Colombo Renewal

The rejuvenation and expansion of Colombo continues at an incredible pace. Last month I wrote about the opening of the converted old Auditor General’s building by Independence Square into an ornate and upmarket shopping arcade. Now the downmarket area of Pettah opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station is being gentrified with the conversion of a forgotten and stagnant waterway into an inspiring floating market.

 
The floating marekt adjoins Bastian Mawatha

The floating marekt adjoins Bastian Mawatha

 

The waterway is suspended between the Beira Lake and a tip of a tributary of the Kelani Ganga (river) by Bastian Mawatha (road) near the bus station, reached by walking to the right after exiting the Fort Railway station. Created by the Urban Development Authority as the first phase of a project to spruce up the entire area, the water has been treated chemically to improve its quality.

Colombo Renewed
In colonial days Colombo was regarded as the Garden City of Asia, a reputation it appeared to have lost until the Commonwealth Summit in November 2013 made it necessary for the authorities to clean up the city. Walls around public parks were torn down (with no adverse effects) and revealed once again what a well-laid-out city with wide boulevards and lots of greenery Colombo really is.

 

State-owned colonial buildings, like the old Dutch Hospital and the Grandstand at the former racecourse, were transformed into pleasant, spacious shopping and restaurant complexes. The latest public buildings to receive a makeover are what was once the Auditor General’s building and before that “Jawatta Lunatic Asylum”. A spacious concourse with leaping fountains, ornamental ponds packed with dazzling fish and a statue of a resting pride of lions, has been created to link with the formerly abandoned Western Provincial Council Building.

 
The Western Provincial Council building restored to glory

The Western Provincial Council building restored to glory

 

These buildings are both near Independence Square, in a green part of the city within walking distance of the National Museum. Their bureaucratic colonial architecture has been adapted to accommodate upmarket, brand name shops and even a boutique cinema complex. The transformation complements the other restoration work taking place in the city providing a welcome balance to the high rise hotels and apartment blocks that are shooting up and changing the city’s skyline.

 

Fruit with Attitude
This is the month for curious fruit in Sri Lanka, exotic delicacies found only in the tropics. It’s the season for durian, mangosteen and rambutan, a trio of odd looking fruit with attitude, apparently to deter people from eating them.

 
Durian on display

Durian on display

 

Durian is as famous for its off-putting pong as for its ambrosial custard-like taste. It’s to be found on sale by roadsides, especially on the road to Kandy, where a vendor skilled in durian dealing, will crack open the hard prickly green shell and prize out the flesh-coddled seeds for the brave to devour. Wash your hands afterwards to avoid the smell trailing you all the way home.