Unawatuna to Colombo
The southern and eastern coasts of Sri Lanka is a lovely drive, with azure water meeting equally blue skies, smiling people and warm breezes. But this drive was also tinged with sadness as we got to see the areas still affected by the Tsunami of 2004, with some buildings still not repaired 12 years later.
There was a huge stone Buddha statue that was erected as a memorial to the lives lost and it stands at 10 metres – the height of the second wave. There was also another memorial with detailed stone carving depicting the tragedy. Quite beautiful. What affected me the most was the Tsunami Photo Museum. It is filled not only with photographs that spare no ones sensibilities (the gathering of bloated bodies for identification), but also hand-written accounts of the day that break your heart. Children’s drawings were particularly moving. I was unable to refrain from crying as I read and looked. So sad.
Our final stop on this journey to Colombo was at a traditional mask making workshop and museum. The craftsmen were very talented, even if I did find most of the masks a little scary!
Who would’ve thought that traffic in the capital of Sri Lanka could rival that of Delhi or Mumbai? But, yes, it did! We travelled 17kms in one hour…and that was BEFORE peak time hit! It was such a relief when our driver, Jeewa, pointed to the shape of the Hilton Colombo Residences in the distance and we knew we had arrived!
We made the most of our spacious accommodation (Hilton Colombo Residences is an all-suite hotel), and their ‘1+1 Happy Hour’ before a relaxing evening in our room (for our account of the Hilton, click here).
Because of the traffic of this city and the lack of parking pretty much anywhere, much of our tour was done in the car with the occasional stop for us to jump out and take a pic. We checked out the lighthouse and the shorefront; where once was beachfront is now being carved up to make more berths for cargo ships. Not at all attractive.
Checked out some of the colonial architecture, including the Grand Oriental Hotel. There was a statue on a tiny roundabout near the Grand Orient Hotel of a white guy with attitude in a rickshaw being transported by a Sri Lankan. Not sure who it was depicting, but it sent a clear colonial message!
Drove past the Red Mosque (Jami Ul-Afar Mosque), but were unable to stop the car and go in. But it was a stunning building, with its red and white tiled surface and decorative, Mughal architecture.
One place that did have parking and provided the opportunity to get out of the car for a wander was the Independence Memorial Hall. A serene and attractive open air building in the style of a traditional meeting hall, that was a cool haven from the heat for tourists and locals alike – being elevated and having no walls provided shade and a breeze.
Headed then to Apé Gama – the ‘authentic village experience’. This was basically an ethnographic museum that showed traditional Sri Lankan village life with huts and layout as it once would’ve been (according to Jeewa, this life was only 12 years ago in some parts of the country). We were only in the place 10 minutes when three roosters started to go at it in a flapping of wings and chest bumping manner. All staff nearby gathered with us to watch – them in amusement, us torn between being horrified and fascinated. Apparently the fine looking one with white feathers was an interloper, and it was a surprise to all that they didn’t go to the death. This dude escaped a few times, and took off, but still returned many times to try again. Foolhardy chap.
There was a musician who showed us some traditional drums and was happy to have a chat. Then we saw traditional cooking, grinding grain, and other elements of the daily routine of village life.
Our time in Colombo was cut short by minor illness and the need to rest up in the hotel before flying home. This was a shame, as there was much more of this city for us to see, but I certainly won’t miss the traffic.
Our Sri Lankan journey comes to an end.
Accommodation: Hilton Colombo Residences
Tour Company: JF Tours & Travels
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