The Whinging Pome: The Beira - Birds, Bats and Bygone Beauty

Jun 13 2024.

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“Good Morning Sir!” I hear from the ten or so people sweeping various paths around southwest Beira Lake as I undertake my seven o’clock morning walk. For me, this is the heart of Colombo. It has a charm of its own, with masses of birds; pelicans, ducks, not-sowild roosters and the more exotic cormorants, egrets, water monitors as big as adult crocodiles 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 the skyscraper hotels and apartments on a slow-build programme over the coming years. Walking around this 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. They say it’s good luck to be pooped on. Whinging Pome Random rule 444, “live life to fullest and make your own luck“.

The debris from the lack of maintenance and unfinished projects interspersed with filthy rubbish is to be avoided when walking. 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-storey eyesore of a building that has been in the slow process of being built over at least the last twenty-plus years. This building also holds a collection of rusting cars from the sixties and seventies.

Gangaramaya seems to creep out more and more into the lake as a never-ending building project. Another building is going up on the opposite side of the lake around a tree on Perahera Mawatha. The temple in the middle of the lake is worth a visit but the island next to it is closed more than open. The history of the Beira 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”. The origins of his name are hazy but are believed to mean “anchor point or edge of the lake.”

There is also a reference to Captain Brito who was responsible for the digging out of swamp land to create the lake. 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 e.g. rowing and yachting. Trust the British. In 1810 they even created a mini–Kew Garden on the Slave Island. There are no boats on this part of the Beira Lake today but there are 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 opened well behind schedule, it is still iconic. 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. Pigeons everywhere.  

Overlooking the lake is the Colombo City Center, a most welcomed modern extension of Colombo’s shopping experience, though many units remain unoccupied. All these new developments come with a heavy unhealthy vehicle traffic density and the resulting pollution by midafternoon makes this side of the lake unhealthy to be walking. Given all of the above, I still recommend you take a lake-side walk early or late in the day when there is less heat, but you are guaranteed to be greeted by pooping crows and bats.

If you are a high-speed walker, stay on the road, if your pace is slower, take the waterside path and see the sights, you will not get bored. I imagine non-residents find the area dirty and badly maintained and if we are to make a feature for foreign tourists more than a massive clean-up is needed.



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