Getting our "Sri" Legs: 12 March 2024

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Today was the first day that we noticed a true sense of feeling at home as we began to understand the culture, pace of life, and vibe of Colombo. We are glad to have decided to spend a few days in the capital before beginning our Rickshaw Run adventure. The time to adjust has been really helpful and has given us a lot to love about this beautiful country.

We feel as if we are starting to find our sea legs... or our "Sri" legs, as it were.

Michael and Kyle were up early once again with strict instructions from Kim not to bother her until the planned 8:30am breakfast meeting. Michael and Kyle decided to take an Uber tuk-tuk to visit a Hindu temple and take an early morning walk in the cool air.

Sivasubramaniya Swami Temple is a beautiful neighborhood temple, and we watched as people made morning devotions. At first we were a little hesitant to go in. We weren't sure if it was appropriate, or if we might even disturb people's prayers.

As we were hesitating near the entrance to the magnificent and colorful Hindu temple, a group of three boys - probably aged 9 or 10 - walked past.

"Salam alaykum", they said as they approached (possibly noticing Kyle's beard). Without missing a beat, Kyle, who had studied Arabic, responded "alaykum salam" to the delight of the kids.

"Are you fasting?" one of the boys asked (it was the first day of Ramadan). "No", Kyle responded, "are you?" The boy answered in the affirmative and Kyle wished them a happy Ramadan, "Ramadan kareem!"

This small interaction was a display of the multiculturalism of Sri Lanka. In fact, the Sri Lankan flag itself is indicative of this, with each color on the flag representing one of the major faiths found across the island: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

We ultimately decided to go inside the temple, and we were glad that we did. Nobody even gave us a second glance, and we felt completely welcome as we walked around and admire the beautiful architecture and shrines to various Hindu deities.

Michael and Kyle returned to the hotel to meet Kim for breakfast, then we all went together to Gangaramaya Temple. This Buddhist temple is the most important Buddhist holy site in all of Colombo.

Built on the shores of Beira Lake in the late 19th century, the temple is home to some of Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relics including a hair from the head of the Buddha himself and the world's smallest Buddha statue that can only be viewed through a magnifying glass.

As we wandered around the temple grounds, a trio of men dressed in traditional outfits entered the temple and began playing devotional music. Two of the men played drums and one played a loud horn. It was a fascinating display of local customs... but it was also extremely loud.

Sri Lanka, like Thailand, predominantly practices Theravada Buddhism. In fact, this sect of Buddhism (which is mostly found in Southeast Asia) entered Thailand via missionaries from Sri Lanka over two thousand years ago. Even Thailand's most important Buddhist artifact, the Emerald Buddha, was crafted in Sri Lanka!

Though this is definitively a Buddhist temple, it is interesting to see the heavy Hindu influence on the art and practice of Buddhism here. The temple’s design showcases an eclectic blend of influence from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and China.

Before leaving the temple, we wanted to get a blessing from one of the monks.

Michael went first, and one of the monks placed a heavy conical hat on Michael's head while chanting, then tied a white string around his wrist in blessing.

For whatever reason, the monk then wandered off, and Kim and Kyle were not able to get the hat blessing! They did, however, receive a white string from another monk.

We've been feeling a little nervous about our upcoming rickshaw adventure, and we figured that a little extra luck couldn't hurt.

Just down the road and built on a platform jutting out into the lake is the Seema Malaka. 

The original temple structure was built during the 19th century, but slowly sunk into the lake. In 1976, renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa (whose house we visited yesterday!) was hired to redesign and rebuild the Seema Malaka with donations given by a Sri Lankan Muslim businessman, S. H. Moosajee.

This temple, technically a part of the nearby Gangaramaya Temple, is mainly used for meditation rather than for worship.

At each corner of the side platform, you’ll find small shrines honoring significant Hindu deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Kataragamadeviyo, and Ganesha—all revered in Sri Lanka.

On one of the side platforms there is a tall tree which was grown from a cutting from the original Bodhi Tree in India, the sacred fig tree beneath which the Buddha is said to have meditated and gained enlightenment.

Hot and tired after a morning of exploration, we took a quick pit stop for iced coffee, then continued on to the Colombo National Museum.

Built in a huge colonial-era building, the National Museum showcases a vast collection of Sri Lankan art and artifacts from across its long history.

One of the most interesting galleries showcased various artifacts that had only recently been returned to Sri Lanka by the Netherlands, one of the foreign powers that ruled Ceylon as a colony for more than a century.

We also found the collection of royal artifacts fascinating, including the ancient Sri Lankan throne, crown, and royal swords.

One could spend all day in the sprawling museum, but it was getting late in the afternoon, and it was getting hot (the museum was not airconditioned). Hot, sweaty, and ready for a dip in the pool, we returned to the hotel to cool down.

For dinner, we decided to do something special. We booked a reservation for Ministry of Crab, which CNN Travel described as "the world's best crab restaurant" and which is widely regarded as the best restaurant in all of Sri Lanka and one of the top restaurants in the world.

As their name suggests, Ministry of Crab sells lots and lots of locally caught Sri Lankan mud crab.

The restaurant emphasizes quality. They have a no-freezer policy, import no major ingredients, emphasize sustainability, and are one of the world's lowest "food-mile" restaurants (meaning that everything is grown, caught, and produced right here in Sri Lanka). Each crab is inspected for perfection, and any crabs with missing claws or disproportions are discarded to ensure that only the very best catch is served.

The restaurant is located in a beautiful, breezy, open-air building which was built over 400 years ago by the Dutch.

Michael ordered a bottle of Sri Lankan ginger beer, which follows a 100-year-old recipe and is made with ginger grown locally in the country's central highlands.

Because Ministry of Crab is considered to be one of the world's best restaurants, it's no surprise that it's pricy.

A small crab, which can be prepared a number of ways, costs a whopping $60 USD, and the largest "crabzilla" size starts at $320! Needless to say, we opted to go for some cheaper dishes on the menu.

Kim and Michael ordered the baked crab, and Kyle ordered the seer, a type of mackerel abundant in the Indian Ocean.

We also ordered a number of sides to share, including sauteed garlic morning glory, button mushrooms, mixed vegetables, and a serving of Sri Lankan wood fired kade bread served with butter and sambol.

Even the butter was in line with the restaurant's theme and was pressed into a crab design.

We all agreed that this was one of our favorite meals so far on our journey. If you ever find yourself in Colombo, it's worth making a special stop to eat at the Ministry of Crab.

Oh! And if you do go there, be sure to order the coconut crème brûlée for dessert.

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