Colombo Sri Lanka…When my father while driving me to school used to familiarise me with heritage landmarks; I never did understand why? Until, the day came when I had to either stand outside the class room for not bringing my homework note book or go home and get it. I decided to get my book, which was when I realised that the landmarks guided me safely home and back.
To many of us land marks mean nothing more, as we involuntarily get used to them, but to my father, they had stories to tell. As I grew older, I from him, began slowly to learn about the landmarks, their beginnings, use and importance. Soon they gave me joy, a sense of belonging and became part of my every day life. I was happy when they prospered, secure when they helped and very sad when they were neglected or were broken down. Heritage to me, thus became to mean a past I perceived to live in, guiding me through the present into the future, as a wiser man who understood things better, by many thousand years.
While driving through the clean roads of Colombo I was very impressed by many Colonial buildings apart from parks and even a Cemetery which was many centuries old. These buildings are landmarks not only in the capital, but also in its history. The Portuguese fort of the 15th century. The later Dutch, British, Moorish and Indian additions during the later centuries are watersheds earmarking the making of Colombo.
The Moorish Mosque in the Fort area in its red and white colour is still being used as a place of worship and is a classic example of Indo Sarcenic architecture. Known as the Red Mosque, it was built by the Moorish settlers adjacent to the sea port. Strangely the monumental construction was not designed by an architect or by one learned in Engineering techniques but by a mason. WOW.
A little further away is the Pettah or Pettai as it was formerly and popularly known. Pettai in Tamil means market and that is what it is today. Small and large business establishments offer wholesale and retail groceries, fabrics, boutique clothing, leather shoes, sandals, bags and Chinese electronics.
Driving along the road beside the Harbour at a place known as Kochikadai, I visited a Roman Catholic Church of the early 17th century where it is said that many a thousand people visit every day and throng much more on Tuesdays. The church venerates a relic which is a small piece of tongue of St. Anthony.
Driving on at the end of the Harbour First Gate there stood a clock tower built during the early 19th century by a wealthy Indian trader belonging to the Parsi (Persian) community who owned the famous Colombo Oil mills. Called the Khan clock tower, it is positioned at the junction where the road from the market, customs houses, Secreteriat, harbour, Palace, Fort and the light house converge. It is four storeys high and still clocks and chimes time.
Almost adjacent to this landmark is another building of the year 1844 which was and is still used as a warehouse, cum super market. Known as the Cargills it never fails to catch ones attention, imagine then the interest it would have created from the middle of the eighteenth century through the nineteenth till today. Just opposite the road is the YMCA which is very popular with the many backpackers from Europe and Australia.
The road further leads one into a high security Zone, wherein is the Palace, the naval head quarters and the beach. A tall light house over a large pedestal majestically looks towards the sea beckoning and guiding ships into the harbour. Built in the year 1860 it is known as the Colombo light house. It has a lantern of the 1865 and a clock of the year 1860.The light house clock is said to have been manufactured by the company that developed the Big Ben in London. Many Naval ceremonies concerning the navy are celebrated on the clean and broad roads beside this light house.
As I meander further, a long stretch of beach beckons attention and its beauty is worth time spent in idle watching while enjoying the breeze and the slow breaking waves. It is popularly known as the Galle beach front and is crowded in the evenings when people relax on the sand while the sun goes down.
A short drive further away heading towards the national sports stadium is the most prestigious land mark for the Sri Lankans called the Independence Square. It is huge, simple yet vibrant. Just behind it is one of the prestigious high end malls of Colombo.
Driving back into the town, one cannot miss out the Fort railway station which is just beyond the market. It is the Central station for city commuter and long distance express trains.
It is not the first railway station but a later Colonial construction and marks the center of Town. It is definitely crowded at all times during the day and takes lesser time than travel by road within the city stops.The trains are not modern and watching it, or from it, while it speeds in between backyards or courtyards just a few feet away gives you a feeling as if you are sitting in a train running inside houses. It crosses many main roads where traffic is managed through level crossings and one line running from Colombo central towards the south almost runs parallel to the coast giving you a beautiful view of the sea and beaches.
Another line running towards Nuwar Eliya travels through forests, villages, plantations, high bridges over mountain streams, rivers, beside waterfalls and tea estates which may also give one a “fantasy” experience of travelling into a cold, misty,dreamland.
Of the cities recent constructions are the Lotus shaped city hall, the Parliament house which is styled and designed similar to the White House in the United states of America are worth mentioning as futuristic landmarks.
A controversial harbour construction on reclaimed land in the beach front and a radio tower cum shopping mall is now being built in the heart of the city. Good or bad, these new structures are certainly going to change the landscape and skyline of Colombo to become land marks in future and when I see them I surely will say that I know it from the foundations akin to one saying “I know you since your days as a baby.”