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 Post subject: Colourfully chaotic Colombo
 Post Posted: Tue Oct 04, 2005 3:33 am 
Colourfully chaotic Colombo

By David May

September 4, 2005
@The Sunday Mail (Qld)


RAUCOUS, chaotic and plagued by gridlocked traffic and frequent power cuts, Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, is also a colourful, spirited and laidback city awash with optimism and exhilarating food.

Ah coffee ... a Sri Lankan man dressed in a traditional sarong outfit walks past an expresso bar in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

With a history that disappears into the fog of 543BC, Sri Lanka has, at one time or another, been controlled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British before independence in 1948.

Modern architecture has sprouted alongside some wonderful old colonial gems in a city blessed with ample green space and ocean beaches where the scorching summer temperatures are tempered by cooling sea breezes.

Disagreements with the Tamil Tiger separatist movement have been long and bloody and still simmer under the surface but while there are no specific travel warnings current, visitors are advised to avoid large gatherings and to monitor developments.

Morning
Colombo is an easy city to get around, and to get a feel for the old colonial era join the shoppers and office workers in a stroll around the Fort district where the Grand Oriental Hotel, 200-year-old St Peter's Church and the clock tower are the most visible legacies of British rule.

Beside Fort is one of Colombo's oldest districts. Pettah is the city's bazaar area, a little grubby, but a shopper's nirvana.

It's a maze of narrow, cobbled streets lined with bargain stalls and shops selling everything that's possible to buy.

There are good-quality fabrics, jewellery, electrical and household items, rare books including many first editions, and Ayurvedic medicinal supplies.

Another must for shoppers is the enormous Odel's department store in an old colonial building in the wealthy residential Cinnamon Gardens district selling export-quality clothing and accessories.

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Lunch
Superb curries, dhal and rice are Colombo's version of fast food and there are vendors on many street corners dolloping them into special lunch packs.

The Barefoot Garden Cafe (704 Galle Rd) offers light lunches on the veranda or in the frangipani-filled garden.

The chaotic and very popular Shanti Vihar (3 Havelock Rd) serves excellent South Indian vegetarian food at very affordable prices, and if you're homesick the Aussie-owned Cricket Club Cafe (34 Queens Rd) is full of TV sports, cricket memorabilia, the Bradman Bar and chilli crab and steak and kidney pie on a menu resembling a scoreboard.

For something more upmarket, Spoons at the Hilton Colombo, with its modern open-grill kitchen and contemporary decor, serves some of the city's best international food with mains from about $A25.

Afternoon
Viharamahadevi Park, once named Victoria Park after you-know-who, is Colombo's loveliest green space with magnificent flowering trees (in spring) and overlooked by the old white-domed Town Hall.

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Nearby you can brush up on Sri Lankan art, natural history, culture and heritage at a "one-stop shop". Clustered together are the National Museum, which also has a puppetry and children's museum, the National Art Gallery and the Natural History Museum.

The Dutch Period Museum, housed in a 17th century residence on Prince St, Pettah, is also worth a look as it is one of the few remnants of the Dutch colonial presence.

Day trips
Rent a car and enjoy Sri Lanka's fabulous west coast beaches laced with resorts and hotels serving superb food, mask-carvers and opportunities to surf, dive, snorkel, windsurf or just lie and fry in the tropical sun.

A cooler option is the hill country and the ancient royal city of Kandy with its serene lake, sacred temples, elephant orphanage and Royal Botanic Gardens.

Nightlife
Local musicians and their fans head for Rhythm and Blues, Glow Bar attracts hordes of Colombo's under-30 trendies, Zanzibar offers rock, jazz and soul music and there are several casinos including Jupiter's and MGM Grand Club on Galle Rd.

* Information: www.srilankatourism.org

The Sunday Mail (Qld)


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