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Sri Lanka : Colombo

Train journey to Colombo

semi-overcast 30 °C

An early departure (0720 train was 15 minutes late) and the Observation Car had seen a lot of wear and tear compared to the nicely upholstered 'Up Train' but there is ample leg room and I had a window seat. The seat next to me used as luggage storage by the couple behind (they had at ticket for the seat). Remind me not to travel on weekend trains while here .. this is family day and there were at least a dozen children in addition to the 40 adults in the carriage. Inevitable that at any given time one or more of these brats would be crying or attention seeking but there was one little 6 or 7 year old who shouted by the top of his lungs for at least 5 hours. I would have throttled him given half a chance. The pattern here is similar to that I have seen in Thailand .. poor people have lots of kids and keep them under control ; the middle class have just one or two and indulge them mercilessly.

I enjoyed the scenery even though I had just been through here a few days before ; in the first hour we passed through tunnels (there are 46 on the entire route) .. in which you left sunshine and came out of the tunnel into cloud and mist.

I arrive at Fort Station at 4pm,. collected the bag I'd left in storage there and made my way to the Galle Face Hotel.


This is a great old (1864) hotel with excellent style. My Deluxe Room turned out to be a large suite with sitting room, huge bedroom, walk-in dressing room and large toilet and bath. It has 12 foot ceilings and was at least three times the size of my former flat in Jenner House. The reason it was cheaper than next price level up was that I was on the corner next to road and had only a partial sea view, but for £37.50 a night (with huge breakfast buffet) this was steal.

Showered and ready to kill a few beers when I learned that this was a Poya (Full Moon) day and no alcohol was being served (not even in your room). This put me in a bad mood but a 2 hour walk soon exhausted me enough to get over it. Galle Road is a real non-even I am beginning to think that Colombo is really not much of a city and the big attraction would be staying in this hotel.


Hotel car (500 Rupees) to National Museum. I was not expecting much but this is really a great collection and in particular the labels and explanations are top class. .. must have been done by a native English speaker.

I found many explanations for things I had seen either here in Sri Lanka or in other Asian countries. (1) early Buddhists did not worship Buddha images .. their Dagobas (temples) had either Buddha footprints, an empty throne or a Bodhi Tree .. images came later with influences from India. (This may account for the fact that in general, Buddhist temples here do not have the clutter that is so common to temples in Thailand and Laos.

(2) Irrigation .. the early kings were keen on control and management of water resources, but it is Parakramabaha The Great (1153 – 1186) who is credited with this comment

'Let not a drop of water enter the sea without being used by man.'

He created the series of tanks which were later connected to form the huge reservoir at Polonnaruwa .. and had a 54 mile long canal built to feed the tanks. The tank in Polonnaruwa was built by Parakramabaha ; in 1938 the British repaired the bund and mechanised the sluice outlets.


Highlights of National Museum


Buddha figure at the entrance (large rather rough stone .. 10 or 12 feet high) - is really striking. It has an air of alert calm or awareness with calm .. It is 3rd to 5th Cent AD.

Things I learned from my visit to the National Museum:

(1) Lingam. This phallus type pole is associated with the Hindu god Siva. A lingam pole is set in a base with a square peg .. there are many examples in Cambodia where the base remains and the lingam has been destroyed or stolen,. I did not know that the base (called a Yoni) has either a trough and lip or concealed outlet so that the oil which is poured over the lignum can be collected and recycled.

(2) There is a system for sculptors making a Buddha image .. Navatala or Uttama Dasatala. The measurement between hairline and foot must be the same as from base to shoulder and from knee to knee, etc. That symmetry may be one explanation for why these images are so pleasing to the eye (pleasing to me that is)..

(3) Evolution of Sinhalese alphabet. I mentioned that the letters on an inscription at Mihintale looked a bit like Greek and the display in the museum confirmed that I was not all that far off. A table showed the evolution of letters from pre Christian era to the present alphabet. L becomes a curly backwards C, etc.

(4) Water filter. They devised a system for putting water in a sandstone vessel which was porous enough for the water to pass through it (7.5 litres in 24 hours) and provide purified water.

(5) Model of a Bisokotuwa. One of the high technical features of Sri Lankan water engineering is called the Bisokotuwa - there is a working model in the museum - . It is a combined cistern/sluice which allows large amounts of water to be drawn out of the reservoir without disturbing the bund. It is then released into channels for use of the people and for irrigation. It was thought to have been invented in the 4th Cent BC but certainly there is evidence that it was perfected by the 1st Cent AD … far in advance of any other known irrigation knowledge in the world at that time.

Sunday night

Dinner at German Restaurant across the street .. too much noise at hotel from wedding parties. I had Sri Lankan food .. king prawns in a hot sauce, tasty.

Monday 26 November

Breakfast buffet here is really good and the sea view simply adds that something special. Spent a long time on the computer bringing the journal up to date (I think). Organised my car to the airport for 11 pm .. 2400 Rs (12 Pounds) which seems reasonable for a posh car late in the evening.

Walked to Barefoot .. a shop with native fabrics and goodies that would have sent me on a buying spree in the old days. I didn't find anything I could live without and decided books were too heavy to lug .. so spent no money there.

Around noon I reached my goal : The Gallery .. Geoffrey Bawa's former office (his architectural practice). Surprisingly modest with clay tile roofs in a long narrow site. But as you proceed it becomes more interesting ; skillful use of ponds and plants increase the sense of space. The cafe was simply far too piss elegant for my taste, so I gave it a miss.

Luckily, the Cricket Club Cafe is just across the street and this was much more relaxed. Cricket memorabilia and a TV (luckily no sound) .. seems to be quite a complex and nice outdoor space would have suited me but there was a baby! Anyway, indoors was nice and lunch was a beer and excellent Thai chicken salad.

Back to the Galle Face for another beer and a nap .. then packing. Decided against dinner .. I had a huge breakfast and big enough lunch .. plus beer .. so I had more beer and cashews. Left the hotel at 11pm for my trip to airport ; the city was all closed up.


Seems my timing was very good .. the major “incident” while I was there was the Government killing (by bombing) the Number 2 in the Tamil Tigers. Just after I left, the Tamil Tigers responded with a suicide bomber in central Colombo (1 killed) and a bomb at a suburban shopping centre in which 19 were killed and 40 injured (as of 28 November).

Hired cars. It is not just the cost of the car and driver that gets to me. I realised that when you are alone, the driver feels the need to talk. Chris, the German agreed with me on this point ; he had a driver for his whole fortnight in the country. If there were more than one passenger it might be easier. But the big thing is that you are separated from the locals. A big part of the pleasure in the train journey was observing fellow passengers (even the wretched children). There was one sweet looking little car in as train going the opposite direction from us ; I would have traded the ones in my carriage for her.


Practical details

Grand Oriental Hotel

Hotel Suisse, Kandy

Tissawewa Resthouse, Anuradhapura

Polonnaruwa Rest House

Kandalama Hotel

Bandarawela Hotel

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

Sit up and beg bicycles

Ficus Religiosa (Bodhi Tree)

Posted by MarshallC 12:18 Archived in Sri Lanka

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