our itinerary , Seema Malakaya…

The temple is connected to the mainland via pontoon bridges….

…and is a Buddhist temple that is mainly used for meditation and rest rather than for worship…

Whereas most Buddhist temples in the country follow strict traditional design, Seema Malakaya temple, floating on Beira Lake, is one of Sri Lanka’s unusual temples with its design  inspired by the ancient Buddhist forest monasteries on raised platforms…

 

It is, however, linked to and part of the nearby Gangaramaya Temple…

One of the most popular attractions of the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo is the museum. It encompasses several halls and has a collection comprising ivory and wood carvings, curios, ola leaf writings, Buddha statues, and even vintage cars! It is definitely one of the top tourist destinations in Colombo, and not just in the temple. If you love to explore historical places you should definitely visit the museum.

The Gangaramaya Vihara Temple is an unusual mix of a Buddhist temple and a museum…

It is a large complex of buildings that appeared a very popular tourist destination…

…particularly with cruise ship passengers on organised excursions…

…including the ‘sacred tree’ featured above in addition to being home to a number of vintage cars…

…but an enormous amount of materials of religious relevance, including gold, sapphires, sandalwood, elephant ivory….

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Adjacent the Temple is an interesting collection of mechanical historical artefacts and machinery…

Maybe a bit of a boys thing but none the less, a nicely preserved  collection…

At this point we made the prudent decision to utilise some local transport due to  both the heat and distance to the next point of interest…

Yes, the ubiquitous Colombo tuk-tuk was pressed into service to get us in truly local fashion to our next stop, the Viharamahadevi Park…

It is the oldest and largest park in Colombo and is  situated in front of the colonial-era Town Hall

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Also on the boundary of the park can be found the National Museum…

…and the World War Memorial…

…and, as seen earlier, a very large Buddha Statue…

 

 

During my research for this visit my curiosity was drawn to a fountain that featured on a roundabout named Lipton Circus…

Further research indicated that it was in fact known as The George Wall Memorial Fountain.

 

The fountain dates back to 1894 and was erected to the memory of George Wall who died in that year. This historic fountain  stands in silent testimonial to the truly remarkable personality of George Wall who came to Ceylon in 1846 as acting Manager of the ‘Ceylon Plantation Co.’

He was a well known Philanthropist and was revered mainly when he campaigned against the Colonial Government of the time, appealing on behalf of Ceylon and against the imposition of the Paddy Tax.

Having arrived at the George Wall Memorial Fountain I could not help bu notice the rather colourful building on the opposite side of Lipton Circus. It was indeed another colonial era gem, the Victoria Memorial Eye and Ear Hospital…

Established in 1906, it was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The red-brick colonial building is in the Indo-Saracenic style and  was designed by Colombo based architect Edward Skinner…

We were now ready to take our second tuk-tuk ride…

…this time to what was our final planned visit, Independence Square…

 

Independence Square is in the prestigious Cinnamon Gardens district of Colombo where spacious tree-lined boulevards remain from colonial days. Its centrepiece is the Independence Memorial Hall…

…built there to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule in 1948.

 

The hall is an open-sided rectangle with ornately moulded cement columns and a tiled, hipped roof with statues of seated lions surrounding it.  It is used for ceremonial occasions. In its basement is the Independence Memorial Museum.

Independence Square is yet another very  popular stopping place on a city tour circuit.  Visitors can walk around the structure or relax in the shade of the avenue of mango trees.

It’s not an unusual circumstance when I am visiting one historic site to spot something else that will raise my curiosity. While scaling the Memorial Hall one other nearby building was such a case…

My local tourist map indicated the building to be part of the ‘Arcade Independence Square’, a modern shopping mall housed in former colonial government buildings.

However, on closer inspection and passing through the gateway above, a considerably more interesting set of buildings came into view…

…which turned out to be a veritable gem of a discovery…

…and a forgotten relic of the colonial era, Jawatte Lunatic Asylum.

Construction of the Asylum on the 14 acre site was completed in 1889 and some  400 inmates were housed in four wings connected to the central administration block

The building served as an asylum until 1926 when, due to chronic overcrowding a larger asylum was built elsewhere (Angoda). The building was later used by a number of educational and governmental agencies before a decision was made in 2012 to restore the building to its former glory and make it an integral part of Colombo’s historic heritage…

The Jawatte Lunatic Asylum was to be our final visit. We were aware that a ship’s courtesy shuttle bus to a local store was running a service throughout late afternoon and early evening so we once again chose our preferred method of local transport to make the short hop to the that particular store for our return journey to the ship.

 

Summary

The port city of Colombo, on Sri Lanka’s Western coast, is a bustling, noisy and fascinating city. It is rich with colonial heritage and also home to many religions, races and cultures.  It combines Dutch and British colonial buildings with Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, Christian churches, and modern gleaming skyscrapers. It also proved to be one of the most  dynamic port visits we have taken in many a year.

We were determined to make the most of our visit while onboard Queen Victoria and time spent  pre-planning an itinerary eventually paid dividends,  as no two ship’s excursions could have delivered the diversity of what my wife and I achieved..

We also once again discovered the fun and practicality that making use of local tuk-tuk transport offers. It proved to be  a real plus and  surprisingly inexpensive.

For anyone planning a visit to Colombo, and who maybe not be up to the amount of footwork that we undertook, then I would suggest that the itinerary is still easily followed but using a tuk-tuk’s services.

And finally I would add that visitors to Colombo  should not be put-off by a cruise ship’s port information regarding restricted transportation: we certainly turned their advice on its head.

 

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©2018 – 19 * Solent Richard’s Cruise Blog * All Rights Reserved

Duplication in part or whole without prior written consent is prohibited by international laws.

 

Disclosure to potential conflict of interest:

It is common throughout the travel industry for travel journalists and many cruise bloggers to be provided with complimentary cruises for the purpose of their reviews.

Solent Richard has no ‘conflict of interest’ as he is not an accredited journalist, he pays for his cruises, and is happy to confirm that all his reviews are his own given without fear or favour.

 

 

3 responses to “One Way to do Colombo

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I am hoping to visit Sri Lanka next year and now, having read your brilliant account, am even more excited at the prospect of seeing it for myself. Looking forward to your future posts!

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