“Good Morning Sir!“ I hear from the twenty or so people sweeping various paths around the South West Beira Lake as I undertake my seven o’clock walk. For me, this is the heart of the new city of Colombo. It has a charm of its own, with the masses of birds, pelicans, ducks, not so wild roosters and the more exotic cormorants, egrets and more. From every part of the walk you’re surrounded by the up and coming new apartments and shopping malls whilst in the distance, there are skyscraper hotels and apartments on a slow build program over the coming years.
Walking around the lake is a pleasant 35-minute stroll but there are some obstacles, such as crows who swarm about early in the morning and during sunset, and bats that sweep across the area at dusk. This all creates a lot of smelly poop.
Debris from lack of maintenance, unfinished projects interspersed with filthy rubbish is to be avoided. Cement bollards laying on the path have dropped from the road above whilst others are ready to fall given further erosion; and again, no maintenance. All of this around a deep green polluted lake with a five-story eyesore of a building that has been in the slow process of being built over at least the last twenty years I have lived in Colombo. This partly finished building houses the Renault car showroom, masses of discarded building materials, generators sitting on the pavements and a collection of rusting cars from the sixties and seventies. I doubt there is any planning approval for this adhoc looking building. The ever-expanding Gangaramaya Temple creeps out more and more into the lake as a never-ending building project. All this has resulted in the decreasing size of this small lake from its heydays.
The History of the four Beira Lakes goes back to the Portuguese time in Sri Lanka when they were building waterways around the Fort area as a form of defence. A plaque named after a Portuguese engineer was found in a sluice gate enshrined “De Beer 1700”. Hence the name “Beira”. Origins of his name are hazy but are believed to mean “anchor point or edge of lake“, though there is also reference to a Captain Brito who was responsible for the digging out of swampland to create the lakes. The Dutch used the waterways for moving goods on barges whilst the British got rid of the crocodiles and maximized the lakes for water sports eg rowing and yachting. Trust the British in 1810 even created a mini Kew Garden on Slave Island. In 2016 a Singapore consortium proposed funding and running parts of the lakes and fort as a tourism /real-estate investment. Don’t we wish that would have happened? There are boats on this part of the Beira lake today but they are limited to the pedal swan floats, mostly used by couples who want to have a private cuddle and a kiss.
The Altair Apartment block is very visible, the so-called architectural wonder of the city with its leaning front tower, sadly it is many years behind schedule but there are many other towers in a worse financial situation and destined to take another decade to be completed.
To give the lake a nautical feel there is a scattering of old anchors and other memorabilia. A dirty little open style cafe sits on the corner of the lake surrounded by trees. This is not a recommendation to visit as I think its a hang out for tuk-tuks and taxi drivers, it is a dirty ramshackle facility. Overlooking the lake is the new Colombo City Center, a most welcomed modern extension of Colombo’s shopping experience, though nearly two years on it still has over 20 shop sites empty. All these new developments come with a heavy unhealthy vehicle traffic density and the resulting pollution by mid-afternoon makes this side lake not too healthy to be walking.
Given all of the above, I still recommend you take a lakeside walk early or late in the day when there is less heat, but you are guaranteed pooping crows and bats. If you are a high-speed walker, stay on the road, if your pace is slower walk the path and see the sights, you will not get bored.