A Sri Lankan serenade: 8 things to do while holidaying in Kalutara
The island nation of Sri Lanka is a short hop away, cost effective and a great place to holiday with just an ETA(Electronic Travel Authorisation) required. An easily accessible town on the island is Kalutara, an hour-and-a-half drive from Colombo. Once a spice trading centre, the city derives its name from the Kalu Ganga river. Our pick of eight things to do.
Stay at the luxe Anantara Kalutara, designed by the legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa with its trademark high ceilinged lobby, festooned with colourful batik banners, vintage style furniture and rattan chairs, wooden artefacts and bare cement and tile floors.
The resort, situated between the Indian Ocean and the Kalu Ganga river, has luxurious suites, villas and rooms with a garden, lagoon and sea views.
Feast at the resort's three restaurants - our favourite was Spice Traders decorated with gargantuan basket lights, and serving Indian, Chinese and Thai delicacies. Catch the sunset ritual at the main swimming pool with dancers floating flowers in the water, and the blowing of the traditional horn, signalling sunset. Don't miss spending time at the Geoffrey Bawa library, modelled on his personal study, with a day bed, sofas and copies of his original drawings.
Drive down to Richmond Castle, a two-storied Edwardian mansion which was built by a wealthy landowner and philanthropist, inspired by a mansion in Ramnad, south India. With 16 rooms, 99 doors and 34 windows, this is a stunner of a building, now used as a boys' hostel.
With Burma teak brought on two ships, coloured glass from Scotland, Italian tiles, cast iron pressed ceiling from England, this was a lavish construction of its time. Don't miss the dance hall with its exquisite teak frames and carved pillars and the rooms upstairs lined with sepia images of the couple who owned the house - from their lavish wedding to pictures from the distant past.
BAWA'S SUMMER RESIDENCE
Visit Lunuganga, architect Geoffrey Bawa's country home on 15 acres of land, dotted with English and Italian Renaissance gardens, limpid ponds, different varieties of trees from frangipani to balsa and mahogany, sculptures and statues, pavilions and follies.
Take a guided tour which takes you through the different parts of the estate and the house - look out for the 14 bells scattered throughout the garden used by Bawa to summon his staff and the butterfly-shaped pond studded with water lilies! You can even choose to spend a night at one of the suites here.
THE ISLAND'S FIRST MOSQUE
Visit Kechimalai Mosque built on a hill near the sea, in the nearby port of Beruwala, built at the spot where the ancestors of Sri Lanka's Muslim community, landed in 1024 AD.
Close by is the red-and-white striped Abrar Mosque with its Arab architecture and minarets, supposed to be the oldest mosque in Sri Lanka dating back to 920 AD, having been built by Arabs who arrived here to trade with locals in spices, ginger and steel. The mosque, fronted by a beautiful pond, has undergone several reconstructions down the years.
DRIFT DOWN THE RIVER
Take a boat ride down the Kalu Ganga River which takes you through small fishing villages where children play cricket and football on the banks, with churches, mosques and Buddhist temples on the horizon, lazy water monitors peering behind branches and mangrove vegetation, and the ocean rumbling on the other side.
As you cut through the water, keep a sharp eye to spot the barracuda that jump up from the water all around.
PRAY AT THE RARE VIHARA
The Kalutara Gangatilaka Vihara is a Buddhist temple with a rare, hollow stupa. The interior of this white-washed three-storey-high dagoba (stupa) contains 74 murals, each depicting a different aspect of the Buddha's life; the smaller shrines have stories from the Jataka tales.
Watch the scene of devotees place food and flowers in front of the images, lighting coconut-oil lamps, attaching prayers written on scraps of cloth to one of the sacred Bo trees.