Sri Lanka: The Cities & The History

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February 4th 2017
Published: February 19th 2017
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Viharahadevi Park, ColomboViharahadevi Park, ColomboViharahadevi Park, Colombo

Looking towards the town hall Taj Mahal style in Viharahadevi Park.
The only things I really knew about Sri Lanka before going there was that it was once called Ceylon (when the British ruled there), that the country produces a lot of tea and I knew a fair bit about their cricket team. Old playing legends such as Aravinda da Silva, Aruna Ranatunga and Chaminda Vaas, and newer ones such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillekaratne Dilshan. But other than that, I knew nothing about where I was going to go and what I was going to see there. After a day's research back in Chennai, I then had a rough plan of how I was going to spend my two weeks in Sri Lanka.

But before getting on a plane for the first time since arriving in India in Delhi, I had one last taste of India on a mega-packed, rattling, local bus to the airport. Thank God I managed to get a seat because no bus here is ever considered too full to let on more passengers. I saw other buses ahead of me that had fully 4-5 people hanging off the doors. I wouldn't have been surprised if that was also happening on my bus - I
Fort Walls, GalleFort Walls, GalleFort Walls, Galle

Galle Fort is the only remaining fort in Asia that was built by Europeans.
couldn't see the doors because all I could see were people.

Chennai's airport is quite spiffy! The international terminal is definitely a new build, but didn't seem to have the traffic to justify it. There was scant choice on offer in terms of shopping and food options. The international terminal was admittedly pretty small though.
Sri Lankan Airlines wasn't bad either. I wasn't expecting a meal on the plane, that's for sure, so I got an unexpected but welcome second dinner. Surrounding me on the plane were a group of young men - I don't know if they were Indian or Sri Lankan - but they were so badly-mannered and uncouth. It was as if they'd never been on a plane before - trying to go to the toilet just seconds from landing, pushing past you in aisle when there is no space for you to go, all making a rush for the door as soon as the plane had stopped...

Unlike my last experience landing at an airport, this was a breeze. I was a little worried I might have to stump up some big money to get from the airport to Colombo itself, some 35km away, since I was arriving so late at
Buddha Statues, ColomboBuddha Statues, ColomboBuddha Statues, Colombo

Inside the Gangaramaya Temple.
night. But with shared shuttles (like a colectivo) to Colombo, it was painless in the end. Google Maps is handy these days too, as after noticing the shuttle was passing quite close to my hostel, I got off early, although I was a bit miffed about having to pay an extra charge for luggage that I wasn't told about at the start. Nevertheless I already had the feeling Sri Lankans were more honest and less pushy than their Indian neighbours.

The first thing that struck me about Sri Lanka was that it was so clean! There was barely any litter on the streets. There were also loads of supermarkets! When buying stuff inside them though, I found I was still thinking in Indian rupees; so I was like "woah, that's so expensive!"
And then "no actually, it isn't."
And then "no actually, that is expensive!"
Indeed things are a little more dear here in Sri Lanka than they are in India, particularly accommodation, which made sticking to budget just that bit more difficult.

Like India however, there is still lots of traffic. It's especially diabolical in Colombo. Once called "The Garden City Of The East", you can see
Streets Of Galle FortStreets Of Galle FortStreets Of Galle Fort

There is a lovely, peaceful atmosphere within the walls of Galle Fort.
why, what with all its green spaces.
To my surprise, the overwhelmingly dominant religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism and Colombo's Gangaramaya Temple was probably the city's highlight. It's a somewhat curious place; it has several levels, mezzanines and rooms, many filled with artworks, religious artefacts and Buddhist paraphernalia. There is a bodhi tree, a stupa and a Buddha statue in three different courtyards but the highlight is the shrine out the front which has more massive Buddha statues inside as well as detailed paintings all up the walls and on the ceilings. Entry to this temple also gets you entry into the nearby Seema Malaka Templa which is pretty ordinary but enjoys a picturesque setting right on the Beira Lake. A walk around Beira Lake is rather pleasant and this then leads you to the flash malls and plush hotels - which were a relief for their air conditioning - right by Galle Face Green, a long field just by the sea. There is a beach - well, sand, as well as many rocks - below Galle Face Green and the seaside promenade was lined with tanks, rocket launchers and army jeeps that were all getting a touch up
National Museum, ColomboNational Museum, ColomboNational Museum, Colombo

I only got to admire the exterior of this impressive colonial building.
in preparation for what I assume was going to be some sort of military parade.

The old fort area of Colombo is full of crumbling colonial era buildings and the area's layout with wide streets and with the old shipyard and docks to the north, reminded me very much of my hometown Auckland's downtown area; if all the buildings in Auckland were decrepit and/or undergoing restoration, that is. The restoration of the whole area also reminded me a lot of Panama City's Casco Viejo - perhaps it will look just as fine one day.
Just to the east of the old fort area, the city's market area is a little crazy - it felt like I was back in India again. Once you've seen one market however, you've seen them all, although the Pettah Floating Market was pretty cool.
It was a bit hectic walking around downtown at rush hour but thankfully this will be about as hectic as Sri Lanka will get!
All in all, Colombo is a pleasant enough city - I wouldn't call it the shithole that many others do - but you only need a day here.

So you know how I said earlier that no bus
Gangaramaya Temple, ColomboGangaramaya Temple, ColomboGangaramaya Temple, Colombo

Inside the main shrine at the Gangaramaya Temple.
is deemed too full? I was wrong. Apparently you can be stopped from getting on a bus if you have luggage that will take up the space of another paying customer. What an asshole conductor. Every single bus to the bus station from the hostel the next day was full to the brim and I simply couldn't get on one. Half an hour later, I finally manage to forced myself onto one. That was it, I was officially over Colombo. Thank God I was leaving!
Or maybe I should've stayed behind. My bus driver down to Galle was one of the most impatient, crazy and horn-happy I have ever seen. Usually I wouldn't give a shit but I was this close to having a word with him. My ride was as uncomfortable as it was reckless. Still not quite as dangerous as my ride to Medellin in Colombia, mind. You think we would've got to Galle pretty quickly but no - the bus stopped just about everywhere for everyone and took twice as long as it was supposed to. I was fed up. The only pleasure I got out of the ride were the glimpses of beach, coconut trees and golden sand, much of it
Seema Malaka Temple, ColomboSeema Malaka Temple, ColomboSeema Malaka Temple, Colombo

Buddhist temple with a stunning location on Beira Lake. In the background are the plush seaside hotel and apartment towers.
deserted, on the coastal highway.

Galle has always been a port town from as far back as 1400BC but it was when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century that Galle's historic fort was built. After surrendering to the Dutch East India Company in 1640, the fort was then further fortified.
The fort remains intact to this day and the town inside it is beautiful; the seaside location and feel evoked Uruguay's Colonia del Sacramento and the architecture and layout was like Goa's Panaji.
If Sri Lanka was pricey though, then Galle was the priciest. Since I was only staying one night in Galle, I thought I'd splash out a bit on a brand new hostel inside the fort walls. It was a really good hostel with lots of nice touches and the atmosphere there was really social too, where I unexpectedly had a Hostel Night Out (TM) for some pre-birthday drinks! I also unexpectedly went through an entire bottle of rum with my hostel mates on what was supposed to be a quiet night in. In the end it was worth paying the extra to experience the peacefulness and ambience inside the fort walls - it was the total opposite outside.
Fishing Boats, GalleFishing Boats, GalleFishing Boats, Galle

Being an island, fish is obvious a big part of the Sri Lankan diet!
In such a romantic place, you won't be surprised to hear that Galle is full of couples; but there are more than a few Russian and Chinese package tourists knocking about too. Though there were loads of Russians in Goa, there were hardly any Chinese in India - because I guess they are all here!

The day I left Galle was my birthday and I spent the first half of the day taking one last walk around the fort, walking along the ramparts and enjoying the beautiful views along the coast and out to sea. I then made my way to my next stop.
I'm moving pretty fast because my time in Sri Lanka is limited with my flight back to India already booked. It is certainly a different pace to the one I was moving at during my last days in India.

A couple of initial observations;
- Sri Lankans definitely seem to be friendlier than Indians so far;
- You can get a kilo of tuna steak for just £5! That's ten times cheaper than London!

With the cities and the historical part of my Sri Lankan trip now done (sort of), next up was
Sunset Over Galle FortSunset Over Galle FortSunset Over Galle Fort

People watch the sun set from the fort walls.
some time on the beach and the booze!

පසුව හමුවෙමු (pasuva hamuvemu),

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


Downtown ColomboDowntown Colombo
Downtown Colombo

Almost as busy and chaotic as India. Almost.
Outside The Old Dutch Hospital, ColomboOutside The Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo
Outside The Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo

Many of downtown Colombo's shelled out colonial buildings are being renovated. The Old Dutch Hospital and the building next to it are ones that have already been restored.
Pettah Floating Market, ColomboPettah Floating Market, Colombo
Pettah Floating Market, Colombo

Impressively set retail market just opposite the bus station.
Galle Face Green, ColomboGalle Face Green, Colombo
Galle Face Green, Colombo

Tanks and rocket launchers line Colombo's main seaside promenade.
Looking Out To Sea, GalleLooking Out To Sea, Galle
Looking Out To Sea, Galle

Looking along the ramparts of the fort walls.
Old Dutch Hospital, GalleOld Dutch Hospital, Galle
Old Dutch Hospital, Galle

This old hospital has been turned into a complex of shops, bars and restaurants; I went through a whole bottle of rum in the bar upstairs the day before my birthday.
Inside Galle FortInside Galle Fort
Inside Galle Fort

Looking towards the lighthouse.
Dutch Reformed Church, GalleDutch Reformed Church, Galle
Dutch Reformed Church, Galle

More than the Portuguese and the English, it is the Dutch who have left the biggest influence inside the walls of Galle Fort.
Federation Of Self Employee's Market, ColomboFederation Of Self Employee's Market, Colombo
Federation Of Self Employee's Market, Colombo

Seen one market, seen them all. But they are always lively and often fascinating.
Old Gate, GalleOld Gate, Galle
Old Gate, Galle

The old main gate into Galle Fort.
Pilgrim Hostel, GallePilgrim Hostel, Galle
Pilgrim Hostel, Galle

Having breakfast at my hostel in Galle.

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