Updated: Nov 2
The flight from London, Heathrow, to Sri Lanka is just over ten hours, but on the plus side, it was an overnight flight and I slept. However, I didn’t exactly arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed, but was delighted to find that for my five day exploration of the south of the island I was to have my own personal driver and chauffeur who introduced himself as Neil Armstrong. I was quick enough to ask him ‘what was it really like on the moon?’ and he laughed. A good start, because Neel (as he preferred to be called) had a great sense of humour.
Neel’s first job was to show me the sights of Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, and I had a choice. See the sights before rush hour or go to my hotel and see the sights during rush hour. I opted for the former as I could just sit back in the passenger seat and let Neel do all the hard work.
If I won the lotto (and it’s not likely as I don’t play!) I’d employ a chauffeur as I love being driven. Having to drive myself everywhere means I miss out on the scenery and I could be doing so much more with my time rather than being stuck behind a wheel driving from A to B, therefore I felt like Good Queen Bess as Neel competently negotiated the roads into the heart of the city. He insisted on calling me ‘madam’ too which only fuelled my majestic image. (Don’t worry, I’m back on solid ground now, cleaning my own bathroom, doing the shopping and driving from A to B!)
The Lotus Tower at 1,153ft in height, is the tallest building in Sri Lanka and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. There is a revolving restaurant at the top, similar to that of the Post Office Tower in London back when it was the tallest building in England’s capital.
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, was colonised by the British prior to independence in 1948, and there is still a great deal of fine colonial architecture to be seen! Some of the buildings are more dilapidated than others and the upkeep of some has stopped, given the fact that Sri Lanka is bankrupt as I write this in October 2023.
Building work is being done on the port which is huge and will be a financial asset to the country. At the entrance to the port is a statue of a behatted man seated in a rickshaw, a reminder of how the wealthy colonists were transported around the city years ago, and it gave me pause for thought as Neel drove me around the city!
Typically, in the very centre of the city is a clock tower, to ensure people turned up for work on time!
But what is most striking about the city is the multiculturalism. There are Buddhist temples next to Hindu temples, next to Christian churches, the three main religions in Sri Lanka. All religious holidays are treated as holidays, therefore once a month on a full moon there is a Buddhist holiday where alcohol is not sold, nor served.
Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter are observed as are the holy days of Islam. Sri Lankans seem to have numerous days off work, preferring to work to live, rather than live to work!
The streets of Colombo are awash with people walking or driving cars, or tuk-tuks, or motorbikes. It is home to about two million people and I’m sure I saw more than two million during the two hour tour. Of course, people come from outside to work and the streets are lined with small shops selling anything from air conditioners to zinc counter tops!
The shops were organised however into free-wheeling zones. Electronic stores were all on one street, tile shops on another, stores selling motor parts on another. This ensures the tradespeople keep to a standard price and competition is not too competitive.
And then it started to rain, but this didn’t daunt the multitudes thronging the streets. Umbrellas went up and life moved on. The shower didn’t last long and my next stop was to what was once the houses of parliament. An old red roofed building with beautifully carved pillars of granite. The ceiling is painted a pristine white divided by rafters which look like wood, but are also granite.
It stands beside a statue of the first prime minister and opposite the university campus. Education is free in Sri Lanka, but very competitive. Only the very best students reach university and places are limited.
The current parliament meets in a white building opposite which is a statue of the first woman prime minister of Sri Lanka (and the world). Long before Margaret Thatcher (and a little before Golda Meir) was Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was elected in 1960 after the assassination of her husband.
And whilst on politics one of the final buildings I saw, now government offices, was a replica of The White House in Washington D.C.
Tired, but very satisfied with my tour, I was driven to the Ramada where I stayed for the night, enjoying my first taste of Sri Lankan curries. Absolutely delicious. I then awoke refreshed in the morning to a view of the sea, ready to explore my next port of call: Kandy.
I thoroughly enjoyed my vacation in Sri Lanka, where I learned a great deal. To discover more of my adventure please click on the links.