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Published: March 1st 2017
Today we were happy to leave Castlereigh a day earlier than originally planned. We packed up and after a leisurely breakfast we set off to Colombo. En route Basil pointed out the largest bamboo trees which had been imported from Thailand. They are not so much tall as thick - very thick.
The train journey on Sunday was very straight as trains don’t like bends and the line which had been laid by the British went through the mountain range. Not so the road which was very winding and full of S-bends and hairpin turns following river runs and mountain terrain. My knitting needles clacked faster and louder!
The road was lined with tea plantations including the Carolina Tea Estates. So, being total tourists we stopped to take a photo of Caroline at the sign.
Basil stopped to show us the “Bridge over the River Kwai” ie where the Hollywood version was filmed. (The original bridge was built as part of the Burma railway and can be visited in Thailand now.) This site is near the town of Kitulgala. This area is also famous for its white river rafting on the Kelani River which runs from the Central
Province to Colombo.
Around Kitulgala Basil also pointed out the area of the cave where the remains of prehistoric homo-sapien activity by "Balangoda Man" had been discovered. Archaeologists have found microliths (flint shards) dated to be 27,000 years old.
At lunch time we stopped at a veggie restaurant where we piled our plates with the most delicious looking curries made of all different vegetables, aubergines, potatoes, beans, lentils etc etc. Then back on the road to Colombo. We stopped at the supermarket near where Basil lives and Caroline was able to stock up on the most incredible local spices.
Then came the culture shock - traffic lights! We were approaching the largest city in Sri Lanka, Colombo. We, being ignorant of the geography of Sri Lanka, assumed that Colombo is the capital. Wrong!!! The capital is Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (affectionately known as Kotte). This is a modern sprawling part town on the outskirts of Colombo. The area has beautiful modern governmental buildings, the parliament, the foreign embassies and large, affluent residences. We didn’t stop to look around but continued driving into Colombo. This is a typical town which we had seen throughout our travels interspersed with modern
stores and huge hotels for tourists and business people.
We were staying at the Kingsbury Hotel. When it was built and named it caused amusement with the locals as the word 'bury' in Sinhalese means 'belly' so the hotel was actually the King’s belly! Opposite the hotel a port is being built. This is financed by the Chinese. This has caused consternation with the locals as to whether or not it is a good thing to have Chinese money taking over some infrastructure. The Chinese have a 99 year lease at the port. The arguments on both sides are whether or not this will be a takeover of Sri Lanka by the Chinese. Bearing in mind the history of Ceylon being invaded by India, colonised by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British, and finally gaining independence in 1948, the people are worried that the country will be recolonised. As outsiders we could understand why the Chinese would want to have a base here - it is a key point on the sea trade route between Europe and the Far East.
Another aspect of the new Colombo port is that hotels like the Kingsbury which had
been beautifully set on the seaside were now inland of an ugly port area. Too bad there is nothing these classic hotels can do about it. Now some new hotels such as the Grand Hyatt are being built a bit further down the shore.
The Kingsbury is a European 5* hotel where many wedding ceremonies take place. We saw brides and bridesmaids wearing the most beautiful European style dresses and the rest of the women in the family wearing gorgeous saris in the most beautiful colours.
Around the country we had obviously been spoiled by the boutique hotels with their large room areas and huge bathrooms as here we had typical hotel rooms and bathrooms. Still our rooms were spotlessly clean and the staff were just as delightful here as they were elsewhere on our travels.
It was a sad moment for us as we said goodbye to Basil here. Our driver Thursday to take us to Aditya was tentatively Jagath himself, but definitely not Basil who had a new group beginning their tour.
After our long drive we showered and changed and had to decide where to eat. We set off to explore the city.
There were no street lights but there were pavements. Crossing roads was an adventure as we couldn’t be sure that the cars and tuk-tuks would stop when we were on the crossings. We decided to try the sushi bar at the Hilton so we went across the road and down the block. When we got there we were told that the sushi restaurant wasn’t there but across the road. Across the road was a bit of a puzzle - across which road? The Hilton was on the corner of a crossroad and there was no sushi place that we could see. Then we were told that it was in the Dutch hospital. Where is the Dutch hospital? Across the road. Eventually we found it and had a very nice supper.
Finally back to the hotel for our last night of boggle. Caroline was still well in the lead.
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