Sri Lanka - John Robshaw Textiles
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07.06.2015 / Travel

Sri Lanka


Upon landing in Sri Lanka, I immediately wanted to compare it to India. At a swanky dinner party in a renovated colonial mansion, the smartly outfitted host gently reprimanded me to leave India in India- so I did that. With that, I could behold Sri Lanka opening up before me- a land of Buddhist, Tamils, Muslims, and Christians recovering from a war but moving forward, surrounded by perfect oceans, rambling jungles, and scores of temples. To kick-start my senses, I searched for the local markets, as they are the best place look at colors and textures to get some ideas for prints. Pettah is the main market in Colombo. My driver warned me that professional pickpockets managed to snag his cell phone from his shirt pocket, so beware! I waded into the surf of humanity; past food stalls, smiling hawkers barking out the merits of their goods in mountains spilled out on the pavement in blinding sunlight. Completely lost down a back alley, I ended up in a banana warehouse where fellows in bright plaid sarongs hoisted massive bunch of neon green bananas with relaxed ease.

A few hours south of Colombo, I stopped at Pinnawala Elephant Reserve. Herds of blue grey elephants rollicked in the river, set against a layered canopy of jungle. Next, I was off to Kandy, which is the home of the Temple of the Tooth and the Ersala Perahere, the country's most raucous Hindu festival. I like to buy puja- offerings of vibrant lavender and pink flowers at temples as they are always delicately organized so I can make merit, as well as find some color stories for prints. I finished the day at the nearby the Peradeniya Botanical gardens, strolling by a bewildering variety of palms. My favorite is the Dr. Suez-looking kauri pines, which are twisted as if they were dancing in the wind over the picnicking families.

The next morning, I set out for a citadel called Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is massive rock you climb up to see the commanding views of the valley- a lush green canopy as far as the eyes can see. Also in the vicinity is Kaludiya Pokuna, an archeological reserve. It had moss-covered stupas with worn caves that calmly wait buried in the trees. Always pressing on in search of more visual ideas, I took the old highway South with the ocean on one side and trains chugging past on the other side. Of course there was a traffic jam, but for good reason as there was a Hindu parade sharing the road, a cornucopia of gods on bikes carrying paper flower trees, stilted figures hobbling past, and dark demons growling at the sarong clad families who were lining the street to clap and cheer. Pressing on to Jeffrey Bawas gardens is the perfect way to finish the day. The gardens snake over hills and down to lake terraces, accompanied by sculptures overgrown with vines. It is here that I found vistas completely relaxed and brimming with contemplativeness, like this country. I finally have some ideas for my garden I have been struggling with.

I always believe in happy accidents in travel and design. Design comes when I am not in search of it-when I stumble into it headlong. Dazzling Sri Lanka gave me the energy and colors for this Fall collection- banana greens, dusty blue grey elephants framed, by jungles- raucous plaid sarongs and offering flowers in pink and yellows. I offer up this new collection like a puja to you- I hope your prayers will be answered.To counter the chaos of the local markets, I headed to the regal Cinnamon Gardens to pay homage to Geoffrey Bawas house, the premier Sri Lankan architect. His house calmly welcomed me with whitewashed rooms interrupted by internal palm gardens. The juxtaposition of old and new is striking here; I was amongst perfectly curated local crafts mingling inside a modern house. The living rooms were covered in a 20 feet long antique textile joined with modern furniture a veritable mix of old and new - modern and colonial, all of which reveal that what is Sri Lanka.