Negombo : the Little Rome | Sunday Observer

Negombo : the Little Rome

Despite being a tiny drop in the Indian Ocean; Sri Lanka is an amazingly diverse country. This diversity has many flavours from life styles to culture to weather and history. Amidst the array of destinations there are certain places that literally make you feel like a tourist.

Todays’ piece is on one such location - Negombo. Fondly referred to as ‘The Little Rome’, Negombo is sprinkled with decidedly ornate Roman Catholic churches that were built during the Portuguese-era. The Katuwapitiya Church and the Grand Street Church are the two biggest parishes in Negombo, a predominantly Christian area.

Located about 37 kilometres North of Colombo, the Negombo town is positioned at the mouth of the Negombo lagoon. A traditional fishing town situated a mere 7 kilometres away from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayaka, the economy in this areas is ofcourse based on fisheries and tourism. Fishing has been part of the livelihood of people in Negombo for centuries. Thus, the first stop during our visit was the ‘Lellama’. Officially known as the Main Fish Market; you should visit this place during the morning when the fishermen return with their catch.

The market is a very busy place, and the roads are also quite crowded because everyone from large to small scale fish mongers to regular people doing their weekly shopping come to the market to buy fresh fish. Whether you buy fish or not, the atmosphere at the market is quite an experience. It helps to have a bit of a strong stomach, because you are bound to come across fish guts lying around scavenged by crows and stray dogs.

We were back on the road in search of the Dutch Fort. I read online that it is one of the most distinct tourist attractions in the area; this is what prompted us to add it to our ‘places to visit’ list. But, I must say that I was a little underwhelmed when we arrived at the location. Only a very small part of the Fort that dates back to the colonial days of Sri Lanka remains today. To be more specific, you will find an entrance, and a tall structure that resembles bell tower. This entrance incidentally leads to the Negombo Prison.

Next on our list was the Hamilton Canal. The canal which is also known as the Dutch Canal has a length of 12.5 kilometres. Though it is referred to as the Dutch Canal, it was constructed by the British who started work on the canal in 1802. Named after Gavin Hamilton, the Government Agent of Revenue and Commerce, the canal was designed to drain salt water out of the Muthurajawela wetlands and was completed in 1804. It’s not too difficult to find the canal, but you’re probably better off asking the locals than relying on Google maps on this occasion. We met up with work colleagues and spent the rest of the day at a beautiful 5-star hotel a few kilometres north of the Negombo town.

Some of the best hotels are located in this area, because the Negombo beach stretches north from the town. I have to agree with the critics and accept the fact that the beaches down south are way more scenic than the beaches in Negombo. But, I was proven wrong that evening. Since we were on a spend-the-day with my colleagues from work, my wife and I decided that we would make a reservation at a hotel and spend the night in Negombo for some much needed R&R. We found a beautiful boutique hotel on the strip of land bordered by the sea on one side and the lagoon on the other.

We arrived at the hotel around 6:00 PM, and quickly took my camera gear and ran to the beach to photograph the sunset. As we approached the beach, my wife, who was a few feet ahead of me, screamed with excitement! When I looked ahead, I too was engulfed with a sense of awe! The sand on the beach was black! The sea was quite rough that day; the waves crashed in to the natural rock barrier producing milky white foam that blanketed the black beach and painted such an amazing picture that I was lost for words. The only thing missing was a perfect sunset! The cloudy horizon that blocked the sunset was the only blemish on what would have been a picture perfect evening at the beach. I later found out that the black sand is caused by the rough seas that wash ashore minerals such as Ilmenite.

Because my wife is a school teacher, our work day starts early. Even when we’re on holiday, we still wake up early in the morning! But, I must say, I much rather spend the morning hours watching the sunrise than milking a few extra hours of shut eye. Personally, I feel that there is something magical about watching the world wake up. Experiencing the blissful tranquility and freshness of the morning hours is definitely a ‘moment of Zen’. We watched the sunrise across the Negombo lagoon. Much like the previous evening, a wall of rain clouds prevented us from witnessing a proper sunrise, but we weren’t completely disappointed.

The lagoon is a large estuarine lagoon fed by a few small rivers including the Attanagalu Oya and the Old Dutch canal. The lagoon connects to the sea via a narrow channel near the Negombo city. Crabs and Prawns from the Negombo Lagoon are in high demand; a delicacy found at the many hotels and restaurants in the area. The lagoon has extensive mangrove swamps that house a variety of wild life. We also spent some time spotting aircrafts as they landed and took off from the Bandaranaike International Airport. The hotel we stayed at was right under a major flight path, so the aircrafts that took off from BIA, flew right over our heads.

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Tips for youR jaunt

When going to the ‘Lellama’ try to be there as early in the morning as possible. It gets quite crowded, so take care of your valuables.

If you are planning to buy fresh fish at a rock bottom price, take an airtight container – it will keep the fish fresh and contain the fishy smell! When visiting churches dress and behave appropriately. Be aware of rough seas! Swim at designated areas and make sure to check for red flags before getting into the water. Sunscreen, hats caps and sunglasses are a must! Take a bottle of water as it tends to be very warm! Don’t forget your camera! And a zoom lens if you want to photograph aircrafts.

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