The Valentine’s bullock and the alien abduction
Think of the perfect gift for your heart’s desire and it would be a bullock cart ride through a coconut plantation, wouldn’t it? Well, this Valentine’s Day we were staying in colonial splendour at the Horathapola Coconut Estate and a bullock assisted tour of some of the 50-acre grounds, plus a sumptuous dinner that night scored highly on the cupid scale. As well as relaxing in the tranquil gardens, our stay included a trip to the local vibrant market, full of good-natured calling and banter to attract customers to their stalls.
In Colombo we based ourselves at the Colombo Court Hotel and enjoyed a brilliant evening exploring the street food with our guides for the evening Ryan and Dan. Starting at Galle Face Green (more straw coloured really) we went to Nana’s a popular food stall on the sea front. After meeting the owner and understanding how the meals were made, I helped (probably hindered) prepare our meal before enjoying the incredibly tasty fare as the sun set over the ocean. Very popular with the locals, there was a great atmosphere as we walked along the front sampling foodstuffs from other stalls. Built in the 1600s the Dutch hospital is now a trendy mall of shops, bars and restaurants. We stopped at the Taphouse to wash our dinner down with a tankard (or two) of refreshing Lion beer. The live band were brilliant, playing some of our favourite (1980/90s) songs, the lead singer sounded like Bryan Adams. We completed our evening at the ice cream parlour where we watched the final few overs of England beating South Africa and sealing the series. The perfect end to the perfect evening (how did Selective Asia organise that?).
The following day our excellent and knowledgeable guide Priya (although I was tempted to rename him Moses because he continually parted the teeming traffic as we crossed roads) took us on a full day tour of Colombo. After visiting Independence Square (Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 but was Ceylon until 1972) we moved to Gangaramaya Temple. Perhaps less a popular place of worship that a spectacular collection of artefacts donated from various parts of Asia. As well as celebrating Buddhism and Hinduism, the donations are used to fund training and apprenticeships, which often leads to the startup of small business (similar to Princes Trust in the UK).
When is a lighthouse not a lighthouse? When it’s a clock tower of course. The Queens Road lighthouse was constructed by the British 3 years before the Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) was constructed in London, but land reclamation and expansion of the port area has left it high and dry inland. It was then converted into a clock tower and sits in what is now Chatham Street.
A visit inside the old town hall is often missed and we were privileged to be given a guided tour by the current owner. Council meetings have been recreated using dummies (I know what you’re thinking) and there is a wealth of artefacts from years gone by including photographs, maps (1875) and adding machines. Star of the show was the windows and wooden shutters, a superb piece of British engineering, that still slide smoothly down into the wall space. In the courtyard there are more artefacts to admire, like a steam traction engine, a truck and gas lamps.
Learning about these places (and so, so much more) left us ready for a break and a trip to the Green Cabin cost us a whopping £3 for 3 chilled coffees and 3 pies (always eat where the locals eat).
Headline news – Aliens abduct leopards from Wilpattu, giant concentric circles in grasslands provides evidence! Wilpattu is the oldest and largest (1317 sq km) National Park in Sri Lanka and we explored it from the delightful Leopard Trails luxury tented safari camp. The camp is only a few minutes’ drive from the National Park’s entrance gate and our journeys to and from the park were partly taken on the wrong side of the road. The local rice farmers have worked out that by spreading their newly harvested rice over one carriageway, the rice dries twice as quickly (using the heat attracted by the black tarmac) as traditional methods. We took three drives (one full day and two half days) which saw us cover a good deal of the park’s forested, sandy and lake side areas. It was great to see many animals in their natural habit and spotted deer, water buffalo, jackals and wild boar made regular appearances. An elephant entertained us by standing in the lake, ripping vast quantities of water plants up, shaking off the mud and munching them for its tea. There were many species of birds to admire, with sea eagles catching their supper from the lake, serpent eagles and owls staring regally from their tree perches and our favourite, the brightly-coloured varieties of bee-eaters.
Often our drives seemed like we were driving through snow, as white butterflies settled in mud pools to collect minerals and then burst into blizzard like flight as we passed close by. A picture postcard position beside the lake was perfect for a sumptuous lunch. A little drama was added by monkeys watching us closely for the chance of any leftovers and us keeping a careful eye on the partly submerged crocodile twenty meters out in the lake. Further searching revealed many other sightings, even a brief glimpse of a Sloth Bear. Sadly, the key attraction (leopards) remained elusive for everyone, leading to outrageous speculation of alien abduction, or is it, you read it first here!
More down to earth tales, as we head for the cultural triangle, will follow in Part 2.
Horathapola Coconut Estate
Colombo Court Hotel
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia.