Arriving in Sri Lanka was definitely a change of gears from Delhi – where was everyone for starters? Spending a month in India had me accustomed to people, noise, traffic, rubbish and sensory overload. Heading through the relatively quiet streets in an Uber from the airport it was like everything was turned down to 6.
Colombo itself was an old colonial trading port first by the Dutch and then the British. The Dutch legacy in particular is noticeable in some of the old-style buildings.
The Dutch Period Museum is an old column fronted large house converted to hold some artifacts of their time here.
The three letters to look out for are VOC – Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company). It was strange to see these here after coming across them an ocean away in Cape Town but this was all part of the string of settlements from the Netherlands to Indonesia and those all important spice routes.
Wandering around the Petah market area I came across this barber-pole coloured mosque unlike any I had seen ever before. I had a quick poke around inside well in advance of midday prayers.
Colombo old town still retains old style buildings some of which have been creatively repurposed such as the Old Dutch Hospital which houses fancy restaurants, cafes, spas and bars all around a central courtyard.
Further south I stopped by a small meditation hall designed by Sri Lanka’s most famous architect Geoffrey Bawa. The peaceful saffron robed Buddhas seemed unperturbed with their back to the mushrooming skyline behind them. The capital and country has been developing strongly since the Tamil Tigers were defeated in the civil war in 2009.
After so many days eating vegetarian food in India I decided there was nothing for it but to head to the Colombo Cricket Club restaurant for a proper shepherd’s pie and steamed vegetables – I’m weak!
Up early the next day I presented myself at the ticket counter to head to the coastal gem of a town 2.5 hours away – Galle. The ticket cost just 180 rupees (1 euro!) and was all the world like an old cinema ticket.
Trains never oversell here – people just squeeze tighter. I managed to lodge myself on the step by an open door which was an excellent place to watch as we rounded the city and quickly were on palm fringed coastline with a tropical sea-salt breeze on my face.
It hasn’t been all rosy on this coast or train line – back in 2004 the Boxing Day Tsunami managed to deflected around the island and washed away a tourist train on these very tracks. The old fort in Galle was less affected than most what with high stone walls and still good drainage from the time of the Dutch.
Galle itself is a beautiful ringed fort with colonial buildings but also alive with normal activity like schools and kids playing cricket by the walls.
I spent a day and a half just wandering and enjoying the town, some highlights:
Stick no Bills has retro posters and postcards from the days where the island was still named Ceylon with images invoking tropical paradise (some of the later 1980s ones were quite tacky in keeping with the times).
Curry in the Lucky Fort Restaurant turned out to be not one but 10 curries of all different types!
The Pedlars Gelateria has irresistible ice creams if you aren’t completely full of curry
Just walking around the old town and the little colonial touches
Walking around the walls is a lovely hour or so jaunt by the sea giving good views over the centre of town.
A perfect way to finish the day is sunset on the walls followed by a G&T in the wood and rattan furniture of the Amangalle Hotel.