Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Lankan diaries: Negambo, the Little Rome

To celebrate our son’s third birthday, we planned a long trip of 16 nights and 17 days to Sri Lanka. We started our first day in Negambo. Tourists usually spend their first day in Negambo after a long and exhausting travel before going on to explore the island of Sri Lanka. So we were no exception to this. After arrival at 9 am, we headed directly towards Negambo, a small city just 7 km away from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.

The word Negambo was first used by the Portuguese. In Sinhalese, it was called as Migamuva, which means “Group of bees”. It is said that the army of King Kavantissa found bee honey in a canoe near the seashore, for Viharamahadevi who was pregnant with the prince Dutugamunu. So, the place was named as "Mee-Gomuwa".

Little Rome
Negambo, an important sources of wild cinnamon during the colonial rule, still reminds us of the European rule with its colonial buildings. The Dutch captured the town from the Portuguese in 1640. They lost it and recaptured it in 1644, but the British took it from them in 1796.

The small town is filled with several churches and we soon realized that the culture is greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church and a majority of the population is Roman Catholics. No wonder, the town is called “Little Rome”. It gave us an impression of Goa!

Interestingly, most of the hotels and guesthouses are located at the main road that heads north from the town, parallel to the beach. The price of the hotels and guesthouses just opposite the road is very less compared to the ones parallel to the beach.

Hamilton Canal
The Dutch showed their love for canals here like nowhere else in the island country. They built Hamilton Canal that extends from Negombo all the way south to Colombo, and north to Puttalam, a total distance of over 120 km.

Tourists, especially westerners, usually hire a bicycle from their hotels and ride the canal-side paths of the canal, enjoying picturesque views and small villages along the way. However, we did hire a tuk-tuk to go around the town and then walked around the town in the night.

Fish market
Before reaching the hotel, on the way we went to the fish market. Yes, though I can’t stand the smell of fish, we went to a fist market. My kid loved looking at various types of fishes at the market. Negombo is home to the country's second-largest fish market. Locals call this market as Lellama, which is at the north-end of the lagoon.

We were informed that every day before dawn, fishermen go in their canoes, locally called as “oruvas”, for fishing and come back with heaps of fresh fishes for auction. The catch is not all from the open sea.

Negambo is at the northern end of the lagoon renowned for its lobsters, crabs and prawns. The market was abuzz with people buying various types of fishes. It was fun to see how sellers were wooing people to buy from their shops.

Across the lagoon bridge there’s a second fish market, but we didn’t dare go there again to bear the stench! But if one loves fishes and can wake up early in the morning, it’s the best place to watch bigger fishing boats with bigger catches.

Paradise Beach Hotel
We reached the hotel around 11.45 am. The hotel was ok types, and looked like more or less like a lodge in Indian terms. They had lovely swimming pool, but couldn’t use it as it was raining.

We ordered one veg rice and curry, and one fish and chips. The food was average. They were surprised that we ordered vegetarian food.

They didn’t have many choices in veg food and I had the similar veg food even for dinner!

There was high tide and we just walked in the beach after lunch. Most of the beaches in this town are not clean, yes, nothing similar to the ones we see in the pics and imagine! However, we loved the beaches in Trincomalee and Bentota than the one in Negambo. But if the travelers want to stay close to the Colombo airport, then Negambo is and can be the best choice.

As mentioned earlier, most of the hotels and guesthouses are located at the main road parallel to the beach, and cost a bomb on the pockets of travelers. Just cross the road, the price comes down for less than half of what the hotels charge on the other side. So if you are not a beach person, just do a proper research before booking the hotel, as it can save you several hundreds, if not thousands. If not for the hotels, just do a proper study even before heading towards this island, because you can save yourselves from getting cheated by drivers or guides!

Moreover, if tourists are travelling from India, it’s a sheer waste of time to spend one entire day doing nothing much in Negambo. It’s helpful to take rest for those who come from faraway countries, spending 10-15, sometimes even 20-24 hours in a flight. 

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