Colombo’s Unforgettable Golden Sites | Daily News


Colombo’s Unforgettable Golden Sites

British Colonial architecture in pettah
British Colonial architecture in pettah

A walk into the heart of Colombo’s Pettah, reveals a thriving town with merchants from all corners of the globe, like an ancient United Nations, where everyone trades in something and life is rich in every sense of the word. See the shoestring shop where people make clothes and press them with old, heavy irons filled with hot coals. Almost everything here is over a hundred years old or so it seems with their tales of the unexpected and people from everywhere buy mountains of dhal and rice, weighed in Victorian style scales using weights. See also an original Portuguese bell, feast on early morning street cooked hoppers, and check out the eccentric Gas Works Junction Museum. The jewel in the crown of this action packed space is the incredible Dutch Period Museum at 95 Prince Street, Colombo 11, Pettah.

Built in 1658, the amazing Dutch museum, tucked away in the back streets of Colombo’s most colourful market Pettah, is a remarkable example of Dutch Colonial architecture, complete with heavy wooden doors, giant iron hinges and towering white columns supporting a high roof of terracotta tiles and wooden beams. The building now houses interesting artifacts from the Dutch colonial era giving one a valuable insight into the Golden Age of Trade. Once the Dutch Governor’s home away from home, this 17th Century monolith, though tired and awkward, is an enduring testament to the skill of Dutch architects and builders, still standing strong amongst comparatively flimsy modern buildings.

The walls, situated in what was once Colombo’s mighty war fort bore witness to the historically pivotal signed agreement between the Dutch and King Rajasingha of Kandy that opened the entire coastline for trade. Evidence of the resulting Dutch ‘ownership’ of the coast can be seen from the territory emblems and maps, lying in displays beneath dusty Dutch chandeliers hanging from wooden-planked ceilings. After you browse the coins, jewelry and then antique furniture upstairs, step onto the balcony to look out over the internal garden, with its original pulley well and a grass courtyard full of cardamom and cinnamon plants, once more valuable trading products than gold.

After this walk through the muddle of stalls and have fun haggling over anything from a copy of a designer bag to buttons the size of a ten-rupee coin. Head towards the Colombo fort area and discover what little remains of the delft gateway to the fort of Colombo, which was also built during the Dutch rule between 1658 and 1796. The British rulers then removed the ramparts of the fort in 1872 to make space for their new administration buildings leaving only the Delft gateway standing, which has since been fully restored, under the protection of the Commercial Bank. On the wall you will see the Dutch coat of arms and even though the old city walls are gone, one can imagine the splendour of the old gate when walking through it.

Try some street food and then catch a three-wheeler to watch the sun set over the Galle Face Green. Here Colombo transforms from a bustling hotbed of activity to a softly glamorous oasis of striking buildings and the day’s afterglow over the ocean. A place you can buy delicious snacks like chickpeas mixed with coconut from the local vendors.

End your wanderings with a cocktail or dinner at the gorgeous Taj Samudra Hotel, which has one of the grandest vistas on the stretch. Taj Samudra is irresistible, as it not only commands one of the best view in Colombo, a perfect complement to a former President Jayawardene who, seduced by the beauty of the Taj Bombay, commissioned Mr. Tata who insisted that this equally stylish phoenix be raised exactly here, on a magnificent 30 year moored cruise ship designed by the Hawaiian architect Bob Fox, and nowhere else, on account of its setting.

Stepping through the whirling entrance door of Colombo’s amazing five star luxury hotel, you feel like a Captain, entering its glamorous and elegant depths to set off on a voyage of a discovery. Totally refurbished, with the help of the incredible designer David Edwards, with Taj Bombay and Lake Palace to his credit, the Taj Samudra pledged to “rewrite the story of elegance” and continues to do so daily. Intricate carved wooden panels, white columns and date palms in large terracotta pots stand tall to greet all kinds of rich and famous people who cross the threshold to enter its inner delights.

After a drink or two at the bar, enjoy a sizzling dinner in the Golden Dragon restaurant and be wowed by the mystique and elegance of the orient, where both the food and the interior space fires your imagination as the Chinese masterpieces, with their claws clutching dragon pearls, glare defiantly back at you. The vortex of gold and blue draws you into a perfect inner sanctum of calm after busy day sightseeing and the very best of Sichuan province spicy food. A leading American interior designer, proving that these two super powers can work together, created the New York-like contemporary décor mixed with the East. At the Golden Dragon you are treated like a king with the best of Chinese food in Sri Lanka with regal style service and impressive Chinese imperial antique fittings to match and even a secret dining room if you want to organize a special event in the heart of Colombo, where history and the present period merge together beautifully.

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