Monday, December 06, 2004

The Soul of Colombo

The Soul of Colombo

I'm always attracted to the nostalgic charms of old hotels; and in Colombo, the Galle Face Hotel, established in 1864, ranks up there together with the grand dames of Asia, such as Raffles Hotel in Singapore and E&O in Penang.

On Tuesday, we held a cocktail reception for one of our clients at the Galle Face Hotel. I had earlier made a presentation in one of its huge echoey ballrooms. Standing there amongst its many ornate pillars and chandeliers, it felt strangely anacronistic to be talking about the subject of IT.

Located in the heart of Colombo city, to me this Grand Old Dame is also its soul. The hotel has a magnificent open-air terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean where guests can sit back with a cool glass of whiskey on-the-rocks and surrender to the gentle caress of the sea breeze under the golden evening sunset. One cannot imagine a more Maughamesque setting.

In terms of location, architecture and history, I think the Galle Face Hotel ("oldest hotel east of Suez") surpasses that of Raffles and E&O. Unfortunately, it too has fallen into a bit of neglect; the rooms I am told, are badly in need of a facelift. But then again, that can also be said of many of the business-class hotels in Colombo.

Colombo feels like a city that is just awakening; stunted by years of separatist violence, it has fallen behind the other capital cities of Asia. But a cease-fire is seemingly in place now and the tourists are arriving again; I could see that a new wing to the Galle Face Hotel is already being constructed.

Having survived the ravages of war and terrorism, can Colombo withstand this equally frightening onslaught of globalization without sacrificing its rich cultural heritage--its very soul itself? Only time will tell.

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