Lunuganga – a garden tour

For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.

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The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.

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The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.

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The Glass House

There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.

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Garden room

The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.

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Lovely corner in the Garden room

Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.

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The studio

From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.

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Nataraja statue, with the butterfly pool in the background

This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.

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We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.

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Reflections in the butterfly pool

From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.

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We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.

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River bank

We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.

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View of Pan in the woods, from my bench

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The yellow pavilion

The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.

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Frangipani tree, by the plantation house

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View of cinnamon hill

The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.

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Gatehouse

Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.

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View from the ha-ha window

We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.

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The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.

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Cinnamon hill house

We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.

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Steps leading to the terrace of the plantation house

We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.

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Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #27]

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Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files #28]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: National Museum Gallery Highlights

The national museum of Colombo is the largest in the country and its founder, Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British governor at that time declared it open on January 1st, 1877. When I visited the museum a dozen or so years ago, I was not impressed with the quite dilapidated building and presentation of exhibits, especially the lack of information about exhibits. Having learnt that the national museum had reopened after major renovations, I decided that it was time for me to revisit the museum this week and hoped that this visit would be more interesting. I was not disappointed as the building itself seems to have undergone a face lift and looked beautiful.

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In this post, I would like to share the six galleries that interested me the most of the different galleries at the museum.

  • Prehistoric gallery

The earliest evidence of the pre-historic period in Sri Lanka is 250,000 years ago in Minihagalkanda, Hambantota and the latest around 2,800 BC in Manthai, Mannar.

This gallery’s focus was primarily on burial techniques. I came across two different burial methods. One was an urn burial that was excavated from Pomparippu from around 800 – 700 BC. The pot was used to place human ash and offerings and covered with the circular stone slab, similar to the stone enclosure on display, which had been found near Galewela.

The other form of burial on display was the earthen canoe burial, where a pit built with clay was used for burning the corpse together with offerings and then filled and covered with a layer of burnt clay lumps. The one on display had been found in Kegalle district and was dated to 360 BC.

  • Anuradhapura period gallery

The museum has missed out on the period between prehistoric and Anuradhapura period, where there was an influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, which contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population and establishment of the Sinhalese and Tamil settlements in the country. The information plaque at the entrance of the gallery mentions that Anuradhagama was founded in 5 BC by Anuradha, a minister of the legendary ruler Vijaya. The city of Anuradhapura was then established in 4 BC by King Pandukabhaya, and became the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Two images under this period caught my attention. One was the 8th century image of Buddha found in Toluvila, which actually is displayed at the entrance of the museum and not within the Anuradhapura gallery. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 BC, through the missionary activities of Emperor Asoka of India.

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The other image that fascinated me was that of Goddess Durga from 9 – 10th century, found in Mihintale. The image had no similarity to contemporary images of the Goddess in the country. The information board in the gallery mentions that “the presence of Tamil rulers in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith” and it mentions the 7th century poetry of Tirujnanasambandar, praising the Hindu shrine at Tiruketisvaram in Mantai.

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I was also intrigued by the surgical instruments found from this period. On display was a scalpel and a scissor from the 8th century, as well as a grinding stone for herbal medicine.

  • Polonnaruwa period gallery

During the heydays of Anuradhapura, Kandavurunuwara, which was considered to be the legendary ancient city of Pulastipura from Ravana’s time, became a strategic city midway between the Anuradhapura kingdom and the southern kingdom of Mahagama. It was this city that became the capital of the Chola empire of India when they re-conquered Anuradhapura in the 10th century. The city was renamed Janathamangalam and became the second capital of the country. It was when Vijayabahu I defeated the Cholas and took over the city that it was named Polonnaruwa. Irrigation tanks was a major contribution of the Polonnaruwa reign and the major ones are still in use.

In this section of the gallery, what attracted my attention immediately was the images of the Hindu gods, Siva  (12 – 13th century) and Ganesha (12th century). These images looked more like contemporary images, than the ones from the Anuradhapura period.

Of interest again was the medical instruments of the time, which was similar to the ones found in Anuradhapura.

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Another object that fascinated me was the time and day calculator. While the water ladle in the center of this glass display is beautiful, the time calculator was the polished coconut bowl with holes in it through which water seeped into another bowl. When the bowl was filled, it indicated that an hour had passed.

  • Transitional Period Gallery

With the decline of Polonnaruwa in early 13th century, there was a transitional period across the country where there were frequent struggles for power between kingdoms and one kingdom would emerge powerful within a region (s) for a few decades. This transition period was till the end of the 16th century, when Kandy emerged as the capital of the country. It was towards the end of this period that the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka and took over the coastal areas.

I would have liked to see more local artefacts from this period, especially details from the Kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Jaffna and Kotte. From the exhibits in this gallery, the one that fascinated me most was the trilingual inscription, carved in Nanjing, and brought to the country by the Chinese navigator Zheng He in 14th century. The stone was installed in Galle. The Chinese writing on the stone invokes Buddha and offers alms to the Buddhist shrine at Samanalakanda, alternatively known as Sivanoli Pada malai and Adam’s peak, the Tamil writing invokes blessings of Hindu gods and particularly of God Vishnu, the Persian writing invokes the ‘light of Islam’. The placement of the inscription in the gallery was poorly done as it has been placed by a glass door, so the strong light at the back of the stone reduces the visibility of the inscription in addition to not allowing a good photograph to be taken.

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  • Kandyan Period Gallery

By the end of the 15th century, the Kandyan kingdom emerged as a powerful force, despite the turbulence experienced in the rest of the country due to the inter-Kingdom wars, the Portuguese colonization of the coastal areas followed by the Dutch colonization efforts. The capital finally fell to the British in 1815, due to internal power struggles between the King and his Prime Minister, which divided the people.

Occupying the pride of place in the Kandyan gallery was the throne, crown and scepter of the King of Kandy.

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The best display in this gallery was the writing instruments though. The stylus pens used to write on palm leaves or gold and brass plates.

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The ground floor of the museum was the most interesting part of the museum for me. I didn’t find the upper floor as fascinating, despite some interesting galleries focusing on art, woodwork and even agriculture.

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I was delighted to know that the cost of the museum ticket for residents and non-residents, while still different, was not too much as in other sights in Sri Lanka. I used to be embarrassed when accompanying visiting friends to places in the Cultural triangle, where they would be forking out a 1000 or 2000 for a entry ticket, while I only had to pay a 100. The national museum ticket on the other hand is LKR 35 for locals and LKR 300 for non-residents, and the photography permit of LKR 250 is the same for both.

The museum has been better organized and presented in the form of different galleries and now conforms to the trilingual policy, that was initiated in 2012. This enhanced the experience of my visit, as each exhibit now had information boards in English, Sinhala and Tamil. I also noticed there were tags on several of the exhibits and asked the museum staff, if there was an audio guide. It seemed most of the current staff in the galleries were newly recruited and were not aware of the guide. It was towards the end of my visit that I met a staff, who was able to explain to me that the audio guide was in the form of a downloadable mobile app and that once downloaded, I could scan the tag of an exhibit and listen to the corresponding audio recording.

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Hope you enjoyed the brief tour of the museum of Colombo! Would you include it in your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka?

[Linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #25 and Cultured Kids]
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A Tour of No 11 Residence

My former office had been down Bagatalle Road, so I used to come to this road daily for seven years. Yet, I had not visited the No 11 Residence. A home turned into a museum. Ever since I learnt that Seema Malakaya had been designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I started paying attention to other places he had worked on. I finally decided this week it was time to visit his home, which has been turned into a museum managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.

Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), for those who haven’t heard of him, was Sri Lanka’s renowned architect. He had studied to be a lawyer in England, following his father’s footsteps, but realized when he returned to Sri Lanka that it was not what he wanted to do. He eventually discovered his passion and became an architect towards his late 30s.

No 11 was his home in Colombo, a place he re-modelled after purchasing four row houses at the end of the lane. The house museum is available for public viewing by appointment. Since the management has taken a lot of effort to maintain the house exactly as it had been during Bawa’s time, the curator is quite sensitive about viewers not touching any objects, which can be a bit difficult if traveling with kids.

When I arrived for my tour, I was led to a waiting hall next to the former home office of Geoffrey Bawa, where there were around ten others waiting for the tour to start. I was given my invoice for the tour as well as a brochure on the house. The curator then started the tour with a short documentary, which focused on the remodeling of the No 11 residence undertaken by Geoffrey Bawa.

Following the documentary screening, we took the stairs to the terrace. Towards the latter part of his life, when it became too difficult for Bawa to walk up the stairs, a lift had been installed in the house.IMG_2813.JPG

The rooftop terrace had been one of Geoffrey Bawa’s favourite places to sit in the evenings.

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We walked down the stairs, passing the floor with the guest suite. The guest suite is now rented out to anyone wishing to stay at the house. It was not part of the viewing tour though. So, we made our way back down to the ground floor and walked towards Geoffrey Bawa’s living area. While no photography was allowed inside the living area, we were allowed to take photos along the corridor.

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One of his trademark design was the use of corners, allowing for natural light to filter through and green trees and ponds to cool the spaces.

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This corner of the house led to his private apartment and the curator mentioned that the pillars were Chettinad style pillars.

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The corner opposite the Chettinad pillars had a couple of chairs designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The curator said that it was part of the furniture collection he designed for Bentota Beach hotel, his first hotel design in Sri Lanka.

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His private area was the most fascinating part of the house and the best part of it too, as it gave a better glimpse of the person than the rest of the house had done. It had a sitting room, dining room and a bedroom, each of which had lovely ponds and trees in their corners or views of a tree across the room. What was lovely about this space was that it was filled with personal stuff, his books and his collections from his travels.

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Geoffrey Bawa’s reading space (c) Geoffrey Bawa Trust, with permission from the manager of No 11

Before Geoffrey Bawa became an architect, he had spent considerable time traveling around the world in the 1940s/ 50s and was most taken with his time in Italy. Apparently, he had liked the Lake Garda region, particularly the gardens, so much so that he had planned to buy property there. However, due to some legal obstacles, he had not been able to do so and when he returned to Sri Lanka, his brother had encouraged him to buy a country estate in Bentota and create his own tropical version of Lake Garda. Geoffrey Bawa’s first landscape gardening project revealed his passion and he decided to pursue a path in architecture, returning to study in England. His first work, Lunuganga, is considered his masterpiece. I have been long meaning to visit the place and hopefully, will do so this year.

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The tour ended at the entrance, where Geoffrey Bawa’s old Rolls Royce was parked. The batik painting covering the wall was by Bawa’s friend and artist, Ena de Silva.

The tour was a fascinating insight into the home and living space of Geoffrey Bawa.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #17 and The Weekly Postcard]

Oregon Girl Around the World
Travel Notes & Beyond

Exploring Pettah

I have never been a fan of the crowds and traffic congestion in and around Pettah, Colombo, so have mostly avoided it, until and unless I have to go there for a specific purpose such as catching an inter-city train or bus.

So, if you are like me, someone who avoids congested routes but still interested in seeing some of the historical sites within Pettah and at its outer edges, I would recommend the following walking route on a weekend morning or late afternoon. Weekends are relatively quieter in Pettah than weekdays.

The best place to start a walk through Pettah is at the Khan clock tower, at one end of Colombo 11.

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Khan clock tower

The clock tower was built by the Khan family of Bombay in 1923 for the people of Colombo. Walking around the clock tower, take the Main Street (which was known as the King’s Street during the Dutch colonial period). The Main Street is packed with shops selling clothing and can be a good bargain for those looking to buy sarees and kurta tops.

I suggest a mini detour, via 1st cross street, to visit the Dutch museum on Prince Street.

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Dutch museum

The Dutch museum used to be the Dutch Governor’s residence in the country. It does not have much in the way of artifacts to exhibit or stories about the lives of its former residents, though the building in itself is quite interesting.

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View of building from the inner courtyard

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Inner courtyard at Dutch museum

It is a pity that the Dutch museum does not reach up to its potential and that it is in a dilapidated condition now. I would very much like to see the Dutch Burgher Union, for example, take a hand in making it a more interactive type of museum.

After your visit to the Dutch museum, return to Main Street via 2nd Cross street and continue your walk.

Look to your left for the beautiful red mosque.

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Red mosque

The Jami Ul-Alfar mosque, more commonly known as the red mosque, was built by the Muslim community in Pettah in 1909.

Continuing on the main street, look to your right when you reach the intersection of the 4th Cross street. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, you will see an old bell tower. The bell is supposedly from an old Portuguese church from the 16th century. The Dutch had it installed at the Kayman’s gate bell tower, at the foot of Wolvendaal hill.

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Kayman’s gate

Continue along Main Street and you will find the old town hall and market on your right. The town hall was built in the 19th century during the British colonial period. One can ask to see inside the old town hall.

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Old Town Hall

From the old town hall, continue on Sea Street for a very short distance before turning onto Sir Ratnajothi Saravanamuttu Mawatha. Continue walking until you reach Wolvendaal church or the Dutch Reformed Church, which is actually within the Colombo 13 zone (Kotahena).

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Wolvendaal Church

The church is the 2nd oldest church built by the Dutch in Sri Lanka, the oldest one is at the Galle fort.

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Wolvendaal Church facade

The building of the church was initiated in 1749 by the Dutch United East India Company, Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC). The doorway to the church still has the same old lock and the church has a lot of interesting tombstones within its premises.

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VoC logo on the church gate

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Tombstone at the church

There is a small inner room with a gallery of old paintings and photos that are open to visitors and church society members are generally happy to answer your questions provided that they are not preparing for services.

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Photo gallery at Wolvendaal church

After exploring the Dutch Reformed church/ Wolvendaal church, walk down Vivekananda hill until you reach K.B.Christie Perera Mawatha. Walk a little to your left and continue along Jampettah Lane.

The front entrance of Ponnambala Vaneswara temple is on Jampettah lane. This Hindu temple for Shiva is an interesting temple with an interior built entirely from black granite, giving it the feel of an ancient South Indian stone temple. Originally built in 1856 by Ponnambalam Mudliyar, it was rebuilt in granite by his son, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. The best times for visiting this temple is before 11 am and after 4 pm.

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Ponnamabala Vaneswaram

Exit the temple, via its back entrance onto Shrimath Ramanathan Mawatha and walk towards the church that you see on your left hand. St. Anthony’s church is considered a powerful church where people of all religious faith visit and make fervent prayers. During the Dutch colonial period when Catholicism was banned from the island and priests carried out sermons from hiding places, Fr. Antonio supposedly masked himself as a merchant. The Dutch subsequently had found out and came in search of him. He found refuge with a fishing community who asked him to do something about the sea erosion. According to the church website, a miracle happened after Fr. Antonio planted a cross and prayed at the beach and the sea receded. The fishing folk were converted and the Dutch authorities gained some respect for the priest and allocated some land for him to carry out his sermons. The current church is in the same premises where Fr. Antonio started openly having his sermons. He brought an image of Anthony of Padua and installed it in the church. When he passed away, Fr. Antonio was buried within the church.

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St. Anthony’s church

I am sure you would want to have some refreshments after all this walking and exploration. I would recommend trying out Sri Suryas, a vegetarian restaurant right next to Kathiresan kovil on Sea Street and within a short walking distance from St Anthony’s. Do try out their delicious Chennai style filter coffee and tasty vadai, which is a lovely way to end your walking tour of Pettah and the edges of Kotahena or a refreshing stop before you explore the streets of Pettah more.

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping#41, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond

Meditating above water

Whenever I pass Beira lake in Colombo, I am always drawn to the wooden bridge and temple in the middle of the lake. However, it was often a place I usually hurried by on the way somewhere, as it  was in the midst of the commercial part of the capital. Then, one day, my mother asked me to take her there during her birthday week. I think she realized that unless she requested, I might simply go on passing the place without stopping there. Whatever the reason, we finally visited the lovely Seema Malakaya early one morning.


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According to the Gangaramaya temple website, the area was once a swamp before being converted to the picturesque spot that it is now. The Seema Malakaya is part of the Gangaramaya temple which is famous for its annual ‘perahera’ (festive Buddhist temple religious procession) during the months of February or March. What I found fascinating is the aesthetic sense of the place, designed by Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was a renowned Sri Lankan architect whose signature trademark was his emphasis on spaces and natural light.


The meditation hall was surrounded by statues of Buddha by the edge of the water, which was what had attracted me in the first place. There is something very peaceful about being in the midst of water. The pavilion felt like a calm oasis despite its bustling commercial neighbourhood.
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For me, what I found most intriguing was that the Seema Malakaya combines aspects of different religions. Built through a donation by a Muslim couple – S.H.Moosajee and his wife – in memory of their son, the pavilion itself combines Hindu deities together with the statues of Buddha.
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The smaller pavilion on one side of the meditation hall has a Bo tree, which is from a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The Sri Maha Bodhi is an ancient Bo tree, that is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage spot in Sri Lanka, because it is a tree grown from the sapling of the Bo tree under which Buddha obtained enlightenment. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, the daughter of Emperor Asoka. Surrounding the tree at Seema Malakaya are more peaceful Buddha statues.


At the four corners of the smaller pavilion which has the Bo tree and the chaithya, are the shrines for Hindu deities including Pillaiyar and Murugan.


When one walks across to the other side of the meditation hall, one sees a tiny pavilion with a small wooden house marked ‘Treasury of Truth.’ I was curious about what the truth treasury held and found it locked.
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Perhaps it is fitting that the place is always kept locked. Where would humankind be if truth became a way of life for all.

Sometimes, you pass by something beautiful in your own city so often that you hardly bother to take a moment to pause and appreciate its beauty. Something which you would do automatically when you are a traveller exploring another city or country. I am glad my mother requested me to take her there for her birthday because not only did I finally get to explore the place but also create a special memory there with my mother.
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[As I am merging my Sri Lanka-focused travel blog with my Perspectives Quilt blog over the course of the coming months, I am transferring some of my favourite posts from there to here]

I am linking this post with City Tripping #29 hosted this week by Clare@Suitcases and Sandcastles and The Weekly Postcard, hosted by Anda@Travel Notes and Beyond.

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond