Interesting historical canal with high tourist potential
Most of the travellers headed to Sri Lanka stay at least one day in Negombo since it is the nearest beach city to the Bandaranaike International airport. Negombo is not my favourite Sri Lankan city, even though I recognize the fact that there are some interesting things to do in Negombo. Among them, the Hamilton Canal running through the urban area came to my attention one day while I was walking towards St. Mary’s Church of Negombo.
Hamilton Canal is commonly known among the locals as Dutch Canal and it was nothing more than a long waterway connecting Puttalam to Colombo.
Sri Lankan Hamilton Canal’s history started back in the 15th century when King Veera Parakramabahu VIII began the construction of the canal systems to more easily transport goods to his kingdom’s main seaports in Negombo and Colombo.
Then later around the18th century, it was developed by the Dutch who enhanced the old system because besides using it for transportation, they also wanted to siphon out salt water from the fields.
Later on, between 1802 and 1804, when Sri Lanka was under the British, Garvin Hamilton, British Agent of Revenue and Commerce conceived a new Colombo-Negombo canal: Hamilton Canal, a 14.5 km watercourse which runs west of the old Dutch Canal, quite close to the sea, from the mouth of the Kelani Ganga at Hekitta to the southern edge of the Negombo Lagoon. Its history remains certainly something very interesting and it was fascinating to see how the past is still alive.
Nowadays there is a refurbishing project of the Hamilton Canal; the first stages of this wonderful initiative has already covered not only the distance from the Kelani Ganga to Negombo Lagoon, but also the nine-kilometre stretch from Negombo town to the Maha Oya.
A walk along the Hamilton canal, especially in the Negombo area, is really curious; fishermen houses and lovely tropical gardens located along the waterways and their boats parked on the canal gives a particular atmosphere. But more than anything else which captured our attention was seeing the daily life around the canal: some were cleaning their boats, others were engaged in “sambrani Poojas” (a religious ritual of purifying and perfuming with charcoal and incense), others weaving the fishing nets, and so on and on.
There were also boat trips available for tourists, but sadly we didn’t take one and in the aftermath we regretted it because it would have been an amazing experience. We highly recommend the canal-lagoon tour in Negombo during the sunset.
We were wondering if someday passenger boats from Colombo could sail up to Puttalam so that travellers can arrive in Negombo and other tourist destinations along the Hamilton canal by boat instead by road. This idea seemed to us not possible since the bridges on the Hamilton canal were very low and they allowed only small fishing boats to pass through.
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After having said this we would like to point out two negative facts of Sri Lanka which affected negatively also the Hamilton Canal:
1) Sri Lankans had a very bad habit to dump their garbage everywhere; it seemed to us that they had a special preference for any kind of water spots. So, the Hamilton Canal was highly polluted with plastics and many other unimaginable things. On the one hand, it was great to see that Sri Lanka had maintained the canal for so much of years and still makes use of it; but on the other hand, it was unacceptable seeing all that trash thrown out in the water. We would have liked to understand why they polluted their own environment like that. Was it a lack of environmental education or was it the government that was not providing a proper disposal?
2) Sri Lankan culture doesn’t care about to taking care of the back sides of buildings. They embellish the front sides but abandon that which in their opinion is the non-seen area. Based on this theory, the back side of their houses which faced the canal was unattractive and this was really disappointing!
Many European cities that have canal systems exploit it in many ways such as for example on-board dinners and aperitifs, floating dorms, or even on-board disco. Hamilton Canal has a lot of potential and as such, needs a different maintenance.