My, is it hot here! This seems to be the hottest port yet (and the most humid). I am not sure how hot it got, but mid to high 90’s wouldn’t surprise me. I only had two cancelations due to illness and had a couple that joined us, so we had a full group of 30. I booked a city tour with Blue Lanka Tours. My only problem was that I forgot to replace the memory card in my camera last night. Oops! Fortunately, a fellow tour member had a spare that he could loan me.
The setup on the dock was a little different today. The NCL tour buses were allowed to pick people up right off the ship, but no one else. That is not unusual, but what was unusual was that the port gate was 2 km away and there was no shuttle bus for people to catch. Everyone that wanted to get a taxi or tuk-tuk had to walk that distance in the heat. Fortunately, Blue Lanka was allowed to bring a couple of vans in, so used them to shuttle us to our bus that was waiting for us at the gate. The bus was the best bus yet in terms of comfort – lots of leg room, large enough that no one was cramped and bottles of water waiting for us as we boarded. In addition to the tour guide, 2 others from the company accompanied us (plus the assistant to the driver and of course, the driver himself). The extra people helped make sure no one got lost or left behind as we were put through our sightseeing paces.
If you are in my age group, you may know Sri Lanka by its former name, Ceylon. 76% of the population here is Ceylonese; the rest come from various other ethnic groups. It is a multi-cultural society where everyone gets along. So far on our travels, we have been through predominantly Christian cities, then Muslim, then Hindu. Now we are in a country where Buddhism is the main religion (70%). There are a smattering of Muslims, Hindus and Christians (each group making up 7-8% of the overall population) and some other minor religions as well.
Ceylon was ruled by the Portuguese for 153 years, starting in 1505. The Dutch ruled for the next 1388 years, and then the British for 153 years. The British left in 1948, but the queen appointed a governor to oversee Ceylon. In 1972, Ceylon became Sri Lanka (which means Resplendent Land) and started electing their own president.
We drove past the President’s House which was built in 1804. It was the Queen’s House until 1972 when Sri Lanka’s Constitution was written and presidents were elected. We passed the British clock tower which used to be considered mile post 0 in Colombo; now it is kilometer post 0.
Much of the construction in Colombo is new since 2009. For the thirty or so years prior to that, the country was having a Civil War. This is probably why the city looks so much “nicer” than the ones in India. The weather hasn’t had a chance to erode the buildings. There is a building called the Lotus Tower that is under construction that when completed will be the tallest building in SE Asia.
The traffic is not nearly as hectic here as it was in India. It is still pretty crazy, but not on the same level. Not nearly as much honking and the roads are much smoother. I still wouldn’t want to drive here!
The first stop on the agenda today is at Manning Market which is a fruit and vegetable market. The produce is brought into the market starting at 4 am and an auction takes place daily to determine the prices of the products. The market stalls open for sales at 6 am. Men were carrying enormous sacks of fruits and vegetables to the stalls as we walked through.
We stopped to smell some leaves. The first was curry leaves (you can imagine what they smelled like!). Then, lemongrass (yummy). The third was something called pandon which had a strong scent of curry.
Our guide stopped to point out fruit and vegetables that we might now be familiar with. The first was a large purple bulbous plant that turned out to be a banana flower (used in cooking). There were striped aubergines (what we would call an eggplant except much narrower and smaller) and eggplants (tiny round greenish vegetables). There was okra, cucumbers (light green) and plantains.
He held up a long bean (wonder why they call it that!) and a bitter gourd. We also saw snake gourds which are unique to Sri Lanka and used in salads and curries. Similar to potatoes were the cassavas. And, we saw something called a sausage plant.
In the fruit area we saw gooseberries (apparently good for your urinary health) and wood apples. The wood apples do indeed have a wood-like exterior that must be carved off. They are very sour and must have salt and sugar added to make them palatable. Oddly enough, we also saw some red delicious apples from Washington. Go figure.
We passed by lots and lots of bananas. Room after room of bananas. Our guide bought us some bananas; very tasty little bananas indeed!
The people working here were extremely friendly. They all smiled and said hello as we walked by. Continuing our tour of unusual food products, we found stalls with all types of dried fish (including shark). You could definitely smell what the products were. We saw yellow pomegranates and jackfruit, which is spicy. Before jackfruit ripens it is used as a vegetable but after ripening it is considered a fruit.
I got hit by a tuk-tuk as we walked back to the bus. It hit me in the hip – good thing I have plenty of padding! I was more concerned that the taxi might have damaged my camera, but fortunately, all was well.
Next up was a Hindu Temple (not sure of the name). We weren’t going to go in to this temple, so I took some pictures of the exterior. While I was taking photos, Clayton managed to find a snake charmer! He had two cobras as well as a couple of vipers that you could have your picture taken with. I have a terrible fear of snakes so definitely didn’t want to have one draped around my neck, but Clayton had no such concerns. He also made friends with a monkey.
Does this building remind you of a famous building found in Washington, DC?
We made a brief stop at Independence Square, which was built to celebrate the first year of independence from Great Britain.
We were driving through Colombo 7 (Colombo has 12 districts) also known as Cinnamon Gardens. It is the richest residential area in the city. We saw a team playing cricket. Cricket is very popular here, but the national sport is volleyball.
About 15 km out of town, we reached Kelaniya Temple, which is famous for its paintings. The Buddha supposedly visited here. We meandered around the grounds. Men were drumming somewhere on the temple grounds; the scent of incense was everywhere. Some people were kneeling around the grounds chanting from prayer books.
We walked through the main temple. Local people were leaving various offerings (mainly flowers).
The next building was called the pagoda (the round white building). It is completely sealed. Contained within are relics and gemstones. We happily returned to our air conditioned bus for the drive back to town. We also made a quick toilet stop there. Squatty potties; yuck. Clayton spotted a really large monitor lizard right outside the toilet area.
Someone in the bus asked if it would be ok to stop at a pharmacy. The guide said he would make a quick, two minute stop. Unfortunately, the rest of the people on the bus wanted to go in to the store as well, so a two minute stop stretched into a twenty minute stop. Not my idea of a great use of tour time. . .Note the strong foundation for the home being built!
Our last stop was the largest Buddhist temple in Colombo, Gangarama Temple. It was a very different type of temple than the others we have visited on this trip. There was an admission charge, which is unusual for any house of worship. The temple reminded me more of a museum than a temple. There were multiple rooms to walk through. This is a “new” temple; only 120 years old. I would’ve appreciated some information from the guide about what we were seeing, but he disappeared after we entered, and we just wandered through at our own pace.
The port wasn’t too far away from the temple so the drive back was quick. Blue Lanka Tours gave each guest on the tour a coffee mug (nice touch!). We waited on the bus for the vans to arrive to drive us to the ship. We saw tuk-tuks dropping off people at the port gate and were quite happy we didn’t have to walk over a mile back to the ship like the rest of the folks going through. The vans dropped us right by the ship. There were some stalls set up with local products but I was too hot to shop. I just wanted to get back on the ship and use a clean toilet!