Having had a fabulous day seeing the wildlife in Udawalawa Park, my guide and I set off to the resort of Kalutara, a coastal town on the east of the island, 50km from Colombo.
The heavens opened whilst driving to Kalutara, a heavy downpour of warm rain, that saturated the roadway and nearby fields. It is a shame that such does not happen often enough near the Udawalawa Park which, as I’d seen the previous day, was in increasing need of water.
The town of Kalutara itself is long, seems to go on and on and on, the street lined with shops, market stalls, dogs, cows, a multitude of people, but at its centre is a clocktower, on a roundabout, around which the traffic streams past.
I stayed at the Royal Palms Beach Hotel not far from the town, arriving just before lunch. My initial exploration was cut short by another torrential downpour, but when the rain cleared I explored the lush grounds. The sea comes right to the rocks edging the hotel’s lawn, thus completely obscuring the beach in places. I didn’t venture out onto the beach as the sea is relentless, washing up against the dark rocks, and I was reminded there was a tsunami in Sri Lanka on St Stephen’s Day 2004. The sound of the sea accompanied by the salty breeze only serves to prove the power of nature.
Running around the copious gardens, decorated with bamboo overhanging ponds, coconut trees and manicured green lawns, were squirrels and beautiful wading birds.
I even spotted a baby monitor one afternoon and the fruit bats in the trees are as big as seagulls, but no way near as vicious!
However, I didn’t lounge about the pool all of the time, I did go exploring and one of the most notable features in the area is Richmond Castle, which is not a castle but a grand mansion. Built under the auspices of the wonderfully named Padikara Muhandiram Arthur Silva Wijesinghe Sirirwardena, better known as simply Arthur Silva, this once grandiose building has fallen sadly into disrepair since its construction in 1910.
Silva’s family were noble and wealthy, astute business people making money from agriculture and other industries. Silva was made Mahamudali of the Kalutara region which gave him a great deal of power, responsibility and staff.
Inspired by a maharaja’s mansion in India, Silva was determined to build a similar dwelling for himself and chose as a site a high point overlooking a river and the sea.
And no expense was spared. Glass for the green tinted windows was shipped from Glasgow in Scotland, and Murano in Venice, Italy, for the stained glass decoration. Teak was his wood of choice and the mansion’s banisters, stairways, window frames and floors are still in fabulous shape, proving the hardiness of the wood.
Whole trees were used to create pillars, similar to those in the Buddhist temple in Kandy, and the grounds were landscaped, one area completely dedicated to sunflowers, but now filled with trees and other vegetation.
Photos of Silva’s wedding to Clarice Maud Sooriya Bandara hang on the yellow walls and once again money was no object. The wedding carriage was drawn by four white steeds brought from England and the wedding cake was an absurd twenty-four feet in height, but then it had to be to ensure all the guests (from maharajas to British royalty) had a slice.
But money cannot buy everything. The couple remained childless and statues of boys and girls standing in the grounds show how much children were sorely wanted. Sadly, after thirty-two years the marriage was annulled and Silva spent his last days in the Queen’s Hotel in Kandy and his wish for the castle to become a home for destitute children has been granted.
The hotel and surroundings of Kalutara was a super place to unwind and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable two weeks in the Palm Beach Hotel enjoying the fine food, spacious room and beautiful grounds. I’d like to thank my fellow travellers who shared a few excursions with me and a special thank you to all the staff who made my stay so comfortable and restful. If I’m not charged a single supplement then, in the immortal words of Arnie: “I’ll be back!”
Please check out my other blogs of Sri Lanka, which was a wonderful island to visit. Plenty to see, plenty to do, with fine food and excellent accommodation. Terrific value for money!