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Colombo Trip..Part 2..Culture..Shopping..History.. Sri Lanka

This post is a continuation of the previous post on  Colombo trip where I had written about the city, places to visit, hotels and other info about this place.
Lion statues @ the Independence square Colombo
As part of our Sri Lanka Itinerary.. we traveled to Colombo from Kandy by car (this took us about 3-4 hours) and stayed in Steward hotel. We had booked a car for our entire trip - starting from Colombo Airport and ending back at Colombo.
**Many people have reached out to me asking about the car booking, you can ping me on fb or connect with me on my gmail id, I will send you the driver's / agency phone number.

The first day in Colombo we visited the Gangaramaya temple and Galle Face green where we did lots of kite flying. (Details on Part 1 blog)
The next day we headed after breakfast to tour the city and also planned some time for shopping.
Colombo Town Hall
Colombo Town hall :
This is the Mayor's office, which houses the administrative staff of the Colombo Municipal Council. The building is impressive and worth a photo-stop. It is not allowed to go inside, and if you take too many clicks or spend more that a few minutes, the security guards will start questioning you.

Viharamahadevi Park : This part is just opposite to the Townhall building, so you can visit both these places together. This is very green and quiet. Despite of being a weekend, we did not find any tourists or locals in this place - serene, quiet and very clean.
Viharamahadevi Park
National Museum : Very close to the Viharamahadevi park, the National museum of Sri Lanka. This is one of the top listed places to visit on Tripadvisor - However, we always get bored in museums, so we decided to skip it.

Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Art) Theatre : This looks very beautiful - and my camera could'nt do justice to the actual look of this place. This is a performing arts center, and there are shows held for which you can buy tickets and visit this place.
Lotus Art Theatre
Road-side Painters :
All the above attractions are very close-by within 1 kms radius. As you leave from this theatre, you will find a street which is full of Paintings. There are painters who can also make portraits of you. These look very beautiful and in-fact we even got down to see if we could buy them. The prices are reasonable - they will give the canvas roll to you. However, for international tourists, the concern is how do you carry this without getting crushed in the flight.
Paintings of Sri Lanka
Independence War Memorial (Also known as Independence Square) : This is indeed the best place I found in Colombo. Vast empty gardens, greenery spread wide, and beautiful memorial hall. The best place about Sri Lanka is that it is extremely clean and not crowded at all (except some of the Buddhist temples). You can sit here for hours exploring the ponds, flags and green landscape.
Totally Loved it.
Independence War memorial
Lush Greenery at Independence sqaure
Water ponds at Independence memorial
Memorial Hall
Shopping : The first question is what to shop from Sri Lanka for your family and friends. Before I went there, people told me it is a Shopping haven. There is a currency advantage, so you can almost afford anything and shop a lot. Let me break the myth - I did not find Sri Lanka cheap or my currency being an advantage.
Things are reasonably priced, but they are definitely not cheap. Infact, many of the clothes are labelled as "Made in India" - so why buy it from Sri Lanka??
Nonetheless, we did end up exploring Shopping outlets and ended up stocking something for our family.
Odel Mall : This is a Hi-fi mall, with all the branded stuff. Clothes, Shoes, Designer bags, Food, Souvenirs everything is here. But the cost is equally high - I did not find any local Sri Lankans shopping at this place, all were tourists especially western tourists.
The food outlets outside this mall are pretty good, they have some Indian thali also which was quite nice.

Paradise Road : You will find lots of Off-beat stuff here for Homeware, designer items, collectibles, candles etc. This is good for buying small gifts for your friends back in India. This is a small store, so you can wrap this in half-hour.

House of Fashion : Have you been to Mega-mart or Big Bazaar in India. Yes, this is the Big Bazaar of SriLanka. This is on the way to the Airport, so we wrapped up everything, and on the way to the Airport, stopped by here and stocked the shopping bags. Lots of stuff, from toys, to candles, to specialized soaps, organic spices, Clothes, stolls, shoes, bags everything. It is reasonably priced. Look for the labels before you buy (as lots of stuff says 'Made in India').

Tea: When in doubt what to buy, the Sri Lankan tea is very popular. Some of the key brands being Dilmah, Ceylon tea, Zesta and many more. These can be purchased from any Supermarket in Sri Lanka. I brought lots of Dilmah tea for my family and myself. It is very good.

Post this, we headed to the airport and back to India. So this is the last in the Sri Lanka Series. I might write some more about the Budget of the trip and how to self-plan the Sri Lanka itinerary in a different blog post :)

Other Articles in the Sri Lanka Series :

1. Sri Lanka Itinerary
2. Bentota - Beach town
3. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
4. Kandy
5. Sigiriya.. Ravan's fort
6. Dambulla.. Caves and Golden temple
7. Colombo Trip Part 1

P.S : All pictures in this article are original and clicked from my DLSR D5300 camera and iPhone 6 :)

Oregano Soul food.. Quiet little Italian cafe.. Whitefield
Creamy Mushroom Risotto in Butter Chicken sauce
Its Friday again and every weekend I go out and try a new place in Bangalore.. Last weekend, I stumbled across this small little cafe in Whitefield called Oregano Soul food. Checked the ratings and went ahead for the evening.

Ambiance: 3/5
Low profile ambiance. Very quiet.. this is a house converted to a cafe.. so I could see a few tables. It is open with a shed on top.. so cool breeze made the mood for the day. Lights are dim and there is a mild music. Seats are wooden, nothing special.

Food : 3.5/5
The menu is very limited - some smoothies, coffee, Snacks, sandwiches, Pizza, Pasta, Risotto etc. The pricing is very reasonable and menu is short and sweet. 
We ordered the following :
Peach Smoothie with Cheese toast
Peach Smoothie - Nice sweet milkshake with Peach flavor
Cheese Chilli Toast
Cheese Chilly Toast : It was more like a soft cheese bread, but very tasty though

Mushroom Risotto with butter chicken sauce : This was the best of all - very tasty, I suggest this is a must-try thing on the menu. The Risotto rice was very soft and creamy with lots of boiled mushrooms. The butter chicken gravy was amazing and mixed with the risotto rice, it was just magical. 

Margarita Cheese Pizza: This was nice, thin crust pizza with good cheese. But it was normal, not out of the world.
Pizzaaaaa !!!
Outer facade of Oregano Soul food
Price : I think it is reasonably priced. My bill for the above (Pizza, Cheese toast, Risotto, and Smoothie) was ~ INR 700

Location : Whitefield, Behind the new Brigade Lakefront. Coming from Hoodi, take the turn after Madhura office or before the Petrol pump. It is a small cafe inside that lane. Or you could follow Google maps - it is correct.

61, Seetharampalya - Hoodi Road, Whitefield, Bangalore
Overall my rating : 3.5/5P.S - All pictures are taken from my iPhone 6 camera.


Oregano Soul Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Colombo Trip : Sri Lanka's commercial capital_Part1
Me @ Galle Face Colombo
Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka and is the modern commercial capital as well. During our Sri Lanka trip, this is the landing destination and cannot be skipped. So we allocated 2 days to this beautiful city for our itinerary. 
In many ways, this city reminded me on Bombay (India), as it has a sea-shore, port and is bustling with people all around you. The only difference being, it is much more cleaner and greener than our Mumbai.
Gangaramaya Temple
It has a large harbor area and hence this city has always had a strategic importance in the Asian trade routes. You can see there is construction going on everywhere, on all sides, tall buildings are being created, a new port is being constructed, flyovers are being done and skyscrapers are looming all over the horizon. Our driver told us that Colombo is getting a lot of funding now from China which is causing a free hand for developers to build the modern infrastructure. In fact China is even constructing a port for them - for Free (our driver said this). This is something to think about.

Moving on to my trip. 

How to Go :
Colombo is closer to the airport, there are buses and taxis to and fro from the airport to the Colombo city.

International Airport (Bandaranaike Airport) -> Colombo city = 35 kms
Kandy to Colombo city = 133kms (3.5 hours)
Bentota to Colombo city = 81 kms (2 hours)

During our Trip itinerary - we circled from Colombo to Bentota to Kandy and back to Colombo. We left at Kandy in the morning after breakfast and check-out and reached Colombo around 3pm.

We checked into our Hotel in Colombo, freshened up in 1 hour and went for sightseeing.

Where to Stay :
There are plenty of hotels in the city for various type of travelers. We wanted to stay closer to the city and in a nice 4 star hotel, so we booked Hotel The Steuart by Citrus
Well, it was not great like a resort, but definitely a good hotel in the proximity of the beach and places to go. You can walk over to the Galle Face green, Clock tower, and the various amazing restaurants nearby. 
The place is quiet, they have a pub downstairs but its not noisy.
The room was really big and spacious - and I enjoyed my stay.

Places to Visit :
Ganyaramaya Temple Diety

The most popular place to visit in Colombo is the famous Buddhist temple - Gangaramaya. This is around 3-4 kms from the city.

Gangaramaya Temple : were lucky to visit this temple on Poya day (Buddhist prayer day), the temple was very crowded and there were people praying all over. There are immensely beautiful images of Buddha in its various forms. The temples in Kandy, Dambulla etc were very peaceful, but this one was different.
Anywhere you see, there were images of Buddha and other deities, there was not a single wall which was plain. They have a room (sort of a museum) inside which hosts 1000's of Buddha's, from all over the world, some in gold, crystal, metal, stone, granite, marble and what not. 
I am a person who is too overwhelmed with physical images and that too so many, so I couldn't focus on my prayers and ended up clicking pictures and exiting the temple.

There is also a huge Bodhi tree, this is supposed to enlighten us, hundreds of devotees were taking rounds of this temple and putting water onto the tree. There were prayer announcements on the loud mike.
Point to note - this is a Buddhist place of worship, so carry a stole and cover yourself up if you are wearing shorts, skirts etc. Even for men.
The Part 2 of Gangaramaya temple - in middle of the lake
Once you exit the main temple, there is another Gangaramaya temple Part 2 - which is around 300 mts walk from the main temple. As you start walking, you will see a lake, this temple is situated in the Lake, with a pathway.
This was very beautiful indeed. 
They will charge tickets separately at both temples - well, but on Poya day these places are so crowded, that no one bothered to ask us anything and we did not have to buy the ticket.

After these 2 temples, we went to Galle Face Green.. this is a Beach.
Galle Face.. Rocky beach
Galle Face Green : I don't know why it is called like that, but this will definitely remind you of the Juhu beach in Mumbai. It seems as if the whole city has come to enjoy the evening breeze here. It is very windy and hence the popular sport on this beach is Kite Flying. You will notice hundreds of kites lining the sky and you will be tempted to buy one.
Got this Sri Lankan Traditional dress :)

There are stalls setting the typical lobster fry wrapped on the Paratha. Being Indians, we were terrified at the sight of Lobster fry hanging on all the stalls. We asked the guy to give us the paratha and chutney without the lobster :) It was unhygienic but tasty.

Kite flying was a lot of fun !!!
Thats my Kite!! High up in the sky
We enjoyed the late evening on the beach and then walked over to our hotel. 
The hotel is located on the Dutch hospital area, where they have some of the best restaurants in town. Ministries of Crab is located there, but it is very expensive.
There is also a Burger King and a food court just opposite to the hotel. The streets are safe and quiet at night.

The next day we went around the city, visited the Independence memorial, Theatre, museum etc. and also went shopping as well.
I will write that in my blog Part 2
Prime Minister's residence @Galle face
Twin towers of Colombo.. nearby to the hotel
Ganyaramaya temple on Poya day
The sacred Bodhi tree
Clock Tower

Other Articles I have written on Sri Lanka

Dambulla Caves and Golden Temple : Sri Lanka Cave also known as the Golden Temple of Sri Lanka is the most beautiful site especially for those who love art and history. Dambulla is the largest cave complex, with over 80 caves in the vicinity but for tourists, the 5 major caves are most relevant. 
Typically Sigiriya and Dambulla should be covered together as they are just a few miles apart. After a long and tiring climb at Sigiriya Rock, we were too tired to walk at all. However, we did not want to miss this amazing place in our Itinerary - so we gathered ourselves, and headed for it.

History of these Caves :
The cave temple date back to the first century BCE where pre-historic Sri Lankans used to live. It has 5 caves which are under and over-hanging rock lined with a drip lining to keep the temple dry. The paintings and statues are related to Gautam Buddha and his life. There are about 153 Buddha Statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 Gods and Goddesses. In the pre-historic times, these caves were occupied by the Buddhist hermits who used to live and meditate here in the search of salvation. 
It is said that when the Sri Lankan king Vattagamani Abhaya fled from his kingdom in Anuradhapura (when it was invaded by South Indians), the Buddhist monks gave him a refuge here.

How to go:
Colombo to Dambulla - 178 kms (4.5 hours)
Kandy to Dambulla -91 kms (2.5 hours)
Sigiriya to Dambulla - 20Kms (Half hour)

So we first went to Sigirya from Kandy and while returning, went to Dambulla cave temple. There is quite a climb again in Dambulla. We were too tired, but went half the way up when we were asked for tickets and the ticket counter is all the way down to the other side. This is very misleading for tourists - It was too tiring to go back down again and then climb up the stairs. Ask your cab driver to take you to the entrance where you can purchase tickets.

Ticket Price : 1500 LKR per head. Yes, it is very pricey and there is no discount for Saarc citizens. 

Also there is nothing to eat on the way up the climb and in the caves. So please carry water bottles and food if you need.

Experience and Details:

I am a big fan of pre-historic caves and scriptures, so it was really exciting for me to visit this place. Long long back, this was a place where buddhist monks used to live away from the city and family life in this peaceful environment. As soon as you land into the first cave and notice the Sleeping Buddha, it hits your soul. The place is so quiet and cold with no artificial lighting that it feels as if it has transformed you to someone else. All the tiredness of Sigiriya will start fading away and the senses were completely relaxed as if in the meditative state. I wish they had some place to sit inside the caves but unfortunately that is not there.

I am putting the details of these caves in a very simple format for the tourist to understand - I had read about this place from Wikipedia and this site

Cave #1 : Cave of King of Gods (Deva Raja Viharaya)
This cave depicts the final moment of Buddha - it is 47 feet in length - the face is dull and lifeless, with no emotions and the body is in Samadhi state.
The cave contains, another five images of which the standing one at the southern end of the. Room is supposed to be that of Arhat Ananda, the immediate disciple of Buddha, weeping at the death of his master.
At the northern corner of the cave, opposite the face of the principal image, there is a statue, of Visnu, (some scholars believe that this is of Upulvan, one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka) - Surprising that Hinduism has influence here - Vishnu is a Hindu God, finds place in a Buddha cave in Sri Lanka.

Cave #2 : Cave of the Great King (Maha Raja Viharaya)
This cave is the most impressive cave here - it is huge. This cave contains fifty-there images. The majority of the statues are of Buddha in different attitudes.The ceiling nearest the entrance is used mostly to depict the life of the Buddha, before and after his Enlightenment. In this part the artist has also attempted to paint the earlier births of the Buddha. In addition to 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha, are the gods Saman and Vishnu, which pilgrims often decorate with garlands, and finally statues of King Vattagamani Abhaya, who honored the monastery in the 1st century BC

Cave #3 : Great New Monastery :(Maha Alut Viharaya)
This Cave is separated from Cave No.2 by a wall of masonry. This is said to have been used as a store room before the eighteenth century. It acquired ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha, the famous Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the 50 Buddha statues, there is also a statue of the king.

Cave #4 : Western Cave (Paschima Viharaya)
This cave contains ten figures of the Buddha. The principal image which is under a torana, is of the same size as the other statues. This is a very beautiful figure of the Buddha seated in the dhyana mudra (posture of meditation) hewn of the natural rock that forms the cave itself.

Cave #5 (the last in order) has no historical value as it was done in the second decade of this century.

Overall it took us around 2 hours to cover these caves, there is also a museum and temple at the bottom, but it is a bit of a walk to the side - we decided to skip it. 
I think this is almost a full day trip, but as we were too tired after Sigiriya, we just finished it too soon and left for the day. 

It was a beautiful experience, and I would definitely recommend to cover Dambulla in your Itinerary when visiting Sri Lanka

Other Articles for Sri Lanka :

Sri Lanka Itinerary
Bentota Trip
Kandy Trip
Pinnavala elephant orphanage

Sigiriya Rock Fort

Onesta.. Italian food.. Pocket friendly.. Whitefield
Chicken Minced Lasagna
Writing a Restaurant post after a loong hiatus.
Last weekend I went to Virginia Mall.. This is a relatively new mall in Whitefield so thought of discovering some nice pub here. However, realized that there are no proper pubs in this mall. Izakya is just a bar-counter inside Iona and Food court is too drab.
We headed to the top floor and saw Onesta.. the place looked busy with lots of people so we decided to try it. This place is not a pub.. it is an Italian Restaurant.

Ambiance : 3/5
The place looks cool, it is situated on the top floor, so the air seems natural. The decor is innovative, it has been done very elegantly in a small cost. The crowd which comes here is a lot.. so the tables and chairs are close and noisy. The kitchen is open, so you can see how your chef is rolling the dough and making you pizza.

Food : 4/5
When we looked at the menu, all the dishes were priced between 99 to 199, so there was no harm in trying out what appeals your fancy. We ordered some Lasagna, Ravioli, Pizza and a starter.
They offer complimentary breads with tarter sauce which was a plus for us as we were really hungry when we landed there. The breads are warm, fresh and crispy.
The portion sizes are small .. meant for one person, or rather half person, so you could taste more dishes from the menu.
Jalapeno Cheese balls : This was very good, Cheese with a minor flavor of Jalapeno, very fresh and the sauce was pretty good too

Chicken Keema Lasagna : Very well made, and presented too. This is a must try thing over here I would say

Margarita Pizza with Thin Crust: The crusts are so much better than the regular pizza outlets. The Pizzas are small pan size and are served hot from the oven

Four cheese Ravioli in mushroom sauce : I suggest not to try this. I am a Ravioli lover, but this one was not well made.

Desserts : Plenty of dessert options to choose from - but I was so full with all the food, that did not go for dessert

Diet Coke : Server at MRP - No restaurants do that, so I am impressed that they charged this at MRP rate
Complimentary Breads
Jalapeno Cheese Balls
Thin Crust Margarita Pizza

Price : Cost of a good dinner for 2 including all the above was Rs 700/- I think it is pretty economical for an Italian meal

Location : Onesta has many outlets in Bangalore - we went to the one in Virginia mall in Whitefield.

I would definitely go there again.
The review is original, and my own - I have paid for this meal.
P.S - All pictures are taken from my iPhone 6 camera.
Onesta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato