COLOMBO, SRI LANKA: If India and the Middle East had a baby

Tuesday, January 28th, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Welcome to Colombo, Sri Lanka

Welcome to Colombo, Sri Lanka

We have three full days on our own to explore Colombo before we will meet up with our Gate 1 tour group. Establishing a pattern of arriving early to a destination, allows us time to recover from jet lag and get acclimated to a new time zone.

We choose the Grand Oriental Hotel as our pre-tour home based on its location in the Fort/Marina area. We love to have walking access to local sites, old town, historical places, and restaurants. The Grand Oriental Hotel certainly checked off the boxes for all of these, however she is far past her prime. Built 180 years ago, this is the oldest hotel in Colombo. The rooms are well worn, not very clean and have certainly seen better days.

“Housed in a colonial-style building, Grand Oriental occupies a prime location a 5-minute walk from Colombo Bazaar. Featuring a restaurant, it offers classic rooms and free WiFi in all areas.” ~ Hotel website

Karen upgraded their room to a suite with a view of the harbor

Upon check-in, we noticed that the bedspread needed washing, there was some mold in the bathroom along with a friendly cockroach. We asked housekeeping to replace the bedspread. The housekeeping staff promptly removed it and two days later, one has not been returned. Thankfully evenings are warm and sleeping with just a sheet is more than adequate.

The location is great, staff friendly, wifi works and Tim and I think the included breakfast is quite good.

View of the harbor from the hotel breakfast room

Day one we were still reeling from little sleep, but wanted to stretch our legs and check out the area. The desk clerk provided a map and suggested we walk toward Galle Face Green, a park sitting along the Indian Ocean.

This was a non-event, however, we did get some exercise as well as a taste of the area. The one highlight as we walked along the shoreline was watching a crew relocate some turtle eggs. They had been disturbed by a backhoe working along the shoreline and a group scooped up the exposed eggs. They were stacked inside a workers hardhat, and then gently placed inside a newly dug hole several yards away.

Relocating turtle eggs in a construction helmet

Relocating turtle eggs in a construction helmet

Tim and I walked over to the site to observe and I was handed one of the eggs to examine. It was lightweight and about the size of a ping pong ball. We were told that a female turtle can lay up to 200 eggs. We are scheduled to visit a turtle place (sanctuary?) toward the end of our tour and I am looking forward to learning more.

Turtle egg, small, fragile and lightweight

Joanne holding a turtle egg, small, fragile and lightweight

There is a large shopping mall across the street from Galle Face Green, which did give us a respite from the heat as well as some refreshing cold beverages.

Finally giving into our exhaustion, Tim and I returned to our room where we both fell into a deep coma-like sleep, foregoing dinner.

The next morning (Tuesday here), we met our friends over breakfast and planned out our day. Tim and I had suffered through a COLD shower as there was absolutely zero hot water.

As fairly seasoned travelers, I was embarrassed to later learn that there is a switch outside the door to the bathroom that had to be switched to activate the water heater. The sign stating “hot water” was missing from our switch plate.

Hot water label missing, but this was the secret trick to get hot water!!

Hot water label missing, but this was the secret trick to get hot water!!

Dick was craving bacon and managed to talk the restaurant manager into finding some in the largely vegetarian kitchen. He proceeded to cook his own and then showed the staff how to properly fry an egg.

Dick cooking his own breakfast and giving a cooking demo

Today we have decided to explore the nearby Pettah area.

Pettah Market (aka Manning Market)

Pettah Market

You will either love or hate Pettah. Tim and I were definitely in the former category. Located next to the harbor, there is a cultural marriage here where you can interact with people from the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.

“Most of the businesses in Pettah are dominated by Muslim who specialize in trading of goods and the Tamil people who have migrated from India traders who specialize in gold and jewelry shops.” ~ Wikipedia

One can simply wander down one street after another, passing through areas offering up trinkets, clothing, fabric, jewelry, local cooked food, fruits and vegetable, spices, and gemstones.

Tuk tuks whiz down crowded roads, and we were approached numerous times with offers to take us on a guided tour. Large carts, bulging with products were pushed down the middle of the street.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


It can seem a little overwhelming to the un-initiated traveler, but compared to India, this seemed calm for us. Shopkeepers were friendly and offered up a greeting and a ready smile.

The only people I was never able to get a reaction from were the heavily armed policemen, who would ignore my smile and remain stoic, often gruff looking. They were on duty after all, and had a more important job to do than make a silly tourist feel welcome.

Besides the shops, there were several buildings of note that we passed by.

Visiting a Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

There are several Hindu temples in the Pettah Market area, and I’m not sure which one we visited as the signs were not in English. The temple itself was closed as they were just starting a major renovation project. Scaffolding was being installed as we watched. There was however a small “sanctuary” at one side that we were invited to see. Our shoes had to be removed, and no photography was allowed inside.

Platform to enter small side chapel of the Hindu temple

Karen, Jan and I ventured inside while the guys stood guard over our shoes.

One of the “priests” spoke rusty English, but welcomed us and introduced us to statues of several of the Hindu Gods, including Shiva (the dancer), a monkey god, and Saturn. He placed a red dot on our forehead, as well as a stripe of ash.

Joanne, Karen and Jan with our Hindu head dots

Joanne, Karen and Jan with our Hindu forehead dots

If I understood him correctly (which is questionable), I think the ash was made from burned and pulverized cow dung. We next had about a tablespoon of a white liquid poured on our palm and we were invited to drink it. It turned out to be a sweet cows milk.

After leaving and turning the corner, we promptly wiped our faces clean as by now our strained skin was beginning to itch.

Cleaning up

Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque (Red Mosque)

Each morning at 5:00 am we have been greeted with a call to prayer from the nearby mosque. It is easily recognizable by the red and white stripes. The call lasts for 30 minutes with prayers starting at 5:30 (sunrise). Prayers are then broadcast for an additional 30 minutes. This happens five times a day.

Red Mosque

Red Mosque

We were not allowed inside, but they did let me take a picture at the doorway.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Returning to the hotel after a stop for cold drinks and a plate of hot/crisp french fries, there was time for a much needed afternoon nap. We capped that off with a wonderful HOT shower now that we understood how to activate the heating system and once again met up with our friends for dinner.

Two things stick out from dinner:

A large crane type bird flew into the restaurant, landed on an empty table and made itself at home just a couple feet from diners.

This large bird seemed right at home on one of the restaurant tables

Dick, Gary and Jan all sang karaoke while Tim, Karen and I egged them on.

Gary and Dick singing

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful for a simple little button that when glowing red heats up my shower to a blissful hot temperature. How wonderful that there is still so much to learn while traveling.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
This entry was posted in Sri Lanka and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to COLOMBO, SRI LANKA: If India and the Middle East had a baby

  1. sheilsm says:

    Thank you for the wonderful report! I always love the pictures that you post and your well written commentary!


  2. The best reason to travel is to learn something, after all! Also one reason I follow your blog. I loved the photo of your bed, and those of the market, and the mosque. Thank you for the flavor of a place far from here – although I fear the heat would do me in!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mike Alesko says:

    Great first person “you were there” account.,.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. joliesattic says:

    The system of a little red button could go a long way to conserving energy. Did it take long? I couldn’t believe the size of the ginger! They must use a lot. Great post. Thanks for the tour.


    • I don’t think it takes very long, but honestly not sure the exact amount to time. When we returned to our room and flipped the switch, it was probably an hour before we actually got into the shower. One of our travel partners said they waited about 15 minutes and the water was hot for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for this wonderful share and such beautiful places to visit especially India with all its temples and mosques. Great post.


  6. Amy Pantone says:

    Looks like a fun day. Glad you figured out the hot water, makes you grateful for the little things, like a nice warm shower!


  7. I keep thinking that I need a trip to India or Sri Lanka. But that will be a really big trip for me, so I’m gathering information from blogs like yours for when I plan my trip. 🙂


  8. It’s amazing how intricate some of the designs on the buildings are!


  9. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson says:

    These photos are wonderful. So, so much to learn in a place so very different from home. I think the big bird landing on the restaurant table is one of my favorite things! The 5-times-a-day call to prayer must set a daily sense of the sacred even if you don’t practice that religion. Or does it feel overbearing? The mosque and Hindu temple are stunning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.