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Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 5.29 GMT

Sri Lanka: Spice Island


The market was jam-packed. Intense aromas and stenches invaded all our senses. Bicycles and the tiny motorised carts vied with jostling shoppers and merchants for space in the frenetic and frantic Pettah bazaar in the heart of Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital and centre of commerce, wrote Lauraine Jacobs.

On either side of the narrow alleys, market stalls were filled with piles of coconuts, bananas, jackfruits, okra, shallots, wing beans and string beans, eggplants, papayas, mangoes and - a surprise to me - a wealth of English vegetables, a hangover from colonial days, the author said.

Over the past 10 years Sri Lanka has experienced a well publicised civil war and the 2004 tsunami wreaked havoc on the country's coastal regions, putting development on hold until very recently. Yet pot-holed paving and bone-shaking buses cannot take away the incredible beauty of the lush green countryside, geometric rice paddies, dark green tea plantations covering the hillsides, and the luxurious canopy of tropical cloud forest.

There's also an unexpected elegance evident in the buildings and hotels.

The late Geoffrey Bawa, a Sri Lankan who studied architecture in Britain, spent his working life in Colombo and has left the country a legacy of stylish hotels and buildings and spread his minimalist influence across South Asia. We visited his home, ate in his former office - now the Gallery Cafe, a cutting-edge restaurant, bar and store - stayed at his famous eco hotel, Kandalama, and at The Lighthouse, on the rocky coast near Galle in the south.

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Last modified: January 26, 2012.

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