Colombo, Sri Lanka’s economic center is a colorful and bustling city. It’s an interesting mix of Moor, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences with a history of over 600 years.
Points of Interest in Colombo
The heart of Colombo is known as ‘Fort’, but there is little sign of any fortifications today. The Fort area today is a collection of marble and glass structures along such venerable buildings such as the Miller’s, building and the General Post Office.
Most of the important government buildings are housed here, including the Janadhipahi Mandiraya (President’s residence, known as the Queen’s House in old times), but the President no longer stays here.
The clock tower in Fort is a familiar landmark, which was a lighthouse 140 years ago.
The Pettah is Colombo’s bustling bazaar area. It’s many crisscrossing roads mark out sections which specializes in various trades from the latest models of Japanese electrical & electronic items, Swiss watches & Levi’s jeans to used computers, sarees, spices and condiments, goldsmiths and jewellers, wholesale traders in rice, sugar, onions and lentils and chilies.
Places of Religious Worship
There are quite a few Buddhist temples in the city. Worth a visit is the Gangaramaya Temple, near the Beira Lake.
Colombo has many Hindu temples, known as kovils. The New Kathiresan and Old Kathiresan Kovils, which are dedicated to the war god Skanda are the starting point for the annual Vel Festival. The huge Vel chariot is dragged to kovils in Galle road, Bambalapitiya. Other kovils worth visiting are the Sri Ponnabalam-Vanesvaram kovil in Kochchikade, and the Sri Shiva Subramania Swami kovil on Kew road, Slave Island.
The Grand Mosque in Pettah is probably the most important mosque in Sri Lanka.
Zoo, park & Museum
Other places of importance are the National Zoo located south of city at Dehiwela. This is considered one of the largest zoos in South Asia. The Viharamahadevi Park, which is Colombo’s biggest park with it’s shady flowering trees right across the Town hall. The National Museum, which has a fine collection of ancient royal regalia, Singhalese artwork, antique furniture and china, and ola manuscripts (You are not allowed to take photos). The Art Gallery focuses on portraiture and temporary exhibits by the local artists.
Activities in and around Colombo
City Tour of Colombo
Colombo, Sri Lanka’s business capital is an interesting mix of colonial era buildings as well as modern high-rises. A tour of the city will include visits to the Galle Face Green, Fort Area, Pettah Floating Market, Town hall, BMICH & Independence Arcade.. You will also be able to visit the old Wolfendhal Dutch Church (built in 1749), a Hindu Temple, the famous Gangarama Temple situated on the Beira Lake and the Devatagaha Mosque. The extended tour includes a visit to the Kelaniya Temple. On your way around the city, you will also witness many more interesting sights and places, all a reflection of Sri Lanka’s colourful character.
Shopping in Colombo
Colombo has almost anything and everything – fresh local produce in the Pettah market, tempting bargains in the maze of streets in the Fort and Pettah areas, local handicrafts in Laksala outlets islandwide and colourful Batiks, which are all immensely popular among locals and visitors alike. Although the Pettah bazzar is loud, busy and crowded, you can find almost anything and quite an experience in itself.
Considering clothes, anything from hand-painted silks and cottons to the latest in designer wear at very reasonable prices can be found in the elegant shops dotted around the city. Several shopping malls offer you convenient shopping, and a must buy is the famous Ceylon Tea, available island wide. Furthermore, the island is fast becoming a popular shopping destination for garments and electronic items.
Golf in Colombo
Named the Best Golf Course in the subcontinent, the Royal Colombo Golf Club is located in the centre of Colombo. However, in stark contrast to the bustle of the city, the environment within the Club premises is most serene and relaxing. This 18 hole course runs through 96 acres of beautifully landscaped land, offering Golfers a challenging but satisfying game while ensuring their return time and again. The Club also offers all facilities for relaxation with several dining areas, a Pro Shop and Fitness Centre. This is no doubt a favourite hang-out for Golfers and non-Golfers both locals and visitors.
Other Points of Interest Close to Colombo
Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
The most important temple close to Colombo is the Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya or the Kelaniya temple. This site date back to the very early dates of the Singhalese Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka.
The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is a noble and dignified place of worship for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Kelaniya is one of the three places in the country where Lord Buddha is supposed to have visited. The temple boasts of some very fascinating wall and ceiling paintings. The great Buddhist journal, the Mahawamsa mentions that the Gautama Buddha visited this site in the 5th Century BC. The dagoba was built afterwards.
The Kelaniya sacred precinct is located on the banks of the Kelani River. The city of Kelaniya is named after the temple and situated towards the North East of Colombo.
Kelaniya is one of the closest sites to Colombo connected to the Ramayana.
After King Ravana’s death, Vibeeshana was coroneted as King of Lanka by Lakshmana at Kelaniya. There are murals enshrined outside the Buddhist temple depicting the crowning of Vibeeshana. The Kelani River is mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana and Vibeeshana palace was said to be on the banks of this river. The reason Lakshmana crowned Vibeeshana, was because Rama had to return to India as he had to continue his self-exile of 14 years to honor the commitment to his father, King Dasarath of Ajodhya.
There exists as Buddhist temple and shrine for King Vibeeshana. Vibeeshana is considered one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka, and temples for Vibeeshana are found throughout Sri Lanka. A painting of Kind Vibeeshana adorns the new Parliament of Sri Lanka. In fact there are no temples dedicated for Ravana, but many exist for Vibeeshana; this goes to prove that his stand towards dharma & justice made people to revere him as a god in Sri Lanka.
King Vibeeshana was considered a fair king, as he supported Rama against his own brother’s injustice. Many devotees that visit king Vibeeshana’s shrine pray to him asking his intervention to a fair recourse to their problems.
The Kelaniya Temple is a calm and serene place that will bring you peace of mind. You will smell the sweet fragrance of incense-sticks and notice the soft glow of lamps in the background. Listen to the faint murmur of devotees at prayer.
White Water Rafting In Kutulgala
Kitulgala is perfect for those seeking an adventure filled with thrills and spills. Both amateurs and professionals are welcome to ride the rapids on the white water sections of the Kelani River right above Kitulgala, which generate grade 2/3 rapids and sometimes even grade 4 and 4+ rapids.
All those participating in this activity are given a complete briefing including advice on paddling techniques and procedures in case of ‘man overboard’ situations prior to setting off on the river run.
Part of this scenic river was used as a location for shooting some scenes from ‘Bridge On The River Kwai’ in 1956.
National Zoological Gardens
Initiated by John Hargenberg, the National Zoological Gardens, popularly known as “the Zoo” is situated in Dehiwala. With its interesting collection of a wide variety of species it is home to animals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects who were adopted from all over the world. It includes about three thousand animals that come from about 350 species. The National Zoological Gardens is the oldest of its kind in Asia. With over 500 species of aquatic life, the aquarium is a world of amazement and colour and the only one of its kind. A blissful walk through the aviary, reptilian and butterfly park will keep you gazing at these wondrous forms of live creatures.