Sri Lanka is Smiles 24/7

The bustling Pettah market


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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It is easy to understand why this country, Sri Lanka, known until 1972, as Ceylon, is called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. It is likewise no wonder why the country is called the land of smiling people. Everyone is just ready with a winsome smile – the extremely busy front desk staff, the concierge guy transporting the luggage, the tour guide operator, the room attendant, the transportation coordinator taking us from the airport to the hotel.

A photo respite at the Independence Memorial Hall with some colleagues

There is always a way to discern a smile that is perfunctorily given as part of a routine daily job or a smile that is genuinely affectionate and charming. Soon enough, as one stays in the City of Colombo far longer, this impression will just be reinforced.

The Independence Memorial Hall

Here for the 5th International Cardio-Metabolic Forum organized by the Philippine Heart Association in association with the Pakistan Cardiac Society, our group of nine physicians – three cardiologists and six endocrinologists – easily fell for this vaunted charm of Sri Lankans.

As we spent the remaining days of the forum visiting some of Colombo’s city sights, everyone readily concluded that this smile was an easily available commodity – 24 /7 – in this country of around 20 million people – anyone, anytime and anywhere. Coming from a country already well known for its hospitality, this recognition of another country’s hospitable appeal and charm is hard to come by for any Filipino. Yet, for this charming country and its people, this is rightfully and easily earned.

The capital city of Colombo is rich with historic sites that provide a historical glimpse of this country. Colombo is the largest city and the main port of the country. As the commercial and financial center, it is a bustling metropolis that provides sharp contrasts of urban progress and poverty-stricken areas, the modern trimmings of technological progress vis-àvis old colonial charms and impoverished communities.

The Fort, originally indeed a fort during the Portuguese and Dutch periods, is now a major commercial district center of the city that houses major offices, hotels, boutiques, banks, and restaurants among others.

The Arulmigu Sivasubramania Swami – a typical Hindu kovil with its ornate doorway (gopuram)

Adjacent to the Fort is Pettah, located east of the city center, which is the most popular bazaar district of Colombo. With its cobblestone-paved streets teeming with shops and stalls offering the most awesome bargains and finds for the shopaholics, one can easily get lost in this mecca for shopping.

Galle Face Green is a promenade by the sea along the main road stretching more than a kilometer (actually a five hectare ocean side urban park) and is a tribute to the bygone British era. Initially laid out in the late 1850s for horse racing, it is the largest open space in Colombo today.

Throughout the city, there are several Hindu temples – or ‘kovil’ in Colombo – like the Ganeshan, the Old Kathiresan and the New Kathiresan which are unmistakably distinct because of their colorful gopurams (doorways). The Arulmigu Sivasubramania Swami kovil sticks out in its vicinity in the central city district like a palette of multicolors– with its intricately sculpted doorway dedicated to lord Murugan and various stories related to him. This kovil has a history that dates back to a century.

The Independence Memorial Hall, a national monument of Colombo built to commemorate independence from British rule, boasts of a promenade with its massive columns and open air amphitheatre-like structure. Easily one of the popular tourist districts in the city, the hall provides a good opportunity to linger around leisurely – with the covered patios and tall ceilings providing enough sun cover on a hot and humid afternoon.

At the Independence Memorial Hall with colleagues

One just wishes he has more time to savor the charms and treasures of the city. Then again, the short visit should be enough to whet the appetite and urge one to plan for a return trip once more.

A sunny afternoon day at the Galle Face Green in Colombo
The Independence Memorial Hall
Savouring a cultural presentation in Colombo
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