Colombo, Srilanka’s Colonial Heritage.
The Kingsbury-our hotel, the city and the Kottu Roti.
Our short five days and four nights’ trip to Sri Lanka’s undiscovered attributes ended with two day and night stay at the country’s capital city Colombo. Colombo is the biggest and major port city of Srilanka with an urban buzz that’s characteristic to a Capital city’s life. You would appreciate this city if you love the crowd, night life especially Casinos, Clubs, traffic, high rise buildings and shopping arcades. Having said that, finding a quiet corner along the seashore where you can spend a calm moment with your inner self to the mesmerizing music of the waves breaking on the rocky shore is not difficult either.
We reached Colombo on an overcast afternoon to this new luxury hotel in town The Kingsbury, which was actually erstwhile Intercontinental that got a new name and facelift after a recent change of management. The place appeared to be the new buzz of the town with a number of guests and dignitaries pouring in every minute as we waited for checking-in formalities in its Imperial style lobby. Almost gigantic chandeliers and throne like couches can’t be left unnoticed, attached to the lobby are the hotel’s lounge, bakery and the all day dining restaurant directly overlooking the sea. All in all it was an impression of absolute luxury that ran though my mind but alas, just as they say one should never judge by the first impression, what followed next made us wonder if we were at a 5-star hotel in the first place. As soon as we got out of the elevator, rigid unsmiling faces of the inattentive staff, tiny rooms and poor services are what kept pouring in one after another. I am not sure if it was the contrast to the small town warmth of Bentota or the general arrogance of a big city or that the hotel was busy receiving too many big shots that actually culminated into poor experiences. Anyhow, as the day unfolded my nephew’s unquenchable desire to swim took us to the pool that directly overlooked the wide expanse of the sea, but just another minute and we realised that we cannot just go down and sit quietly across the hotel’s private beach for nothing as such existed. We had opted for Kingsbury over Hilton across the street for the former’s pictures gallery included trick photographs that gave an impression of a beach front hotel, while in reality there was at least 80 feet wide road between the hotel and the rocky beach which one can’t hit anyway. To sum up, find yourself a different hotel. Well, the only attraction of this hotel perhaps was the roof top bar that offered a brilliant view of the city’s coastline at night, here one can spend a happening evening with drinks and loud music on an open air terrace directly overlooking the sea.
The next morning began with a spectacular sea view that our 8th floor room offered, but very soon we were disappointed once again at the buffet breakfast with nothing outstanding in the entire array of offering. But that, to our relief, was the last disappointment for the day and we were up for some great experiences while loitering across the City. Amidst all the modern construction work being carried out by China the imprints of the colonial times are strongly embedded in the city’s architecture. The major buildings like the City Town Hall or the Municipal Building or the old Parliament Building are a testimony to its colonial lineage. The contrast of the gone by days and the new era is more strongly evident around the Fort area of the town that houses the modern skyscrapers and the ancient grand architectural buildings alongside each other. At the heart of the town is the beautiful Biera Lake that adds a poetic ambiance to the vicinity but when we reached there it was drizzling and I could not take out my camera and take a shot. Having spent a good part of the day admiring the city’s buzz on a cloudy afternoon we finally agreed to embark on my other favourite part of the trip, shopping.
Cotton Collection and Odel are two of city’s famous and perhaps the best stores, which the locals’ however proudly call malls but coming from a city that houses the likes of Select city Walk or Ambiance (few huge Delhi malls), I’d better stick to super stores. If you think I am being mean then so be it, for really you’ll be amazed at the first copy of the branded garments that are on offer here, or could they be the factory rejected seconds I wonder. Anyhow if brands are your thing just keep away from shopping but if you don’t mind the fakes then you are in heaven for here you can just go on shopping and end up paying just peanuts in Indian currency. I steered clear of the garments section and picked some cute accessories and fine Srilankan teas. The next and an unavoidable stop on a shopping day out is “Laksala”, the state gift and souvenir gallery, which is the only place that everyone will inadvertently suggest when you ask around for the best place to shop for souvenirs. Now frankly, I am sure they pay commissions to the taxi drivers and travel agents for our driver insisted on taking us there. Having spend a good half an hour scanning the shelves of the overpriced government shop that’s specially designed to woo tourists we came out making a compulsive purchase in a couple of fridge magnets.
By the time we left the gallery it had started pouring and we unanimously craved for a hot cup of tea, so we pulled outside a tea stall and while our teas were made we saw everyone gorging on a plate full of something along with their tea. A little asking around and we discovered that it was the country’s favourite fast food, the Kottu Roti which we would have missed had it not been for the rains. The snack, a large plateful portion, was actually chopped flatbreads cooked over a hot skillet with finely chopped vegetables, eggs and meats of your choice. The kottu roti was hot, spicy and greasy bliss in every bite, or a little too spicy for my liking but trust that can be requested to adjust. Well having said that a Sri Lankan trip couldn’t have been complete without having tried this snack that the locals so adore.
The rain had stopped and since we had ordered just a plate of Kottu Roti among four of us and it was time for dinner already, we wanted to have a memorable last Sri Lankan dinner. Our guide cum driver dropped us outside an Old Dutch building that had a line of fancy cars parked outside and from within the building came a low sound of some jazz music and the signboard at the entrance read “Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct”. At first our jaw lines dropped and we thought ‘oh we don’t wanna dine at a shopping mall food court’, but what unfolded as we took our step inside the courtyard was to become the most memorable part of my Colombian experience. To read about it in detail watch out for my review post coming up soon… Read it here
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