Browsed by
Month: March 2023

Tales of Forgotten Colombo

Tales of Forgotten Colombo

Modern Colombo is a vibrant city and bustling metropolis. But this coastal city has a rich and diverse history with many forgotten locations and sides that are not in the guidebooks.

Classic Destinations seeks to reveal these hidden locations to our valued clients to further enrich their Sri Lankan experience.

Setting off from Galle Face, the experience begins at the Galle Face Green, where the first cricket match between the two leading boys schools, Royal College and S. Thomas College, was played in 1879, well before the first Ashes cricket encounter between Australia and England was ever played.

Driving along Galle Face, you reach the Colombo Lighthouse, which is the only functioning lighthouse in Sri Lanka. It was built in 1952 after the Old Colombo Lighthouse was deactivated when its light became obscured by nearby buildings as part of the Colombo Harbor Expansion project. It was opened by Rt Hon D. S. Senanayake, the first prime minister of Ceylon. Built on a concrete base that is 12 m (39 ft) high, it has four statues of lions at its base. Located at its base is a naval gun battery that is used by the Sri Lanka Navy for its traditional gun salutes.

Thereafter, continue forward towards the Sambodhi Stupa, which is a Buddhist shrine located elevated above the ground. It was designed by renowned Sri Lankan engineer A. N. S. Kulasinghe, and construction began in 1956 to commemorate the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi by the Colombo Port Commission and completed by the Colombo Port Authority. Built on a platform supported by two interlocking arches, the stupa is placed above Marine Drive at the entrance of Colombo Harbour. This main road leading to the harbor has since been renamed Chaithya Road after the stupa. The walkway has 123 steps.

Turning back towards Chatham Street, one comes across the Old Colombo Lighthouse. The lighthouse is no longer operational, but the tower remains and functions as a clock tower. It is located at the junction of Chatham Street and Janadhipathi Mawatha (formerly Queens Road) in Colombo Fort. The tower was constructed as a clock tower in 1856–57 and completed on the 25th of February 1857. The tower was designed by Emily Elizabeth Ward, the wife of Governor Sir Henry George Ward (1797–1860).

Turning onto Chatham Street, one stops at the Lord Nelson Barber Saloon, which is still operated by veteran barber “Uncle Nelson,” a charming elderly gentleman who operates this vintage style barber shop.

His furniture date back many decades with wooden framings and leather cushioning which have seen better days

A welcome head massage is provided by Uncle Nelson which is the customary finish to any shave or haircut in a Sri Lankan barber shop. He would also bring out his many antique barber utensils which hes still stored carefully and preserved to this day and showcases an age gone by.

Thereafter turning into York Street, one will notice the many old buildings constructed during the British colonial era which some old name boards still remaining.

Stopping over at the iconic Cargills Building, venture into this iconic establishment, which still operates as a supermarket, but with many old sign boards still intact.

Historic Cargills building The iconic Cargills building in the center of Colombo Fort was originally the residence of Captain Pieter Sluysken, the former Dutch military commander of Galle. It was subsequently occupied by the first British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Frederick North, who lived there for a short time before moving to a spacious villa in Hulftsdorp. The building was acquired by Cargills in 1896, while D.S. Cargill was chairman, Walter Hamilton was director, and William Jenkins was general manager.

Construction of the current building commenced in 1902; it was designed by Edward Skinner, built by Walker Sons and Company, and completed in 1906. A foundation stone dated 1684 and a wooden statue of Minerva (the Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, and trade), both retrieved from the gable end of Sluysken’s house, are preserved by the ground floor lift. By 1909, it employed “an executive staff of 32 Europeans and 600 hands.” Following a successful bid by Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner, the business was incorporated as a public limited company on 1 March 1946. In 1981, Ceylon Theatres acquired a controlling interest in the company, and Albert A. Page was appointed Managing Director. Page went on to become the chairman of Cargills on 26 November 1982.

Driving along, one would stop over to admire the old colonial architecture of many of the old buildings of a bygone era.

Continuing towards Bank of Ceylon Mawatha, which is lined with the World Trade Centers, a busy office building, and the iconic Bank of Ceylon building with its unique architecture, one stops at the police station at the end of the street, which houses a unique structure of historical significance. Here you will find in the parking lot the prison of the last king of Sri Lanka, King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe, the king of Kandyan Kindgdom, was captured by the British on the 18th of February 1815 at Medamahanuwara after his own officials, including Eheylapola Maha Adhikaram (who was one of the main conspirators who helped the British take over Kandy), joined the British to help take hold of Kandy. The cell identified as the holding cell of Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe lies on the intersection of the Bank of Ceylon Mawatha and the Janadhipathi Mawatha, within the Ceylinco Building car park area but visible from the road. Painted in bright yellow and orange, this is a roughly 8′×5′ building with a 2-foot-thick wall. The roof is designed with a fish-scale pattern. On the outside, there are two plaques describing the capture of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe and the significance of the building as the king’s holding cell. Inside the cell are various pictures, including paintings of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinhe and his queen Venkata Rengammal.

Back on the road, journey towards the Colombo harbor, where lies the oldest hotel in Sri Lanka, the Grand Oriental Hotel.

Behind this establishment is St. Peter’s Church, Colombo, which is one of the oldest continuously functioning churches in Colombo. During the Portuguese occupation of the country, a Dominican monastery and a charity hall, the Chapel of Misericordia (House of Mercy), were constructed on the site (c. 1627) [4] where the church is now located. Nearby was an early Gothic church, St. Dominico, of which only an inscribed stone set over its arches remains. In approximately 1666, ten years after the capture of Colombo by the Dutch, they converted the building into the official residence for the Governor, with an elegant two-story facade facing the waterfront. The mansion had a flat roof, a large arched portico of cubicle form, and several large windows that let in light and air. The building was used for council meetings and as a reception/banquet hall, where ambassadors from the Kingdom of Kandy were entertained.

The British first used the structure as the residence of Lieutenant General Hay MacDowall (General Officer Commanding, Ceylon), though by this time the building was in a state of disrepair and the roof was leaking badly. Between 1796 and 1803, Wolvendaal Church was opened to Anglicans for worship. In 1804 the first British Governor, Frederick North, resolved to convert the building to a garrison church, publishing a notice on 14th March in The Ceylon Government Gazette announcing that a ‘Divine Service would be held at the Government House on Sunday at 4.30 p.m. Between 1810 and 1820, a portion of the building was used temporarily as a courthouse. In 1816, the first Bishop of Calcutta, Thomas Middleton, attended and gave a sermon at the church. In April 1821, on the occasion of the second visit by the bishop, acting on the formal request by the acting governor, Edward Barnes, he “consecrated and set apart forever for the service of God” the church on 22nd May. In the same year, Governor Barnes handed over St. Peter’s Church to four trustees.

Thereafter, a visit to the Grand Oriental Hotel itself gets you the best view of the Colombo Harbour from its namesake, the Harbour Room, a large dining room in the hotel that gives a splendid view. It is customary to sip a sundowner and try some of the local “bytes,” such as chilli cashew nuts and hot butter cuttlefish, while watching the sun set on the western coast.

As darkness sets in, continue your journey through the now less busy streets of Colombo towards Pettah, known to locals as Pitakotuwa, where you drive through many of the local shops that sell all manner of items from electronics to fabrics to fruits—you name it, they’ve got it. Along these streets, stop over at the beautiful Red Mosque, which is located on the second cross street. The mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo and a popular tourist site in the city. Construction of the Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque commenced in 1908, and the building was completed in 1909. The mosque was commissioned by the local Indian Muslim community, based in Pettah, to fulfill their requirement for five daily prayers and Jummah on Fridays. The mosque’s designer and builder were Habibu Lebbe Saibu Lebbe (an unlettered architect), and it was based on details and images of Indo-Saracenic structures provided by South Indian traders who commissioned him. It is a hybrid style of architecture that draws elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture and combines them with the Gothic revival and Neo-classical styles. It is a distinctive red and white candy-striped two-story building with a clock tower and is reminiscent of the Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (constructed in 1910). Before other landmarks were built, some claim that the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque was recognized as the landmark of Colombo by sailors approaching the port.

Thereafter, to end the experience, head to the Old Town Hall Building. The Old Town Hall was built in 1873, designed by the British architect J. G. Smither, who also designed furniture to match, and was the first civic building to be opened in Colombo. The building was used as the municipal headquarters for over 50 years, until 1924. At the time, there was also a hall alongside it, used for the growth of the arts in the form of street plays and dramas—Edinburgh Hall. The hall was built at the same time and reflected several matching architectural features, such as filigreed cast iron detailing, a slightly gothic design, etc. In 1925, the municipal headquarters were moved to the current Town Hall, next to Viharamahadevi Park. With the change of premises, the Old Town Hall fell into disuse and dust, along with Edinburgh Hall, which was no longer the best location to show off the arts. In 1980, the crumbling structure came to the attention of the president of the time, Premadasa, who renovated it by 1984 and turned it into one of Colombo’s historical attractions. The adjoining building was converted into a museum, and Edinburgh Hall was turned into Edinburgh Market, where street hawkers could ply their wares. The sole caretaker of the large Old Town Hall will take you upstairs. Be ready for a mini freakout. Once you get to the top of the stairs, you’ll find yourself in a large open room with a conference table in the center. And here’s the creepy part: There will be 15 men seated around the table in dated suits. It’s only closer inspection that will reveal them to be somewhat dusty, life-sized wax figures. Each has a name card placed before them (including one named “W. Shakespeare?!), and some have strangely colorful neckties. Other than this strange plateau, there are other life-sized statues of servants and butlers, paintings, and some old photographs. You can also view the city from the windows. Make sure to check the room to the side. It has some early typewriters, old radios, and the pièce de résistance—a 1785 map of Colombo. Once you come back down, make sure to visit the adjoining museum. It has a number of different artifacts, including ancient machinery, old metal street signs mounted on an equally old wooden post, antique boilers and timers, old light holders, an old mobile library vehicle, and a giant lightbulb that lit the entire square outside the Old Town Hall.

This ends this interesting adventure into some of the lesser-known and forgotten sites of old Colombo. Classic Destinations organizes curated expert-guided tours by tuk tuk or open-top Land Rovers, which give the clients a unique perspective on day-to-day life in this historic city.

A Walk in Time: A Visit to the National Museum of Sri Lanka

A Walk in Time: A Visit to the National Museum of Sri Lanka

Museums around the world are the key places where some of the world’s most priceless historical artifacts can be seen by the general public. Sri Lanka is no different; the National Museum of Colombo is an amazing location to truly learn about the history of this island nation over the thousands of years with many informative and valuable exhibits on display.

The team from Classic Destinations visited this national establishment with the intention of refreshing their knowledge and experience of the museum.

The Colombo Museum, as it was called at the beginning, was established on 1st January 1877. Its founder was Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time.

The Royal Asiatic Society (CB) was instrumental in bringing to the attention of Gregory, on his appointment as Governor in 1872, the need for a public museum. With much difficulty, the approval of the legislative council was obtained within a year. The architect of the Public Works Department, J.G. Smither, was able to prepare the plans for a new structure in Italian architectural style. The construction was completed in 1876, and the museum commenced its functions the following year.

The authorities of the museum took various steps to display the cultural and natural heritage of the country for this purpose.

With the development of the museum to an international level, it earned the status of a national museum during the period of Dr. P. E. P. Deraniyagala. He was able to open up branch museums in Jaffna, Kandy, and Ratnapura, and a full-fledged Department of National Museums was established in 1942 under Act No. 31. The number of branch museums has now increased to nine, and in addition, a school science program and a mobile museum service are also in operation.

This process has been further improved by the arrangement of the galleries on the ground floor in historical order and those on the upper floors on a thematic basis.

Upon entering the great hall, the sequence of galleries and exhibits is clearly marked, beginning with the early civilizations and progressing from the Anuradhapura Period to the Polonnaruwa Period, and so on. Each hall and exhibit are well organized, with detailed, informative placards on each artifact in all three languages (English, Sinhalese, and Tamil). Some valuable historical artifacts can be seen that showcase the detail and intricacy of the Sri Lankans of years gone by.

The Anuradhapura exhibit is particularly interesting given that this was the first civilization in Sri Lanka, with many well-preserved stone, bronze, and gold statues, carvings, and artworks, as well as jewelry, on display.

The museum has further showcased creative exhibits for visitors, whereby they can understand some of the ancient engineering marvels, some of which cannot be replicated with the same accuracy even in the modern day.

Heading upstairs, one comes across many ancient weapons, including swords, spears, bows, and arrows, as well as many colorful tapestries and costumes. A separate exhibit upstairs showcases the many intricate masks worn in many ceremonies and dances on the island.

After completing the main building, one can head to the Natural History Museum, which is located in a separate building in the same compound. This area, though not as new as the main section, contains the iconic skeleton of a blue whale as well as the remains of many other Sri Lankan species, such as the leopard, sloth bear, elephant, and many others.

At the end of this visit, we at Classic Destinations can highly recommend that one pays a visit to this valuable establishment to better understand the rich history and traditions of a vibrant nation. It would be a great start before heading out on a round-trip tour across the island.

Exploring the secret behind the highest rated crab dish in Sri Lanka

Exploring the secret behind the highest rated crab dish in Sri Lanka

Classic Destinations continues to explore the complex and mouthwatering world of Sri Lankan gastronomy.

Sri Lanka as an island if filled with an array of unique spices, and flavors, as well as a host of fresh ingredients from land and sea.

The islands various regions furthermore have their own specialties and cooking techniques which are unique themselves.

Among all of Sri Lanka’s cuisine none other has captivated the world like the famous Lagoon Crab and the multitude of preparations this crustacean is prepared in.

Many food experts, food vloggers as well as professional chef’s have visited the island such as the late Anthony Bordain, Peter Kuruvita, Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre White and many others, and almost all of them made a point to try Sri Lanka’s famed crab.

Food vlogging shows are the latest trend in travel and have bypassed many television shows in the past few years in audience and coverage.

Among those who visited Sri Lanka in the last few years include famed personalities such as Mark Wiens, Trevor James and the latest being Sonny Side from the Best Ever Food Review Show.

Trevor James the famed food vlogger known by his alias The Food Ranger explored the many crab dishes and preparations around the island, and gave his honest rating based on several criteria.

Out of all the crab dishes that he reviewed the highest rating he gave was for the humble Negombo Rest House which is located on the Western Coast an hour drive from Colombo.

The team at Classic Destinations decided to visit this famous establishment to truly find out what made this dish so special, and they were not disappointed.

The team are foodies themselves and Sri Lankan crab curry being one of their favorites and have been savoring many versions of this curry for decades. Yet were curious to understand what made the Negombo dish truly stand out.

Located on the coastal belt of the island, Negombo is one of the biggest fishing hubs on the island, with the Lellama Fish Market being the busiest. All the day’s catch comes into this busy market where they are auctioned off and distributed throughout the island.

 Furthermore, this belt consisting of the Negombo Lagoon is where the crab fisherman set their traps to catch these giant crustaceans. Sadly, many Sri Lankans do not have the opportunity to catch the largest crabs which are mostly exported to countries such as Singapore where their famous Singapore Chili Crab is made. But in the recent decade passionate foodies and afficionados in Sri Lanka have worked to save up some of the best crabs for the local market as well thus bringing the best catch to the Sri Lankan plates.

Travelling to Negombo the team visited the Negombo Rest House which is an old colonial weather-beaten mansion converted to a local restaurant and bar.

Meeting the owner of the establishment the team were escorted to the kitchen, which was clean and spacious, and they met the chef.

The process began to prepare three medium sized crabs in the famous Negombo Style preparation. The team captured the entire process in pictures, as well as asked many questions while the chef diligently prepared the dish.

The secret the team learnt was their special spice mixture which he adds at the end of the cooking process. There were two spices they used, both made inhouse and is a carefully guarded secret.

Once prepared, which took approximately 45 min to 1 hour the steaming hot crab curry was put onto a clay serving pot and brought to the table.

The types of accompaniments can vary depending on taste. Crab curry can be enjoyed with rice, or even string hoppers or hoppers, but the teams favorite was to enjoy the thick mouthwatering gravy with wood oven baked fresh bread and coconut sambol and dhal curry. Another favorite accompaniment is Kiri kos or jackfruit cooked in coconut milk.

As soon as the flavorful gravy was lapped up with the bread and the team tasted it, it was evident the flavor was unlike anything they had tasted before. Though spices were used, there was no excessive burning of chilies, but rather a barrage of unique flavors which combined with the crab creates a dish unlike any other.

At the end of the feast, the team were able to easily understand why Trevor James rated this the best crab he’s ever tasted.

We at Classic Destinations after arrangements with the establishment is ready to offer a curated behind the scenes access for our valued clients to explore the process as well as to taste the highest rated cab dish in Sri Lanka.

Travelling with Classic Destinations brings forth new and exciting curated experiences which brings the “real” Sri Lanka to life in front of you and makes your holiday in our paradise isle truly an indulgence of the sense.

Aluth Kade- A Streetfood Adventure

Aluth Kade- A Streetfood Adventure

Colombo 12, Hulftsdorp, or Aluth Kade: a locality known by many names but synonymous with one: street food!

Abdul Hameed Street comes alive with its unique and exciting variety of dishes that entice even the pickiest eaters out there. Located at Aluth Kade, these street food vendors hail from various backgrounds, with many from the Moors-Muslim Community of Sri Lanka. In recent times, this iconic stretch of road has garnered the attention of many visiting and local YouTubers and vloggers, making it an online sensation that is now on everyone’s must visit list!

These stalls offer a vast variety of eats, ranging from the conventional grilled sandwiches, burgers, and submarines to shawarmas and wraps and moving on to more unconventional dishes, which include a variety of curries prepared fresh to enjoy with parotta, rotti, and biriyani. These curries include a vast range of proteins, including mutton (goat meat in a variety of preparations and cuts), prawns, fish, calamari, calamari eggs, beef, beef liver, beef babath (a dish prepared with the stomach and intestines of the cow), chicken liver, chicken in various other forms, and the piece de resistance, the infamous goat brain, made either as a spicy fried dish or a creamy curry.

The team at Classic Destinations ventured out to Aluth Kade one night to the main outlet, which offers a variety of curries. The trick is to order as many dishes as possible and share them as a group with roti or parotta. The flavours of each of the dishes are even more unusual! The goat brain was mouth-watering, given the spices and preparation time taken to prepare each dish daily. A visitor can choose to either sit outside, right on the streets, where each outlet sets up small plastic tables, or inside the shops, which gives access to the sink and tap, which would be essential for these dishes, which are best eaten by hand!

Despite the humble settings, the service at each of these establishments was excellent, with the waiters eager to please. Furthermore, it is very interesting to witness countless visitors to the street, ranging from locals, families with children, office professionals, teenagers, as well as a few foreign travellers, all flocking to this busy night scene to take in the vibe and experience as well as, of course, taste the variety of cuisine.

For dessert, the team headed to a small stall that prepared what is known as “badam milk” or “almond milk”, which is a mixture of milk, sugar, and ground almonds. A sweet and delicious milkshake to wash down the spicy food consumed earlier. As the team’s sweet tooth was still not satisfied, they headed to a local pani puri stall. Inspired by Indian street food, these puffed-up rice balls are filled with a topping of your choice. The group tried the chocolate and Nutella varieties, which were akin to Ferrero Roche chocolate.

As an experience for those seeking to truly immerse in local cuisine and culture, this would be a must visit location when staying over in Colombo. We at Classic Destinations organize a guided experience with a season local host to try out and interpret each and every delicacy on offer. A true foodie experience like no other.