Hot to Trot

Colombo, Sri Lanka, has a natural harbor that was known to Indians, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab and Chinese traders over 2,000 years ago. Portuguese explorers first arrived in 1505. During their initial visit, they made a treaty with the King of Kotte, Parakramabahu VIII (1484-1508), which led them to trade in the island’s crop of cinnamon that lay along the coastal areas of the island. As part of the treaty, the Portuguese were given full authority over the coastline in exchange for the promise of guarding the coast against invaders. They were allowed to establish a trading post in Colombo. Within a short time, however, they expelled the Muslim inhabitants of Colombo and began to build a fort in 1517.

They also realized that control of Sri Lanka was necessary for protection of their coastal establishments in India. They began to manipulate the rulers of the Kotte to gain control of the area. After much fighting, they gained control of a large area of the kingdom. Then the tide of war swung the other way and the rulers of the Kotte kingdom forced the Portuguese to retreat to Colombo. After much military back-and-forthing, the Portuguese, in 1593, took the kingdom and were able to establish complete control over the coastal area with Colombo as their new capital.

The city has many canals and, in the heart of the city, the 160-acre Beira Lake. The lake was used for many years by the colonists to defend the city.

Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of the island country Sri Lanka, once known as Ceylon. It has a population of 752,993. Due to its large harbor and strategic position along the East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to the ancients 2,000 years ago. It was made the capital of the island when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815. Its status as capital was retained when the nation became independent in 1948 until 1978. Then, administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte (That’s a mouthful!).

Our Seven Seas Navigator ship arrived at noon, and after the ship was cleared by authorities, we went off on a long shore excursion to see the sites. First, we visited the Kelaniya Temple, a Buddhist temple. We explored the elaborate property and saw many monks going about their business. When we went into the temple, we had to do so in our bare or sock feet. That is mandatory and the sand (no grass!) around the building was HOT! The interior was spectacular and full of barefoot devotees.

Our next stop was the National Museum of Sri Lanka, which was established in 1877. Its holdings are quite impressive as was its gift shop, which is operated by a state-run company. It has lots of souvenir masks, elephants and batik items.

We continued our tour past the historic clock tower, Pettah market neighborhood, the president’s house and town hall. Then we visited “Cinnamon Gardens,” an upscale neighborhood, and wound up at a gorgeous Hindu temple that was being restored. After a stop at a gem and jewelry store, we had a buffet dinner on the top floor of the glamorous Taj Hotel before returning to the ship.

Then it was on to Cochin, India, also known as Kochi, a city of 2.1 million people. It was known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, an important spice trading center on the west coast of India from the 14th century on. Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Kochi was the first of the European colonies in Asia.

On a seven-hour shore excursion all around the area, we visited the community of Vaikom and its Mahadeva temple and the nearby Khadi Weaving Center. Then, it was on to a coconut oil extracting factory (wow, was it hot and loud!). Then, auto-rickshaws took us to narrow dugout boats, where we sat in K-Mart style plastic lawn chairs and cruised the narrow canal backwaters of a really quaint community. After a short walk, we arrived at the lunch venue in a tent at a local home.

Lunch boxes, beer and soft drinks were provided by the Taj Hotel. Then, we visited the local school and saw demonstrations of basket weaving, coconut husk rope making and pottery making on a spinning wheel. Finally, out of the oppressive heat, our buses took us back to our wonderfully cool home at sea.

The next day at Mangalore, we drove to the cashew processing plant, a temple, a chapel and a private home. We met a typical Mangalore family, had light refreshments, smiled, bowed and headed for our floating home to sail to our next stop, Goa.

By the way, Mangalore’s port handles 75 percent of India’s coffee and cashew products. The city extends over 40 square kilometers and is characterized by rolling hills, coconut palms, freshwater streams and hard red-clay tiled roof buildings.

Goa, also known as Mormugao, according to our tour guide, is one of the most upscale areas of India. Early in the morning, we set out on a seven-hour excursion to see as much of the Goa area as possible. After a 90-minute ride to an area known as Old Goa, we visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Se Cathedral next door. What a contrast. The Basilica’s construction was begun in 1594 and completed in 1605. Originally elaborately decorated on the inside with frescoes, because of the local weather and mildew, all of the frescoed walls are covered with white wash. That said, the architecture is beautiful.

The exterior of the Se Cathedral is dark ox blood red. The interior is much plainer. The entire site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Next was Shantadurga Temple. It is a beautiful private temple complex belonging to the Goud Saraswat, Brahman families, and was built from 1713 to 1738. Departure from the temple was delayed by a few minutes as a number of local souvenir merchants approached us with decorated silk scarves and carved elephants to sell. It was fun to barter with them, and they never give up the hope of a sale.

An organic spice village was our final stop, and it included a late lunch. All sorts of spices are grown, harvested and marketed at this charming spot in the jungle. Lunch was a typical chicken curry with all the typical condiments, plus beer, Sprite and Coke.

Due to heavy construction, the dusty ride back to the port was very bumpy. A sort of seated, involuntary exercise. In 15 or 20 years when the road is completed, it should be a very nice ride! Long, hot showers before dinner were appreciated as we anticipated our final stop in India: two days in Mumbai (Bombay). VT

Photos courtesy of Carla Sue Broecker.