The Brief Garden by Bevis Bawa

It’s an adventure in itself to find Bevis Bawa’s enigmatically named garden. Keep driving through forever rice-paddy fields, veer down a few unpromising roads and possibly miss the small handmade signpost with “Brief” indicating the turn off before doubling-back to eventually enter its luscious corridor driveway. It almost feels like the limits of Google Maps even though you’re less than a couple of hours out of Colombo. But don’t be put off by this. The Brief Garden is an enchanting maze of nooks and crannies designed to surprise and beguile if you make the effort to get there. And you should.

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After Minnette – stories of female Sri Lankan architects

Minnette de Silva is a hard act to follow by anyone’s standard. She was a pioneer on so many fronts – as a female, as an Asian and as an architect but also as that then unknown creature of “female Asian architect” (Minnette had a strong affinity with India after her time there and therefore considered herself Asian, not just Ceylonese or Sri Lankan). Minnette pursued revolutionary ideas about architecture which sought to modify the industrial building methods of the time by recognising that climate, community and traditional crafts were also essential components of architectural design in Asia.

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The Lunuganga Garden by Geoffrey Bawa

The first time I arrived at Geoffrey Bawa’s country estate of Lunuganga I had rushed up the old coast road from Galle Fort amid the monsoon. I had gotten waylaid languishing around the fort during a lull in the storms, unrealistically hoping to avoid the slow local traffic (which of course I didn’t) and was therefore 10 minutes late for the 2 pm garden tour. “I am sorry madam but the tour starts strictly on time and so you cannot come in,” said a stone-faced groundkeeper. What?? But I don’t live in Sri Lanka and I’ve travelled all this way … but … but.

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A cultural walking tour of Colombo

I remember being struck by John Gimlette’s observation in his book “Elephant Complex” that the people of Colombo had no collective word to describe themselves. They were neither a Colomban or a Colombite or anything else for that matter. Everyone it seemed was from the village or place of their ancestors. It made me think that the ethnic conflict which had marred most of Sri Lanka’s recent past was a testimony to the country’s inability find some collective identity amongst the many differences of its people. And yet, when I walked through parts of old central Colombo on a cultural walking tour with Pepper, I glimpsed at ways of worshipping and being which suggested, as always, that the truth was far more complicated.

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Colombo shopping guide: PR Sri Lanka

It wasn’t so long ago that fashionable Sri Lankans would travel abroad to quench their thirst for well-designed, avant garde clothing. Foreign purchased clothing was synonymous with good taste and high style. I still remember being encouraged to buy clothes specifically for visiting Sri Lanka on holidays, like it was my duty to show the locals just how it was done. Although this cultural cringe is not unique to Sri Lanka, back then it was fostered by a devastating ethnic conflict which left little appetite for supporting the “frivolity” of fashion let alone design in Sri Lanka. But that all changed in 2013.

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Travelling to Sri Lanka with kids

Quite frankly, Sri Lanka beats Bali, Fiji and Thailand hands down as a holiday destination with kids. Sure, there’s a little more flying time involved for those living on the east coast of Australia but the pearl of the Indian Ocean packs more punch in two weeks than the other three put together.

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A fiery Sri Lankan chicken curry

It wasn’t until I started helping my mother roast the spices for this article that I realised how much I had forgotten. It wasn’t forgetfulness in any specific way, you know, the type that happens to you over time – like forgetting someone you went to school with or the year you got your driver’s licence (does anyone actually remember that??). But of aromas, sounds and feelings. The sorts of things that transport you back in time and to another you in another place.

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Colombo shopping guide: Paradise Road

One of my top 5 places in the Essential Colombo Shopping Guide is the flagship store of Paradise Road in the Viharamahadevi North shopping district. It’s more than just another Colombo shop. Paradise Road is a Sri Lankan destination frequented by locals and tourists alike – a testimony to the originality of the store’s concept.

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The essential Colombo shopping guide

This is the essential Colombo shopping guide with detailed maps and itineraries to help you navigate where to shop in Colombo. Experience the explosion of Sri Lankan creativity following the war years, one which has resulted in an offering of Sri Lankan clothing, accessories, jewellery, homewares, interiors and even books. Find Sri Lankan goods which are ethically made, environmentally sustainable, chic and uniquely Sri Lankan in style, aesthetic or provenance.

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Pettah produce markets: a feast for your senses

All my memories of the central Colombo district of Pettah over the years are pretty much the same – loud, brash, haphazard, gritty and at times claustrophobic and somewhat unnerving. Pettah is an old trading district created during Dutch colonial times outside of Colombo Fort (and literally named after that fact – “Pettah” is a corruption of a Tamil word “pettai” which means “a town outside the fort”). It also goes by the official district code of Colombo 11 and “pita kotuwa” if you’re talking in Sinhalese. It was the sort of place I remember …

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High tea at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo: a review

I had never given much thought to eating at 5-star hotels growing up in Australia. They (still) don’t really figure much on the Australian culinary landscape. But I’ve always found that 5-star hotel hopping in Colombo for the latest gastronomic fare is de rigueur for the Sri Lankan well-heeled (although Colombo’s young and hip are starting to change this but more on that later). So, as they say, when in Rome …

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A Sri Lankan sundowner

“Do you know what these are?” an old family friend asked some years back. That family friend, Uncle Upali, was carefully manipulating a crispy fish cutlet with his fingertips whilst addressing me. They had been freshly made by my mother for the dinner party. “They are Sri Lanka’s secret weapon,“ he continued, “You give these little dynamites to people and they are putty in your hands”.

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Tropical modernism: Sri Lanka’s stamp on world architecture

In Sri Lanka’s current travel boom, boutique hotels are a dime a dozen. But it wasn’t always this way. I remember a time when we would travel for miles only to stay at “rest houses” approved by the Sri Lankan Tourist Board because there just wasn’t much else on offer. Of course, those rest houses were perfectly fine and functional but hardly inspiring with their faintly bureaucratic uniformity. So you can imagine my awe when …

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History of ceylon tea: Plain tales from the hills

I am kicking myself for forgetting something very important in my tale of Empire. Black versus green. No, no, it’s got nothing to do with rugby although that too was a British colonial export. I’m talking about an almost century-long shift from ...

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History of ceylon tea: A tale of empire

What’s the first word that pops into your head when you think of Ceylon? I’m betting that it’s tea. It’s not surprising really – it’s a common supermarket item. Behind that everyday product though is a swashbuckling tale of Ceylon’s role in the long history of tea ...

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Steps and stones: the mystery and magic of moonstones

A journey of a thousand miles, said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, begins with one step.  For me, that ceremonious step is this post today with a photo of my feet placed on something uniquely Sri Lankan – a moonstone ...

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