A Day in Colombo

So we made it to Sri Lanka! After a relatively pleasant 15 hour journey, we arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport and our pre-booked driver was no where to be seen… Typical. We were tired, hot and in a country neither of us had even been with a culture and language we had never experienced. In any normal situation this would have sent me into an absolute melt down, tears included but instead we both remained calm and around 25 minutes later we were handing a $1 note over to a man that 1) seemed to appear out of thin air and 2) snatched our luggage off us before we could even say “no thank you”. Welcome to Colombo.

My original thought for this post was going to be based on “48 hours in Colombo” but I’m not going to lie, we spent the majority of the first morning (and some of the afternoon) sleeping in an air conditioned room our hotel had kindly provided for us due to our super early arrival. We were both exhausted and the humidity outside was not worth pushing our bodies to stay awake. Not much to tell really so instead I thought I’d focus on the day we did spent awake, which unexpectedly was Poya!

Poya, we learnt, is a Buddhist event celebrated in Sri Lanka during every full moon each month. This is a public holiday and the sale of meat and alcohol is forbidden (much to George’s disappointment). Vap Full Moon Poya marks the end of the Buddhist fasting period and you can read more about the significance of it within the Buddhist calendar here.

We began the morning with my first tuk tuk ride which in one word was terrifying. Now, I think George will agree with me here, that the roads in Sri Lanka are probably the craziest we have ever seen. If it’s not the constant sound of horns or the aggressive breaking that keeps you on your toes it is most certainly the proximity in which you fly past every other vehicle. Despite the terror, the breeze that came with the speed was a welcome relief.

We were dropped off at Colombo Fort Railway Station and after a failed attempt at navigating the city for ourselves, we were saved by Neil, a tuk tuk driver who noted my “pure white” skin and knew we had no idea what we were doing. George has written a post about Neil here, as part of his People series if you want to find out more about the man himself!

But here it is, the highlights from our personal mini tour of Colombo.

The Red Mosque

Red Mosque

Whilst waiting impatiently for this adventure to begin back in Manchester, I found myself near enough every day checking out the Colombo hashtag on Instagram trying to find some inspiration on where to visit once we got here and images of this beautiful red and white bricked building kept appearing on my feed. I found out it was known in English as The Red Mosque and it became my number one place to visit in Colombo and it did not disappoint. I mean look how incredible this building is! We were allowed into the foyer of the Mosque where a lovely gentleman ushered us into a small room and talked us through the history of the building and what it is used for today. For a sense of scale, the open plan Mosque allows for 16,000 people at once to pray together… unbelievable.

Red Mosque interior 

Outside The Red Mosque we were treated to a Poya day parade which took place in live traffic with vehicles overtaking the decorated cars and floats (I told you the roads here were mental!). The parade included dancers, drummers and even pieces of fruit being launched into the crowd of which I proudly caught the smallest banana I’ve ever seen.

Parade celebrating Poya

Parade celebrating Poya

Parade celebrating Poya

Sri Jinaratana Bhikku Abhyasa Vidyalaya Karaka Sabhawa

Buddha inside Sri Jinaratana Bhikku Abhyasa Vidyalaya Karaka Sabhawa

The next stop on our tour found us at Sri Jinaratana Bhikku Abyhyasa Vidyalaya Karaka Sabhawa (a bit of a mouthful…), a Buddhist Temple which before entering we were unaware of the significance. This particular temple houses the tree in which it is believed that Buddha reached enlightenment under. It was really quite magical watching people surround the tree, pray and nourish it with splashes of water from silver goblets. I think it made it even more special that it was Poya as the temple was full of practising Buddhists celebrating this monthly event.

Lighting of fires in Sri Jinaratana Bhikku Abhyasa Vidyalaya Karaka Sabhawa

Independence Memorial Hall

Independence Memorial Hall

Our final destination was Independence Memorial Hall which commemorates the independence of Sri Lanka from British rule which took place on 4th February 1948. When we arrived the hall was busy with a bride and groom and part of the wedding party using the space for photographs. Taking full advantage of the moment, George began snapping away until he was approached by an Asian man and was asked if he could have a picture with who I assume was his daughter… Being the only Westerners in a place is a very weird feeling at times and honestly 90% of the time, that is the case.

Colombo is a crazy place, a kind of place I’ve never really experienced before. Everywhere you look is just a complete sensory overload. We spent two days there and that was more than enough but it gave us the warmest welcome (probably too warm at times, seriously I don’t think I’ve ever sweated more in my life) to a country full of culture.

Pettah Markets

Victoria Park

Leave a Reply