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  • Sri Lanka – land of husbands, saris and sapphires

    Colombo Skyline. Image by Shutterstock and saiko3p

    (a pre-COVID memory) by First Class Magazine’s Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    I am one of those females who loves organising other people’s lives – call me manipulative if you must – but I just know when two people would be perfect for each other – even if they don’t know it. So if a friend breaks up with their partner, they know where to come. Unfortunately there have been, well, quite a few disasters in my match making career – one of the most recent involving a stump grinder and a tree surgeon but that’s another story.

    Saris at a Sri Lankan Market. Image by Shutterstock and Paul Prescott

    So, can you imagine my glee when I stepped off the plane at Colombo Airport and opened the Sunday Observer to read a classified section entitled Marriage Proposals. I could barely contain my jetlagged mind – just think of all those gorgeous Sri Lankan men I could set my friends up with, such as “Govi Buddhist, respectable, wealthy over 60 million businessman based in prime area in Colombo, handsome with personality 5’10” divorced (innocent party) invites an English educated pretty kind partner from a good family below 35. Divorcees or widows welcome. Caste, religion, dowry immaterial. Please reply with all details, contact number and specially horoscope.”

    The ads all read like this – wealthy men who were a divorced innocent party who needed your horoscope before you could walk down the aisle. It sounded easy. Perhaps I could convince the Sydney Morning Herald to start up a classified section entitled marriage proposal. I’d be putting an ad in every week (not for myself of course but for my far flung friends). I filed the newspaper away in my luggage. I had not come to Sri Lanka to find a husband. I was here for the shopping. My guide – a friendly Sri Lankan Seinfeld lookalike greeted me at customs, “Ayubowan?” he said which I later found out meant hello.

    “Ayubowan” I said knowing it had to be some sort of greeting up there with Alohas. Bulas, Ciaos etc. Then it was down to business,

    “Have you heard of the Muslim markets?” I asked.

    “No,” he said.

    “No! You must have.“ (I had done my research – talking to a travel writer friend). The Muslim markets – it’s filled with silks and Saris. You must know it.

    “Muslim markets. No. I’m sorry I haven’t heard of them.”

    After ten hours in the air I was champing at the bit armed with credit cards and a shopping list which started… ‘at least 2 gorgeous to-die-for silk saris and one incredibly large but cheap Ceylon Sapphire.’ How could this guide not have heard of the Muslim markets?

    He smiled hoping to placate me with tales of other things Sri Lankan. He didn’t know me. I had a bee in my bonnet and I was going to find those Muslim Markets.

    We drove through the empty streets of Columbo, Buddha statues loomed high on almost every corner, neon lights dusty and flickering in the early daylight. This scene was worlds apart from the afternoon hustle and bustle of three wheelers or tuk tuks weaving in and out of traffic, the sun streaming down whilst drivers composed symphonies from car horns.

    Colombo. Image by Shutterstock and TRphotos

    Laughing school children skipped along in lines, some with shoes, most without – yet all seemed happy. I joined them in their happiness. We were on our way to Pettah – where Seinfeld promised me I’d find my saris. (I’d asked at least 10 people that day if they knew the Muslim markets and no body had so I had accepted Pettah as the place to go).

    Seinfeld was right. The whole main street was filled with sari shops, it was your picture postcard version of Sri Lanka and here I was, the only fair haired woman in sight, standing right in the middle of it. I timidly looked at the shops, at first afraid to go in, but my confidence grew with the number of sari shops I saw. Finally one shop beckoned with its engaging fabrics and designs. It turned out to be a sari wedding shop. The silks were piled high an array of colours battling for my attention. I just wanted to pull them all down and try them on immediately. This did not seem possible as behind the counter stood about five Sri Lankans all awaiting me. These guys were great. They had no qualms about fulfilling my desires and soon the counter was littered in whites and golds, maroons and purples, tans and beiges, each bursting with embroidery.

    Eventually I chose an aubergine and a tan silk sari which cost me about $140 each. The saris are about six metres in length and ranged in price from about $30 – $800 and of course you must bargain when you buy anything in Sri Lanka.

    My other guide Cecile, the blue eyed Sri Lankan who’d retired from the railways as an inspector assured me I had received a good price. A guide like Cecile is a great asset. They can ensure you don’t get ripped off. I later purchased a sapphire with Cecile and spent the rest of my trip seeing if I could get a better price without him. I couldn’t. We Australians can be sceptical of people’s help, thinking that there must be something in it for them. In Sri Lanka this isn’t the case. The Sri Lankans are genuinely friendly. They want to encourage tourism to their shores and are certainly going the right way about it.

    Sigiriya Sri Lanka. Image by shutterstock and Cristi Popescu

    Besides shopping in Sri Lanka there’s a mind blowing amount of activities to do and places to see. The beaches are pretty good, even for Australian standards. There are tea plantations, Mr Fernando’s tea factory – Dilmah, the tooth relic temple at Kandy, the Pindawalah Elephant orphanage where you can see elephants up close – bathing in the river or frolicking around the sanctuary, and then there is the mighty Sigurya a huge rock which once held the King’s palace. Or if you are a follower of Deepak Chopra you can experience Ayurverdic massage, and potions and herbs which cure everything from arthritis to over-eating. I bought a strange concoction of lemon juice, garlic and honey which promises to make me thin without any diet or any exercise. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    P.S. When I returned home I rang my friend to ask her exactly where the Muslim markets were and she replied “What markets? I never told you that!”.

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