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Roadtrip ended in Colombo

This is it. The final stretch of our journey in Sri Lanka, from Galle to Colombo, with a distance of about 120km along the south-western coastline between the two cities. A memorable roadtrip, that’s for sure, with plenty of adventures and misadventures as you’ve read through the series of this blog entries. (And thank you for sticking out with me despite the delays in getting the entries out!)

Even our drive to Colombo was not without its own drama. A few days earlier, we had encountered some problem with the air-conditioning system as we were arriving in Ella. It was supposed to be fixed but not even half way through the drive (right after Balapitiya), the system failed again. This time, we didn’t have the benefit of the cooler temperature of higher altitude and the heat in the van as we approached late morning/midday was becoming more and more unbearable.

Our first stops along the Colombo-Galle highway (CGHW) lied just north of Hikkaduwa. Seenigama Devalaya is an unique devalaya (i.e. a Hindu temple), for its main temple is located off the coast and accesible only by boat. Well I guess you may be able to swim over the 2km distance, but given the strength of waves in opposing direction (from what I can physically see, and I haven’t even a clue about the tidal strength in the area), it could be a very tiring swim. However, for ease of receiving prayers from devotees, there is also a devalaya just adjacent to the CGHW.

Apart from the location, Seenigama Devalaya is also rather unusual, in that it is dedicated to an avenging deity, known as Devoldevi/Devol Deviyan locally – hence, the temple is at times nicknamed Devil’s Temple. This is not a place to request for good health or family protection in general (you still could), but more for punishing those who had caused injustice to the devotees. The ritual to call for punishment involves grinding of chillies and putting through the wish for a curse to be put upon those who have wronged them.

Just a couple of minutes drive northward from Seenigama Temple, we arrived to the site of Tsunami Honganji Vihara, a memorial for those who perished – numbering over 1500 – when the tsunami in 2004 hit the region. The Buddha stands in the centre of a lake and has been modelled after the statues originally found in Banyan, which no longer exist today (what a shame).

This site is by no means the only memorial in the region. Within short drives away, we saw more memorial plaques erected by various stretches of seafronts. According to Nilan, practically overnight, small graveyards also mushroomed along the route, many of the graves even empty for the bodies that were swept out the sea and never found. Some houses and buildings remain as shells today, or if not too badly damaged, continue to be inhabited despite the lack of certain structures, such as windows and doors. The costs of reparation were simply unaffordable to many.

However, these poignant reminders of the disaster are relatively limited; many parts of the worse hit regions have since been rebuilt and life has move on and along as usual. The people here are resilient; they faced the challenges thrown at them and they are now surviving beyond the destructions that took place so suddenly and unexpectedly. Hotels have reopened and tourists are back in the region, and for the locals, life is as normal as it can be.

As we drove a little further north of Balapitiya, I noticed something from the corners of my eyes and asked Nilan to turn right back around. This was when we had an unexpected visit to the Sri Pushparama Maha Viharaya (viharaya/vihara being a Sanskrit-derived word to mean Buddhist monastery), a Buddhist complex housed within two separate buildings adjacent to each other. They do not look like typical either – the bana shalawa (i.e. prayer hall) could easily be mistakened for a church, with facade which appears to me to be similar to that of a Portuguese church. You can read more about the bana shalawa here.

Don’t forget, however, there is an adjacent building to the prayer hall. Its exterior architecture is very particular, and I am simply no expert in architectural style to pinpoint it down. It reminded me of ornated temple styles found in Myanmar and Cambodia, but in a much smaller scale. Within this building, there are several large statues of Buddhas, but at every corners, by every door and window, upon the beams of the ceilings, there are other carvings and paintings depicting the life of Buddha, of him as a prince to his attainments of enlightenment and nirvana. It was all very fascinating, and in full technicolour.

Perhaps the u-turn manouver I requested had caused much strain to the van and once again we found ourselves without air-conditioning in the van. Uh-oh. While the heat of the day steadily climbing, we also have to deal with car fumes inhalation for most of our journey between Balapitiya and Colombo. Each time we saw a vehicle with dark fumes streaming out of the exhaust, we recoiled with resignation. We were very glad to arrive in Colombo and checking in to our hotel so we can refreshed ourselves. Even then, it was no time to be really resting yet. We have the capital city to explore, and for the afternoon, we have scheduled a trip to the Pettah, the colourful marketplace where practically anything imaginable can be found.

There were people just about everywhere – vendors, transporters, buyers, tourists (us!) – it was non-stop movements on the streets and in the shops. Each section specialised in something particular, from textile to printing to electronics to fresh produce. Some trades even took place in alleyways, the wares spreaded out on the street or hung along the walls. One which truly caught my attention was shoes heaped in a small mount – it’d be “fun” to hunt the matching pair should one see something to one’s liking and hopefully in the right size.

On our next sightseeing day, we went the touristy way – by hiring a tuk-tuk for a tour of one hour. Since I am in general rubbish about bargaining, I left the price negotiation to Claire. After agreeing the rate with the driver, off we went. It was a rather agreeable way to travel around even without air-conditioning, as long as you don’t mind inhaling whatever that were present in the atmosphere. Our driver was courteous, and we were introduced to many of the main sights in the city with lightly accented English.

Admittedly, one hour was rather limiting in how much we can realistically visit. We remained mostly within the area around , and we understood that these are among the most affluenced neighbourhoods. Most of the time, our driver would point out to us various landmarks of interest. For a handful few though, we would stop for a few minutes for a spot of photography, befpre moving onto the next sight. We didn’t really get to see much of the day-to-day Colombo.

Our first stop(s) was Gangaramaya Viharaya which was found in two parts; the Seema Malaka situated at Lake Beira and the actual temple site a few hundred meters away to the south. The setting for Seema Malaka is a fairly unexpected one – the picture of zen against a backdrop of modern and uninspiring tower blocks. The older and established Gangaramaya temple has its own quirks too, with an eclectic collection of Buddhist icons placed randomly here and there. They were most gifts, and those from abroad are clearly noticeable with their styles resembling those often found in other Asian countries including India, Thailand and China.

A visit to the Independence Memorial Hall followed suit. This monument was built in commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka from British rules in 1948, with its design mirroring that of a royal audience hall from the days of Kingdom of Kandy. It has some 60 pillars (memory getting sketchy here) whereby in between these pillars, above head, there are 25 bas-relief bronze panels depicting scenes from Sri Lankan history. I couldn’t for the life of me recall how many stone lions are found lining the four sides of the memorial, guarding the halls. Right at the front of the memorial is a statue of the “Father of the Nation”, the first Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake.

We then took a turn around the Cinnamon Gardens to get to a cluster of places of interest, namely the National Museum, the Viharamahadevi Park (also known as Victoria Park) and the “White House”, aka the town hall building which in part closely resembled the US Capitol and is being nicely stared at by a large gilded Buddha. We didn’t really see much of any of these sights otherwise, bar taking the photos of the exterior.

This was pretty much our one hour jaunt on the streets of Colombo, and rather amusingly, near the end of the tour, we found ourselves parked in front of a shop (I can’t quite remember what they were selling – I think it could be pearls?). We had no wish whatsoever to do any kind of shopping and frankly, we didn’t want to pay and spend 15 minutes of our hour there. We duly informed our driver of that, and grudgingly he took us away. He was about to take us back straight to the hotel when we pointed that we’d like to see the fort area. He started arguing that we were running out of time (that was untrue) but we managed to override his objection.

After that whirlwind tour of (parts of) Colombo, we were back to where it was most comfortable – the hotel. Claire was still feeling a bit off, no thanks to food poisoning from previous dinner, and after all the go-go-go, we both could do with some R&R time too. It was a pity that we didn’t get to really visit Colombo properly, but that was pretty much the nature of our roadtrip. We had no choice but to put on limits on what we could and had time to do.

We stayed at the Galle Face Hotel, a small luxury that we’d allowed ourselves for this trip. It was conveniently the venue for our friend’s wedding ceremony and reception, and predicting that we would be weary at the tail end of our trip, we decided a little upgrade on our choice of lodging couldn’t go too wrong. As “added value”, we were also “entertained” by the antics of a stalker right next to our room who took a shine to Claire… (I ponder if I should be telling the story here, hmmm)

All in all, we had a good holiday and enjoyed our roadtrip very much. We saw our friend got happily hitched in a most interesting and beautiful ceremony to a man who adores her. We experienced new culture and experiences that would be difficult to recreate anywhere else. With our lack of pre-trip preparations, we took advantage of the flexibility it provided but of course we also learned the pitfalls that came with it.

At the end of the day, I wished I had had more time to truly explore and see more at slower pace, but hey, I have limited time off from my job that enables me to indulge in my travelling bouts in the first place. Win some, lose some. I hope I’ve fairly painted the picture of my experience, and should you hesitate about organising a trip to Sri Lanka, I’d say go for it. But maybe in a more organised manner. Just a little bit. Life is fun with surprises along the way too! ;)

 

All posts in this series:
Sri Lanka: Ceylonese Tales
Sri Lanka: Trekking Sigiriya | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cave temples of Dambulla | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cultural evening in Kandy | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: We sort of saw Nuwara Eliya… | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Morning hike at Horton Plains | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: A room with a view in Ella | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Tissa, Yala and safari | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The southern coast | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The old fort of Galle | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Roadtrip ended in Colombo | Flickr Photoset



Category: Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

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4 scribbles & notes

  1. Chloé says:

    Lovely and inspiring tales indeed. :) Makes me wish for some proper hols time to go out and explore the world… Soon, I’m sure! :)

    • Lil says:

      thanks. it is a lot of fun to go and explore the world. except sometimes i felt like a silly tourist too. oh well, can’t win it all ;)

  2. medca says:

    woooowwwwww…this is definitely one of your longest entry lil and also the longest series as well ;) thx for sharing…just like being there hehe

    • Lil says:

      i know, this post is very long and took me a while to finish up too! i pondered cutting the post into two parts, but finally decided to keep it as one. ;)

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