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Sri Lanka, the Land of Delights 

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Must Visit Locations

Colombo, Sri Lanka

A blend of East & West, past & present

The commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo is the only gateway to the resplendent tropical island. Colombo, a fascinating city, a blend of East & West as well as a cozy mixture of past & present, is dotted with numerous interesting and important tourist attractions including colonial era buildings.


In the 14th century, Ibn Batuta referred to Colombo as Kalanpu. Colombo is apparently derived from Sinhala name Kola-amba-thota which means "Harbour with leafy mango trees". It has been pointed out by Illustrious Julius de Lanerolle (Sri Lankan), in an article in the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, that the first part of this compound noun, "Kolamba" itself is a Sinhala word meaning port, ferry, harbour of haven. Illustrious De Lanerolles of Sri Lanka are descendents of M. de la Narolle, personal envoy of Louis XIV of France to King Rajasinha the second (1634-1585) of Sri Lanka.

Colombo Harbour

During the nineteenth century Colombo port acquired the sobriquet the "Charing Cross of the East" thanks to its location at the crossroads of Indian Ocean trade. Colombo has one of the world's largest man-made harbors. Most of Sri Lanka's foreign trade passes through the port equipped with modern facilities for containerized cargo.

Grand Oriental Hotel

The Harbour Room restaurant bar of the Grand Oriental Hotel opposite the entrance to the port affords marvelous views of the seaport. In 1890 an unknown Russian writer checked into the hotel. Anton Chekhov rose to fame following his tour in the Island. Your visit would provide you with ample material to sit tight & write for years, especially in a European perspective.

Fort, the heart of the Colombo

The area between Colombo harbour to the north & the urban lagoon Beira Lake to the south is today called Fort. The fortress is no longer in existence: built by the Portuguese, taken over by the Dutch, demolished by the British.

Cargills at Fort

The grand department store, colonial building of Cargills located in Fort, is overlooked by modern 40 story twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre. The Cargills was established to supply British planters & colonial administrators with every essential luxury.

Laksala at Fort

The main branch of Laksala, Sri Lanka's largest handicrafts shop is packed with a wide variety of handicrafts produced all over the island.

Colonial Buildings at Fort

  • Presidential Secretariat (previously the Parliament house)
  • The Grand Oriental Hotel, built in the mid 19th century barracks for soldiers
  • The Lighthouse clock Tower
  • Red & White Cargills & Millers departmental stores with ancient brass signs & wooden display cabinets
  • General Post Office building
  • The Delft Gateway dating to Dutch period
  • The Fort Police Station which was once a Dutch Hospital
  • Lloyds Building
  • The Chartered bank building
  • The Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building

The World Trade Centre

The 40 storied Twin Tower complex named The World Trade Centre of Colombo houses Colombo Stock Exchange (one of the most modern exchanges in South Asia, providing a fully automated trading platform), Board of Investment (BOI), & the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines among many other commercial establishment.

Statue of Col. Henry Steel Olcott

In front of the principal train terminus of the island, Fort railway station, a rambling Victorian building is the statue of Col. Henry Steel Olcott (1842-1907) the co-founder of Theosophical Society of Ceylon. The American Buddhist Col. Olcott set about reviving Buddhism in the island during the time it was threatened by the European missionaries sponsored by of the British colonialists.


Immediately east of Fort, across the narrow canal that separates the outer harbour from the Beira Lake is Pettah, the bazaar of the city. It's a maze of streets & alleys piled & crammed with a wide variety of goods, materials & provisions: colorful textiles, spices, fruits, vegetables, clothes, footwear, electrical equipment, dried fish, silver & gold.

Sea Street at Pettah<

At the northeast corner of Pettah is Sea Street studded with shop & workshops of gold together with shops of sarees.

Dutch period Museum at Pettah

Built in the latter part of the 17th century as the residence of Count August van Ranzow, the Dutch East India Company's governor in Colombo, this attractive old building is located at Prince Street on the fringes of Pettah. The museum is surrounded by boutiques, stores of traders, market stalls & antique shops. Opened to the public since 1982 this building embodies the unique architectural features of a colonial Dutch town house. The museum while displaying the Dutch legacy with the artifacts viz. furniture, coins, weapons, pottery, portraits, ceramics, coins, arms etc. portrays facets of contemporary life and culture. The picture of devilishly good-looking Gerard Hulft, commander of the Dutch forces at the siege of Colombo in 1636 ought not to be missed. Hulftsdorf in Colombo is named after him.

Wolvendaal Kerk (1749) at Pettah

Inevitably, the Dutch (1656-1796, south western coastal belt) brought their religion with them along with their furniture. Constructed in the shape of a Greek cross the Wolvendaal Kerk is a testimony to the indefatigable faith of the Dutch in the Dutch Reformation. Within its 1.5-meter thick walls, this staunch work of Doric architecture holds elegantly carved ebony chairs, carved baptismal wooden font, canopied pulpit, crystal lamps & an illustrated Dutch Bible.

Dates on the tombs of several Dutch governors, whose remains were re-interred here indicate to untimely demises & reveal how risky life could be for the Dutch conquerors; even in peacetime, the death toll from decease was being high.

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green, immediately south of the Fort, is a long, narrow park. A narrow channel of Beira Lake separates the park from Slave Island (Kaffir Veldt), actually a peninsula where the Dutch held the African slaves (Kaffirs) brought to Ceylon by the Portuguese in 1630.

The Galle Face Green is the city's most elegant promenade. Lined with palm trees & next to the coast, much like a tropical version of Hollywood Boulevard, this mile long stretch in the heart of the city is a beehive of seekers of leisure. Numerous small food stalls providing refreshments, the green brightens up in the evenings, hosting families & children playing sports & flying kites. The Green frequently hosts numerous international & local concerts & performances, such as the recently concluded World Drum Festival. Cannons used during Colonial war times still decorates the Greens. The famous colonial styled Galle Face hotel, known as Asia's Emerald on the Green since 1864, is next to the Greens.

Galle Road

Colombo's long seafront boulevard runs south from Galle Face Green, eventually becoming the main coastal road to Galle & the south. It's always crowded with traffic but as the main thoroughfare it also has some of the best shopping & a number of important buildings, including the official residence of Sri Lanka's president, the US Embassy & the Indian High Commission.

Shopping complexes along the Galle Road

Majestic City (called MC), Liberty Plaza and Crescat Boulevard along the Galle road are popular among the locals where you could shop for garments, shoes, handicrafts, computers, audio & video CDs & DVDs & books.

Luxury hotels along the Galle Road

Ceylon Continental Hotel, Cinnamon Grand Colombo, Hotel Hilton, Taj Samudra, Holiday Inn, Galle Face Hotel (oldest hotel east of Suez) Mount Lavinia Hotel. More up market shopping destinations are towards the south of the city center along the Galle Road.


Numerous casinos, bars, nightclubs & pubs. Blue elephant at the Hilton, The Boom in the Galadari Hotel, Cascades at Cinnamon Grand Colombo & Legends at Majestic City.

Galle Face Hotel

Galle Face hotel, the oldest hotel east of Suez with its oriental charm & spaciousness attracted dignitaries from all overt the world. Among them were Lawrence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Noel Coward, Prince Philip &Thee moon men- Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon & Alan Bean.
A new wing called Galle Face Regency is added to the hotel recently.

Shopping complexes along the Galle Road

Majestic City (called MC), Liberty Plaza and Crescat Boulevard along the Galle road are popular among the locals where you could shop for garments, shoes, handicrafts, computers, audio & video CDs & DVDs & books.

Cinnamon Gardens

The Cinnamon Gardens district, approximately a block inland (east from) Galle Road, shows not a trace of the spice plantations from which it gets its name, but it is now the home to city's university. It is also the location of the diplomatic quarter & the wealthiest residential area of the city. With its boulevards lined with jacaranda & frangipani trees, it is in sharp contrast to the commerce of the Pettah area to the north.

Sinhalese Sports Ground at Cinnamon Gardens

Maitland place in Cinnamon Gardens leads to the Sinhalese Sports Club. The engagingly old-fashioned stadium serves as Colombo's main venue for test cricket matches.

National Museum at Albert Crescent of Cinnamon Gardens (1877)

Housed in a fine colonial-era building, the National museum exhibits an extremely rich archeological & artistic collection. Ancient royal regalia, Sinhalese artwork, sculptures, carvings, antique furniture & china, items displaying the cultural heritage of Sri Lanka & 4000 Ola (palm leaf) manuscripts. There are fascinating 19th century reproductions of English paintings of Ceylon. The excellent collection of antique demon masks is much more satirical than demonic. The most important items include the throne of the last royal court. Visitors could gain a good understanding of 2500 year history of Sri Lanka.

Also on site is the National Museum of Natural History. There are also displays which focus on some of the country's largest hydro-electric & irrigation engineering schemes.

Town Hall at Cinnamon Gardens

The all white Town Hall, with its colonnades & white dome in the centre brings into the mind a well known image; Washington's White House, home of US presidents.

Vihara Maha Devi Park (formerly Victoria Park)

Right in front of the Town Hall across the street is Vihara Maha Devi Park, named after the heroine of the nation, mother of the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu (161-136 BC). This is the largest & most attractive greenery in Colombo. The park is at its prettiest from March to May, before the monsoon arrives, when its trees & shrubberies are in brilliant flower. In the center of the park, a statue of Queen Victoria commemorates her rule over the island. On the lawns near the Town Hall is a golden image of Buddha. Among the trees & flora are the last surviving cinnamon trees of the Cinnamon Gardens. Ebony, Mahogany, Lemon, Fig & Eucalyptus Bo trees, Sal trees & enormous profusion of climbing & parasitic plants that grow amongst lotus ponds are supplemented with an Orchid house. The elephants from the temple near Beira Lake are often kept in the park. The children's park is on the southeastern side, with a mini zoo & a small train.

Gotami Vihara (Gotami Buddhist Temple) east of Cinnamon Gardens

Gotami Vihara is home to a striking series of murals depicting the life of Buddha, painted in 1939-1940 by George Keyt (1901-1993). Sri Lanka's most popular twentieth century artist, Keyt, a Christian Burgher, was deeply influenced by the Buddhist culture & art.

Lionel Wendt Theatre & Art Gallery, Guildford Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens

Lionel Wendt, a registered charity fostering the arts in Sri Lanka is the hub of live entertainment in the capital. Local artists are supported with temporary exhibitions, while there is a permant exhibition of Wendt's pictures. It stages musical performances & occasional sale of antique & other items.

The most famous plays of Sri Lanka, "Maname" (by illustrious Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra in 1956) & "Karadiya" (by renowned Chitrasena in 1961) were produced at Lionel Wendt.

Lionel Wendt
Lionel Wendt Memorial Centre, the prime performing arts center was established by Harry Peiris in commemoration of his friend Lionel Wendt (1900-1944). Wendt's contribution to the fellowship of distinguished Sri Lankan artists "43 Group" resulted in regrouping independent Ceylonese painters including George Keyt & Ivan Peiris who have now been recognized as the leading representatives of the mid 20th century modernism in Asian art. He was accorded the rare distinction of a one-man exhibition hosted by Leica in London in 1938.

"The pianist, photographer, critic, & cinematographer, Lionel Wendt was the central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of the Empire & a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon"
His friend Pablo Neruda (Ricardo Neftali Reyes Basoalto (1904-1973), consul of Chile in Ceylon) in his book titled "Memoirs".

"The role of Lionel Wendt in Sri Lankan painting stands in the same relation the photographer Man Ray stood to French"
W. G. Archer (India & Modern Art, London, 1959)

The Sapumal Foundation, Barnes Place, Cinnamon Gardens

Once the home of artist Harry Peiris, today it is one of most delightful spots in which to roam around an hour or two. Today this rambling bungalow is packed with some of the best examples of Sri Lankan art from 1920s onwards. Peiris's studio still has easel & a few tubes of paint, as he left them.

Serendib Galleries, Rosmead Place, Cinnamon Gardens

A commercial establishment, Serendib Galleries sells old maps, sculpture, paintings, rare Sri Lankan maps, prints, books, antique furniture & porcelain.

From China with love

Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference hall (BMICH) Baudhaloka Mawata (Bullers Road), Colombo. The beautiful building similar to Beijing Peoples' square is a gift from China in the year 1971 at a cost of USD 1.5 million

Kelaniya Royal Temple

The glorious temple located about 7 km to the north is the oldest attraction near Colombo. A site visited by Buddha, Kelaniya Royal Temple is renowned for it's paintings in the image house.

Muturajawela Marshes (Colombo Wetlands)

7km (4miles) from the airport, just off the main Colombo-Negambo road, the Muturajawela Marshes are Sri Lanka's first wetlands reserve. We can enjoy a boat ride from the visitor centre through a wide expanse of marshland which connects with the Negambo Lagoon. Among the birds are purple herons, egrets, four kingfisher species, grebes, moorhens, lesser whistling ducks, & painted storks. Toque monkeys are seen too. The marshlands also shelter 15 amphibian species, 37 reptile species & 34 mammal species.

Bellanwila Attidiya Sanctuary

A sanctuary since 1990, it is of major importance to district of Colombo in terms of flood detention. In spite of far from salubrious surroundings, the sanctuary is rich in species. As Colombo expands in urban sprawl, the eco-tourism concept of the island is likely to be geared to protect the sanctuary. One of the leading lights of eco tourism in the island is Gehan de Silva Wijeyratna.

Royal Colombo Golf Club, Colombo:

The Royal Colombo Golf Club: This course is 5'770 m long (par 71). A flat course with broad fairways which looks simple to beginners but there are many water hazards and well guarded bunkers which quickly change the opinion. The Royal Colombo Golf Club is easily accessible, being 20 minutes drive from all first-class hotels in the city.

The 18-hole Royal Colombo Golf Club has been redesigned by architects of world repute, Donald Steel & Martin Ebert. The course is absolutely beautiful. The Club House is studded with comfortable & roomy foyers, a spacious Coffee Shop & much privacy in a fine Dinning Room named Ridgeways.

The Royal Colombo is the second oldest Royal Golf Club outside the British Isles, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club established 175 years ago being the oldest. It is now 125 years since the Royal Colombo Golf Club is inaugurated. The original course was built on the Galle Face esplanade. During this period Galle Face was also home to all sorts of sports & games. The game of golf was getting choked due to unlawful encroachment. In 1895, the Colonial Secretary, a rabid golfer himself, chose to make a move & with the consent of the Governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway, the Alfred Model Farm was converted into a golf course.

Radio Ceylon, Colombo

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation(SLBC) is the oldest radio station in South Asia. It was formerly known as Radio Ceylon.

Eternal crime & sin of Radio Ceylon

In 1952, Radio Ceylon, damaging the whole musical culture in our land, evicted the greatest melody maker of Ceylon, Sunil Shantha (April 14, 1915 - April 11, 1981) following his refusal to attend the audition conducted by Indian musician Prof. Ratanjankar from Bhatkande University,India. Professor was invited to re-audition the Radio Ceylon artistes. Sunil Shantha argued correctly, that a foreign expert cannot advise the Sinhalese, as the Indian musician is not aware of our culture and folk songs. Sunil mixed no words. "It is stupid to expect a Jack tree to bear Coconut". That was the end of road for this great artiste. He was sent packing.

Sunil Shantha
"An absolute genius as a melody maker whose vocal sophistication is yet to be bettered in this country" Dr. Tissa Abeysekara

Born on April 14, 1915 at Kapungoda, Pamunugama, western coast, to a Catholic Family, Sunil Shantha (Don Joseph John), who lost his parents in his childhood, was brought up by his maternal grandmother and uncles. Sunil Shantha's intense fascination with music took him to the hallowed portals of the Ragadhara Sangeeth, the University of Bathkanda, Lucknow, India, where he graduated in both vocal and instrumental music in the year 1944. He returned to his motherland, a musician with a mission, a vision to create a musical tradition that would be light and elegant, avoiding the exuberance and rhetoric of the Ragadhara Sangeeth and breaking the shackles of our dependence and influence of the Ragadhara Sangeeth and setting free the genius of composers. An occasional songwriter himself, Sunil Shantha sang songs written by famous lyricists Huberth Dissanayake, Munidasa Cumaratunga, Raipiel Tennakoon, Father Marcelline Jayakody (the illustrious Christian priest who wrote songs on Buddha), and Arisen Ahubudu. Lester James Peries had Sunil Shantha composing the melodies for his films "Rekhawa" and "Sandhesaya". Sunil Shantha attempted to create a Sinhalese Musical culture based on its "Hela Tradition", between the period of 1946-1952. During this short-spell, he composed and sang nearly 250 songs, all stamped with his melodious tone and his own rhythmic style. "Olu Pipila" (Blooming of Olu flowers) "Handapane" (In the moonlight), "Ho Ga Rella Negay"(Rising waves), "Bowitiya Dan Palukan Vare"(Season of the wild fruits), "Suwada Rosa Mal Nela"(Having plucked the sweet roses),"Barabage" (The Bullock cart), "Lalitha Kala"(Our arts & crafts)," Kokilayange"(Melody of the birds), and "Mihikathanalawala"(Easing the mother-earth to a lull)," Dura pena valitala, Anuradhapura diha) (Distant valleys at Anuradhapura), Sri Pade Samanle Kande (Adam's Peak), Isurumuniya, ...250 undying divine melodies.

"In his singing, he deliberately avoided the decorative elements of the Hindustani raag, because he claimed they belong to the Urdu language & would cause syllabic distortions when applied to Sinhala. The clean melodic contours of his songs were meant to harmonize with the 'elu', an idiom in Sinhala writing which avoids Sanskritized poetic diction. Sunil Shantha's mission was to create a music essentially Sinhala in its total sound, & in this he would have drawn inspiration from the Tagorean experiment: Ravindra Sangeeth was built on the rhythms & cadences of the Bengali Renaissance. Sunil Shantha himself was working in the high noon of the post-war cultural reawakening in Sri Lanka." Dr. Tissa Abeysekara
May Sunil Shantha attain Nirvana.

Colonial Colombo

Colombo Fort, between Colombo sea-port to the north and Beira Lake to the south is where the Portuguese built their first fort. That was in the year 1517, twelve years after Lourenco de Almeida's fleet landed at Galle by force of a storm. The Portuguese in the same manner that they pleaded Cochin Raja for a block of land for a so called factory at Cochin in 1503 and secured a Fort Mauel at Cochin, petitioned King Dharma Parakrambahu (1505-1527) of Kotte, the king of Sri Lanka, for a plot of land to erect a factory: 'no more in extent than could be measured by stretching the dried hide from the carcass of a cow or bullock".

However, the Portuguese were ready to wrest a plot of land one way or another: by stratagem or by means of thundering fire power then unknown in Sri Lanka. The request was well spiced up with the offer of military help for the king in the event of attacks by the king's scheming relatives, who ruled over the mountains of Sri Lanka. Moreover the Portuguese proposed to wrest the commerce of spice trade from the Arabian navigators and Moorish traders and secure the riches to the king.

Portuguese, in addition to the rivalry and animosity against the Moors plying in the Indian Ocean that they harbored over the centuries, were soon the have another axe to grind against them. In an attempt to impress upon Portuguese that capital city was far away from the sea port of Colombo, Payo de Soza, the ambassador dispatched by Lorenzo de Almeida was taken along round about pathways to the Sinhalese Nobleman who, at the behest of the crafty Moorish traders, masqueraded as the king of Lanka. The distance of 13 km from Colombo to Kotte was made tortuous to last for weeks. The die hard soldier mariners wouldn't be deceived: when the ship fired a cannon in intervals, the thunder was never afar. To this day, "escorting the Parangia (Sinhala: Portuguese) to Kotte" is wry joke wherever a longer route was taken during Sri Lanka Holidays. As the event turned out, the Portuguese bettered the Moors in scheme and deception. When the request for a plot of land to erect a factory was granted, the colors of the Portuguese were posted to the mast. Then onwards in Sri Lanka, the Portuguese, by sword and fire, unleashed battle and barbarity against the Sinhalese. Spice trade in Sri Lanka was wrested from the Moors. They held sway for 151 years in the coastal belts, specially the south-western and southern coasts of Sri Lanka. While the Indonesia and Malaysia, once Buddhist kingdom with great Buddhist monasteries of the monumental eminence of 11th century Borobudur (today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was converted to the Islam by the Moors, same failed to take root in Sri Lanka. In the same vein Roman Catholism too failed to spread with the exception of wherever the Portuguese forced the defenseless Sinhalese. The European barbarians used to toss up the Sinhalese infants high into the air and hold their long spears to have the falling infants impaled. They wouldn't slaughter baptized infants.

Exit point of Fort of Colombo, Ceylon the Portuguese era (1505-1656)

Southern exit point

The Southern exit point occupied the area where today stands 501-room Cinnamon Grand Colombo. Today the area is the heart of the city: center of City's business, shopping and entertainment. The gate opened up a vista of land and sea as far as headland called Mount Lavinia six miles ahead which along the coastal road, led to Galle. Today, this southern road is called Sri Lanka Holidays A2 main road.

Western exit point

A large bastion called St. John's commanded the Colombo sea port at the angle of the western rampart opening the route to Negombo from Colombo. Today this is Sri Lanka Holidays A3 main road.

Eastern exit point

The principal exit from the Portuguese Fort of Colombo, the sea-port was a massive gateway built at the mouth of a tunnel under the rampart on the eastern flank. St John's River (River Kelani Ganga) that flowed from east to west over Colombo serving the purpose of moat and more, was crossed from the fort by way of a drawbridge. The Portuguese called this drawbridge Poorte Reina of Queen's Gate. The more popular name that has survived today is Kayman's Gate a derivation from the word Kaaiman, a corrupt form of crocodile or alligator. Crocodiles that were abound in the Beira Lake, regularly found their way along the St. John's River or River Kelani Ganga to feed on the garbage thrown into the river over the drawbridge. The gate opened on to a land-route which followed the left bank of the Kelani River leading to Hanwella, a Portuguese stronghold which witnessed numerous battles of theirs against the Sinhalese. Hanwella was the only available gateway onto the mountain passes which wounded up towards the Royal city, Kandy-Uda-Rata (Sinhala: the kingdom in the hills), as Kandy of Sri Lanka Holidays was then called. Today this road is A1 main road, also called Kandy road of Sri Lanka Holidays

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Photo Gallery

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Colombo City

The World Trade Centre

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Hotel

National Museum

Town Hall

Vihara Maha Devi Park

Bellanwila Attidiya Sanctuary

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