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The New Town and Weekend Market of Anuradhapura

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Buddha Statues

It can’t match the Sacred City for ancient splendor, and by itself wouldn’t warrant a visit on even the most comprehensive itinerary, but the New Town of Anuradhapura is unavoidable on any visit to the city. We spent a lot of time here, shopping, drinking and eating, and visiting the wonderful weekend market.

Sunday Market Anuradhapura

Like the Sacred City, the New Town is long and narrow. Between the train station down and bus stand, roughly three kilometers, Main Street is packed with shops, restaurants, traffic and commotion. It’s all rather ugly — every block looks the same, and if there’s a reason to eat at this grimy restaurant as opposed to that one, or the sixteen exactly identical ones down the street, I couldn’t see it.

On weekends, the New Town hosts an incredible market, just south of the New Bus Stand. This was one of the first things we discovered during our time in the city, and we spent a long time walking up and down the aisles, checking out the food, and having tortured mime-conversations with the market sellers, all of whom wanted to sell us strange zucchinis, or have their picture taken.

While the New Town isn’t the most memorable place we’ve been in Sri Lanka, it offers an interesting peek into the day-to-day life of the country.

Location of the New Town Market
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March 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm Comments (3)

Sri Lankan Wood Working at Rajanima Craft

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DIY Wood Carving

During our weeks in Kandy, we passed by the Rajanima Craft shop a number of times and finally decided to visit on our second-to-last day in the city. One of the guys working there was happy to take some time out, show us around the shop and explain a little about the craft.

Buddha Carving

About 25 guys work in the shop, all of them educated in the best way possible for this kind of job — by their fathers, who learnt from their fathers, who learnt from theirs. It’s a family affair and, as we watched them whittling away at what would soon be an elephant, or hammering on an intricate latticework, you could tell that the craft was in their blood. When you’ve spent your childhood watching your dad do it, then grabbed a chisel as soon as you were old enough to grip, you’re probably going to be pretty talented.

We were introduced to the ten types of wood used in the shop. Native woods with strange names like Mara, Kaduru, Sapu and Milla. Coconut wood, which has lovely dark and light fibers and makes beautifully patterned bowls. And the amazing rainbow wood, whose shavings can be combined with substances such as boiling water or chalk, stirred with a rod of iron, or just left in the sun to create a wide array of colors, which are then used to naturally paint the sculptures.

After we had watched the guys work for awhile, we went into the workshop’s basement store. An incredible collection of wood-worked crafts were on sale here, including more wooden elephants than the world could possibly need. Food and drinking water may be scarce, but Rajanima Craft has ensured that humanity will never want for wooden elephants.

All very cool, and we had a great time during our visit. If you’re in the market for some quality hand-crafted wooden furniture or decorations, or just want to take an inside look at one of Sri Lanka’s favorite exports, check out Rajanima Craft while you’re in town.

Location on our Kandy Map

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March 1, 2012 at 5:55 am Comments (4)

The Pettah – Colombo’s Colorful Bazaar

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Walking around Colombo’s Pettah neighborhood, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in Tehran or Cairo. A bazaar with definite Middle Eastern flair, the Pettah is where Sri Lanka’s multi-culturalism is at its most pronounced. The district has long been inhabited by Muslims, but a strong population of Sinhalese and Tamils contribute to an intoxicating mix of ethnicities in Colombo’s most colorful area.

Pettah District

We visited the Pettah on our first full day in Sri Lanka, and were instantly won over. The narrow streets are clogged with tuk-tuks and men pulling heavy carts laden with goods, while a bewildering assortment of shops clamor for business. The Pettah spreads out north from the Fort Railway station, and we walked aimlessly about for a couple hours, snapping photos and absorbing the ambiance.

Similar shops tend to be grouped together. Hundreds of jewelry stores cling side-by-side on Sea Street, then around the corner you’ll find a collection of shops selling ayurvedic herbs and roots. South of the Old Town Hall, there’s a covered market selling fruits and vegetables, some of them familiar and some less so. Vendors were happy to identify the stranger specimens, and I almost bought a jackfruit — but carrying around the giant, spiky melon-shaped fruit for the rest of the day wouldn’t have been a good idea.

Eager for a break, we ventured into the Old Town Hall. In the midst of such chaos, it was strangely deserted. On the second floor, we found a collection of dummies dressed in official uniforms, seated around a long table. Some sort of recreation of an old town meeting? I don’t know, but it was definitely bizarre. We took a seat in a room full of empty school chairs and recharged.

The Pettah is home to a wide variety of places to worship. We visited the New Katherisan Kovil (Hindu), the gorgeous red and white Jami ul-Aftar (Muslim), and the Wolfendahl Church (Christian). Anyone in the market for a new religion should head straight to the Pettah, for some convenient comparison shopping. Without a doubt, this was the most lively and exciting neighborhood we visited during our short time in Colombo.

Location of The Pettha on our Sri Lanka Map

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February 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm Comments (7)
The New Town and Weekend Market of Anuradhapura It can't match the Sacred City for ancient splendor, and by itself wouldn't warrant a visit on even the most comprehensive itinerary, but the New Town of Anuradhapura is unavoidable on any visit to the city. We spent a lot of time here, shopping, drinking and eating, and visiting the wonderful weekend market.
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