Sri Lanka

I went to Colombo in Sri Lanka in December 2013 to speak at a public health conference. I was talking about the challenges in proposing a public health policy for early diagnosis of dementia given the lack of scientific evidence to support the impact of the timing of the diagnosis on health and personal outcomes for patients and carers.

Colombo is a busy and interesting city. It has a population of 5.6M in the area of Colombo and about 753,000 in the immediate city.  I loved the taxi-shaws as my favourite form of travel. I took one from the hotel to the conference centre on the first day and negiotated a price. For the rest of the week I just paid that price to everyone, as I soon worked out that bartering is a big deal in Sri Lanka and the price was a little flexible. I loved the drivers of the taxi-shaws and soon got to know a few on my daily trips.

Many people have settled into Colombo based on the trade advantage of the harbour and movement between other countries.  Columbo was made the capital of Colombo when control was ceded to the British in 1848.  It remained the capital after 1948 when Sri Lanka became independent. In 1978 a new capital was established (Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte)  and Colombo was designated a commercial capital of Sri Lanka.  The new capital city is within the urban area of Colombo so not a great deal has changed.

Colombo sits on a natural harbour and this has impacted the history of Sri Lanka.  Colombo has some modern and striking buildings as a result of significant developments in recent years. This photo is of the World Trade Centre (WTC) Colombo. Opened in 1997 it is the second tallest building in Sri Lanka.  During the later parts of the Sri Lankan civil war the towers were attacked twice.

There is significant contrast in Colombo, with great wealth sitting beside extreme poverty.  There were a number of stray dogs around the town when we were visiting, and many of the houses were in late stages of neglect.  We passed a lovely group of young people playing cricket in the street using a piece of wood as the bat. It reminded me of Australian street cricket.  Both countries share a great pride in their cricket teams.  It was inspiring to see the wonderful spirit among the people of Sri Lanka, regardless of their personal circumstances.

We enjoyed an afternoon driving around in a taxi-shaw with the driver choosing places for us to see.  We visited places of worship, merchant houses and Berei Lake. The variety of temples and chapels suggests a strong spiritual aspect of the life of people in Sri Lanka. The architecture was unique and interesting, and the opportunity to take time out from a busy day and reflect was lovely. A small financial contribution is usually made at each place when you visit if you wish to take photos.

There are many restful places to visit in Colombo. Berei Lake is in the centre of Colombo and an important feature of the city. It is man-made and once covered 156 hectares of land, now it is only 65 hectares. It has a colourful history in relation to the use of the lake to protect the city of Colombo, and the crocodiles which inhabited the lake.  It is now largely recreational and used with enjoyment by the people of the city.

One sad thing we did see in the city of Colombo was elephants chained to poles in suburban temples.  Elephants as part of tourism was been a significant problem in Asia.  Clearly this environment is not able to meet the needs of elephants.  We have learnt more about elephants and tourism since returning home.

Our favourite food in Sri Lanka was hoppers.  Hoppers are based on a fermented batter, usually made of rice flour and coconut milk with spices. It is almost a sophisticated pancake. We couldn't get enough of them. Apparently with a bit of practice, you can make your own. You can add other foods to the hopper and eat it like a rolled up crepe (curry, egg, etc.).  If you are going to Sri Lanka, we recommend eating a lot of hoppers.