Colombo Calling: A City full of surprises
THE capital cities of the world’s paradise destinations are not
places where the visiting traveller yearning for quality sand, sea and
sunshine time is inclined to hang around for too long.
But Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital and its largest city, is a candidate
to buck that trend, what with its bright mosaic of vibrant modern life
fused with sedentary colonial charm-and blessed with the turquoise
waters of the Indian Ocean seductively kissing the shores of its seaward
flank and providing the perfect backdrop to soothe the senses and sap
the tired soul.
To rewind the city’s historical lineage going back the centuries, the
Romans, Arabs and Chinese were very early visitors. But it was the
comparatively later arrivals-the Portuguese, Dutch and British-who left
lasting cultural, social and spiritual imprimaturs that endure to this
Colombo: A blend of the old and the new
And what a picture postcard contrasts are thrown up by cosmopolitan
Colombo: north of the city centre is the bustling Fort business district
with its mix-and-match architecture of Victorian (a hark back to when
the country was part of the British Empire) and glass-and-steel
modernism; to the south the Galle Face Green where promenading or
jogging (or even swimming or frolicking on the frothy waves of seawater
below) is a delightful way of local life; and to the east the Pettah
bazaar district where the lively sights and sounds are as sharp as the
circulating aroma !
If you are interested in getting up close and personal with Sri
Lanka’s cultural heritage, then Colombo is a good starting point.
Several museums and art galleries bear eloquent testimony to this
beautiful island’s rich historical past, and resonate with memories of a
The Colombo National Museum, Sri Lanka’s premier museum, is a grand
white-walled colonial building that houses many of the island’s
historical treasures, such as a 4,000-year-old archaic palm leaf
manuscripts, rock sculptures from ancient provincial cities and the
royal weapons of Sri Lankan kings.
Follow that with a visit to the Natural History Museum and the Dutch
Period Museum and you would have digested an almost complete dose of the
island nation’s historical fare in one fell swoop.
Despite the negative vibes created in the past two decades as a
result of the sectarian strife to the north of the country, Sri Lanka is
noted for both its ethnic and religious diversity.
These positive elements can be spotted in many parts of Colombo where
Buddhist temples, marbled mosques, decorative Hindu temples and grand
spiral churches sit in spiritual juxtaposition - and often on the same
Says Sri Lanka’s “Mr. Tourism” - Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism
Development Authority Renton de Alwis: “Colombo is indeed one of the
best kept secrets in the East and it’s time the world knew about it.
It’s a destination with contrasts and that is what makes it so exciting.
“The city is also home to some of the best hotels in Sri Lanka,
ranging from the Galadari, Trans Asia, Hilton and Cinnamon Grand in the
modern and luxurious 5-star category to the grandiose period charm of
the 150-year-old Galle Face Hotel and Mount Lavinia Hotel.”
Then there is the exciting new development of niche villas such as
The Colombo House, Casa Colombo and The Tintagel, which provide
delightful contrasts to their 5-star cousins.
The newest of the three, Casa Colombo bills itself as “retro chic”
and really lives up to that boast with a pink swimming pool !
Colombo also has attractive hand-made leather products, brassware and
local crafts that can be found at native boutiques like Paradise Road,
Barefoot Gallery, Lakmedura that are dotted around the metropolis.
The city is also known to come alive and kicking after dark as Sri
Lankans love to party on any given night of the week. In fact one of the
most popular nightspots is Tramps at the Galadari where you can sip
innovative cocktails and dance the night away alongside Colombo’s
Incidentally, the 500-room Galadari- where the General Manager is
accomplished Sri Lankan hotelier Sampath Siriwardena with almost three
decades of sterling experience with some of the best known global hotel
brands - is tagged as the “businessman’s home in Colombo.”
Colombo is a key element in the tourism master plan of de Alwis who
is regarded as one of the best tourism brains in the Asia Pacific
region, having also served in the 1990s as Vice President (Asia) of the
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
He explains: “The current challenge, as it has been in the past 30
years, is to manage tourism in a social-political environment that is
not optimal to supporting tourism. In spite of that, Sri Lanka tourism
has done extremely well to stay on top of things.
“Today the challenge is to set in place policies and strategies to
manage tourism in a post peace scenario, looking at the rapid growth of
global tourism and optimising on the nature, culture and adventure
products that Sri Lanka uniquely has to offer as a compact island
“Our current platform is as an ‘Earth Lung’ where we are working
toward making Sri Lanka a carbon clean destination to contribute to the
global effort in mitigating climate change. We are taking a proactive
leadership role in this area.”