Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Colombo - Sri Lanka

Dear readers, Colombo is fantastic. A truly wonderful city, with great food, great shops, great music, great booze, great hotels, wonderful roads, friendly people and big development projects. Fabulous modern apartments overlooking the ocean. Much like Dubai.

Sri Lanka is one more country that has made chutney of us. In my view, only Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and several African countries are below us. Think about it. Almost all our illegal immigrants are from these worthy countries/Continent.

We spent 3 night in Colombo, only Colombo in early December 2018. We had a super time, enjoyed every minute and are waiting to go back.

Yes, I know you will say, Bah! Its Chinese money pouring in. Sure, yes. You will say, the Chinese are not to be trusted. Sure yes. You will say the Chinese have really become big in Africa. Sure yes. I have two retorts. First, I am visiting Sri Lanka as a tourist, I am not getting citizenship or investing in their economy. Second, if only this scale of progress could happen in India, we would be a great place.

Sri Lanka has had huge problems. A debilitating civil war. A small economy and major political unrest. Sri Lanka, is a Socialist Republic, and, according to some polls, deeply religious. Buddhism is the largest religion with Poya [full moon day] being a holiday. Of course, Saturdays and Sundays are holidays too. Lots of holidays there. Despite the unrest, Sri Lanka has made dramatic progress. To me, as a short stay visitor in a luxury 5-star hotel, Colombo seemed far more westernized than Mumbai, with diversity being evident everywhere. The number of white tourists was large. Sri Lanka has made a lot of progress as a first-class tourist destination with infrastructure to match. Top class roads, hotels and destinations. They have everything, mountains with tea gardens, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries with elephant and leopard and a lot of religious destinations. The place is clean, people honest and internal travel is easy.

Indians don’t need a visa to enter. All you do is get online, and log into the Sri Lanka ETA [Electronic Travel Authorisation System] and fill a form online. Pay the fee and literally in 10 minutes you will get your “visa”. That is all. If you are a paranoid or are reluctant to do an online transaction, well, stay home. The flight to Sri Lanka is a short 2½ hours, as close as Kolkata. Flights are at decent times, 4.30 pm either side. What more could you want?

We were staying at the brand new Shangri La hotel. This opened in October 2017. This is located on Galle Face Road, a road much like Marine Drive in Mumbai. You have the wonderful inviting blue Indian Ocean on one side and luxurious apartments and hotels on the other. Stunning vistas. I believe that living in one of these apartments would extend your life by 10 years.  The drive from the airport to the hotel was on a purpose-built elevated highway some 20 kms long. Superb. I must point out that in comparison to the glitz and glamour of the rest of Sri Lanka, their airport is a bit of a dump. That evening we had cocktails at the very very lively bar in the hotel. A superb live band of expatriates was playing. They were good.

A cocktail at the Capitol Bar & Grill Shangi La Colombo

The next day we took a hotel car [Land Rover brand new, with Wi-Fi inside the car – not a big deal technically but who the hell does it in India] on a 4 hour package to see the city. What shocked me was the price of the car. Just, and I am not being facetious, Sri Lankan 3500 which is INR 1750. I was truly gob smacked. Cheap as chips. Cheap as chips was my impression almost all thru the 3 days. Decent Gewurztraminer [an excellent white wine paired with spicy food] was SRL 6300 i.e. INR 3150 at Colombo’s best restaurant – Ministry of Crab. Food was reasonable and excellent. Booze was cheap. You could actually drink in a 5 Star hotel at what were normal Mumbai bar prices, with better quality booze and in far better surroundings.

Using the car we set out to visit the must do tourist shops, Odel, Paradise Gallery [both excellent] Barefoot Café [rubbish, much like Handloom House] Arpico [a great supermarket, if that is your thing – it is ours] and we did not visit House of Fashion. At Arpico I bought a “Chattie” which is an earthenware cooking vessel. My second. Great to make Indian curries, the clay gives the food a slightly different flavor. Cheap as chips SRL 350 for Chattie and lid that is INR 175. By then it was lunchtime, so, Paradise Road Gallery Café was chosen. Excellent excellent food.

My Chattie and lid 

Above: Nasi Goreng at the Paradise Cafe 

Above: Black Pork Sri Lankan Style with condiments at Gallery Cafe

The most famous Chef in all of Sri Lanka is Darshan Munidasa. His restaurants are the toast of Sri Lanka, and, like the country, diverse. He started with Nihonbashi a Japanese place, a short walk from our Hotel, where we had lunch. I am not a Sushi eater, but, what turned up looked fabulous and those who ate said it was decent. He also has a modern Sri Lankan restaurant he co-owns with the actress Jacqueline Fernandez, and specialty seafood place called Tuna & Crab.

Above: At Nihonbashi. The best Okra "Bhendi" I have ever eaten. Japanese style

Above: Saute fresh Shitake Mushroom

Above: Rolls at Nihonbashi

Above: The Sashimi Platter

Above: Cup of Miso Soup

 Above: Okonomiyaki

Munidasa biggest hit has been Ministry of Crab which he co-owns with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane, the cricketeers. The restaurant is located another short walk away from the Shangri La in the Dutch Hospital Complex. This reminded me of Chijmes in Singapore. The Dutch Hospital, was exactly what its name suggests, to look after the health of members of the Dutch East India Company. It was then used as a Police Station which was attacked by the LTTE. Then, in 2011 it was renovated and has become an upmarket leisure centre with top shops, bars and restaurants. Ministry of Crab is located here. As luck would have it, Darshan Munidasa had just opened a large sports bar alongside where he was glad handing press and VIP’s. We had a few drinks there. Then it was on to Ministry of Crab for dinner.

We had made our bookings from Mumbai and were glad we had done so. The restaurant is large and was full. Non airconditioned. There are community tables inside while the outside has smaller tables. Wines were ordered. The restaurant had plenty of expats and many of them Oriental. Crabs are available in myriad sizes. We decided to order two small crabs so that we would have a bigger selection from the menu. The food was superlative. Better than what we get at Trishna Apoorva? By a mile.

Above: My Apron and crab crackers

Above: The MOC branded wine cooler

Above: Clay Pot Prawns

Above: Black Pepper Crab

Above: Chilli Crab

Above: Coconut Panacotta

Another aspect that struck us was the number of places that had live music. As I have written previously, an expat band was playing in the Shangri La bar. There was a singer at Munidasa’s new sports bar. Inn On The Green a bar in the famous Galle Face Hotel had a particularly good trio. The three guitarists were taking requests – Freefallin – Tom Petty, Hotel California, Reason – Hoobastank and so on. Much hilarity about Cocaine – the song. That band made the evening for us. Refused an offer for a drink to be sent to them, claimed they did not drink. Most enjoyable evening.

Above: A must have in Sri Lanka. Devilled Sausages.

To conclude, if you ask me honestly, do not waste your time and money travelling anywhere, I mean anywhere, in India. For almost the same airfare you can go to Colombo. Hotels are cheaper [unless you are staying at your in laws or relatives’ home] food is better and cheaper and the place is beautiful. So, why not?

Sri Lanka 100% recommended.

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