As we’d previously visited Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, our visit this time was short, so to pack in as much as possible, we followed a Lonely Planet walking tour – 9km and 5 hours.
We began by getting a tuk tuk to the start, which involved the inevitable haggling, jabbing the map to indicate our destination, and refusing the driver’s ‘very cheap city tour’.
Our first stop was the Clock Tower. Built in 1857, it originally served as a lighthouse guiding ships into port until 1952, when it was decommissioned as its light became obscured by nearby buildings.
The route took us past the President’s House and General Post Office, two large, white imposing buildings, with the former partially hidden by trees, and the equally grand Lloyd’s Building. St Peter’s Church didn’t seem accessible, with lots of surrounding building work.
Cargills Main Store had a grand façade, with part of it now being occupied by the Bank of China. A quick glimpse inside, revealed half-filled shelves, lots of space and a small pharmacy. Despite setting off early, it was getting hot, and we stopped at the Dutch Hospital for a cooling drink at Java café. Sadly many of the outlets here appeared to have been affected by Covid and had closed.
Passing the World Trade Centre and Bank of Ceylon, we headed for Galle Face Green which was a slight misnomer as the grass was yellow. There was significant work going on, which looked like the building of new, permanent stalls between the pavement and road. Here we were constantly accosted by people wanting to chat or sell us a tour, and it became a little wearing after a while.
It was here that we spotted the difference between two maps we had, one from a previous trip in 2004 and a later edition from 2021. A massive land reclamation project, known as Colombo Port City, is underway, which is meant to be an economic game changer prompting comparisons with Dubai, Hong Kong and Monaco. However, as it is being developed with Chinese investment, there are many concerns.
It was then a long and hot walk down the relatively boring Union Place, and we wished we’d got a tuk tuk, but couldn’t bear the prospect of haggling again in the heat.
Next was Lipton Circus (a bit like Piccadilly Circus, in that it was a busy gyratory flanked by several colonial buildings including a Baptist church, post office, mosque and eye hospital). By now it was mid-afternoon, and we were pleased to find a little shade in Viharamahadevi Park. When I tried to take a photo of a golden seated Buddha, I was told by a policeman, it was mobiles only and no cameras. Unfortunately much of the park was off limits for Independence Day celebrations the following day.
Whilst our walk should have ended at the park, we continued on to the nearby Gangaramaya Temple run by one of Sri Lanka’s most powerful monks (400 Rupees/£1.50 and shoes off). The interior was like a bric a brac shop. Display cases were full of random memorabilia and artefacts, and other ‘things’ wrapped in newspaper, lay on the floor waiting to be revealed. It was hard to miss the stuffed body of the Temple’s late elephant Ganga. It was a huge place and there were workmen all over doing what appeared like massive renovations and it would be interesting to return when finished.
Back out, we finished our day with a little retail therapy at a couple of shops nearby: Cotton Collection, Paradise Road and Urban Island, with clothes, homeware and souvenir gifts from Sri Lanka, where we bought several items for friends.
This was a very full day, especially in the heat and having to wear a mask and we returned to our hotel exhausted.