Travel: Buddha-Ful Find; Presenter Stuart Cosgrove Discovers the Joys of Still-Unspoiled Sri Lanka

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), July 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

Travel: Buddha-Ful Find; Presenter Stuart Cosgrove Discovers the Joys of Still-Unspoiled Sri Lanka


Byline: Stuart Cosgrove

The tropical island of Sri Lanka is romantically called the teardrop of India.

It sits alone - shaped like a tear - off the south west face of India and boasts beauty you can only dream of. There's endless sun-drenched beaches, wandering coastlines and ancient cities which host some of the world's greatest Buddhist monuments.

If you want to lie on the beach with a cocktail, then Sri Lanka can easily compete with the Caribbean. But if you prefer to sample culture, climbing the steps of the ancient Isurumuniya Rock Temple to the Reclining Buddha at Anuradhapura will give you a flavour of the spirituality of the country.

Some guide books compare Sri Lanka to a tropical Ireland - an island rich in myth and history but ravaged by civil war, as the northern Tamil separatists are on a collision course with the Sinhalese. But I feel Sri Lanka has more links to Scotland than Ireland.

The stunning capital Colombo boasts the famous Galle Face Green, a spectacular waterfront. Guarding the southern edge of the green is the magisterial Galle Face Hotel, an old colonial watering hole which has housed kings and presidents from the four corners of the world. It's slightly shabby now but ordering a cold daiquiri on the terrace bar is the closest most of us will ever get to being an old world toff.

My favourite places in Colombo are off the beaten track. The first stop is across the busy Galle Road, where the St Andrews Scots Kirk sits amidst the towering hotels. The Kirk is one of several major monuments to Scotland which have survived since colonial times. The caretaker still loyally paints the outside fence and polishes the Saltire flags inlaid in the old Kirk gates.

A hundred yards down the road is the entrance to the private Colombo Swimming Club. As you enter the door there is a tribute to Sri Lanka's greatest Olympic Champion - Scottish swimmer David Wilkie - who was born in Colombo and learned to swim at the club.

Just south of Galle Face is a cluster of small beach streets inspired by Scotland - Buchanan Street, St Kilda Street and Hampden Lane are all lovingly recorded by Sinhalese signwriters.

In the 19th century, Scots flocked to Ceylon to cultivate tea. Andrew Lipton - whose Glasgow-based company made tea Britain's most popular brew - was one of a generation of Scots who built the tea trade. As their wealth grew, the merchants built impressive plantations and had whole areas of the country named after them. …

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