Posts Tagged With: fort

Polonnaruwa and on to Galle

After a night of egg hoppers and a couple of beers we woke to make the short hop over to Polonnaruwa. This joint was the capital of the country back in around the 1000 year mark. It was very much like the Hampi trip in India with the various ruins of an entire city spread out over a huge area. The difference was that Hampi was free and this place charged 3250 rupees for the foreigners. Add to this the fact that the military police shook down our guide/driver for a further 500 just added insult to injury.

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The place itself was quite nice…ruins of palaces, temples, cabinet buildings, lotus ponds etc abound. Add to this some stunningly maintained stupas and the obligatory Buddha statues and the place was a good day. The 38 degrees was less than ideal but hey…waddaya do.

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From here we started the 7 hour drive back to Colombo with Damith who is the calmest and most patient driver on the planet. I guess Buddhism teaches you to be calm and relax. I had been sitting in the passenger seat for three days watching all manner of driving indiscretions take place in front of IMG_2823me. But day three was a shocker…the number of blatantly stupid and downright dangerous things that took place was astounding. I was swearing and commenting about nearly being killed on numerous occasions while Damith merely applied the brake (sometimes vigorously) and waited for whatever the holdup was to clear.

This included speeding busses coming towards us in our lane with no intention of slowing or stopping, tuk tuks pulling out and doing u-turns in front of us while we were doing 100kph, motorbikes swerving all over the road. I tried to describe the meaning and intent of road rage…to a Buddhist…which was met with an “oh really” from our eternally calm driver and guide.

The next morning we woke at 5 am and headed for the railway station for our journey to Galle. Jill had lashed out and spent the $7.98 and bought us first class tickets. We did not hold out a lot of hope when the train arrived but boy were we wrong. The first carriage had curtains pulled across and you could not see inside…every other carriage was jam packed with people spilling out of the train in what resembled a cattle truck. We wandered up to the curtained carriage..

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This was a leather seated, air conditioned, serviced cabin with a flat screen TV playing the latest movies and free wifi throughout the carriage. We were met by our dude (I hesitate to use the word butler) who provided hot towelettes to refresh and shortly afterwards the other couple arrived…an entire carriage for the four of us with two service staff. Talk about slumming it.

Now let’s talk about the train ride…this train runs parallel to the ocean for about 3-3.5 hrs as it heads from Colombo to Galle. Our view was essentially water, waves, palm, coconut and banana trees, sand…interspersed with the odd mansion and the regular beach shanty. This was a commute.

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Galle is a fortified city that has a documented history going back to 1400BC. Wiki tells me that “The modern history of Galle starts in 1505, when the first Portuguese ship, was driven there by a storm, however the people of the city refused to let the Portuguese enter, so the Portuguese took it by force. In 1640, the Portuguese had to surrender to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch built the present Fort in 1663. They built a fortified wall, using solid granite, and built three bastions, known as “Sun”, “Moon” and “Star”. After the British took over the country from the Dutch in 1796, they preserved the Fort unchanged, and used it as the administrative centre of Galle”.

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History lesson over the place rocks. It is really touristy (or touristic in the local lingo) but it is still a great spot. The walls and ramparts are incredibly well preserved and there is very little impediment to traipsing all over the thing. Having arrived in Galle we headed for our hotel and had coffee on the breezy terrace while waiting for our room to be ready. A walk around Galle fort and we were almost done. We did a sunset loop around the fort’s ramparts before heading to a local place for 10 curries and rice…for the total price of 950 rupees ($7.66) the price went up to over double that when taxes (and beer) were added…bloody taxes.

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Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Colombo – Sri Lanka

While travelling through China we met a lovely Sri Lankan couple who spoke highly of the place and our visiting. We had kept in touch through Facebook and when we decided to come they could not have been more helpful.even to the point of getting cricket tickets for us for the second day in town. Alas our journey to Sri Lanka started with disappointment before we even arrived. The original plan was to attend a ODI cricket match in Colombo between Sri Lanka and Pakistan but weather set in and they moved the date forward and changed the venue meaning that we missed out.

We arrived in Colombo after a 22 hour transit from Beijing via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Air Asia X provided a good cheap flight option that was very enjoyable but sadly was ruined by Jill’s bag being all but destroyed, when she went to complain she was told it was minor damage that they would not even take a report for…and that she should claim it on travel insurance. After a rant about customer service she left unsatisfied and ignored.

We got in to Sri Lanka and were immediately struck by how unlike India this place is. It is clean, tidy and people have pride in their surroundings and the environment in general. We were picked up, driven to the hotel, got our local phone, had a meal and some local beers and met up with Ruwan (our Sri Lankan mate from China) all within 90 minutes of being in country. A bunch of tuk tuk rides later and a foray into local street food (shrimp including the shells and heads etc mashed into a paste, made into a rissole, deep fried, smothered in chilli, topped with onion) we had seen Colombo by night and plans were made for the next day.

The day started with meeting up with Ruhan outside Town Hall near the Buddha statue and a walk through Viharamahadevi park which is opposite. This was a really pleasant walk in the shade. Sri Lanka is hot but not excessively so…Colombo is blessed by awesome sea breezes almost all day so the heat is immediately bearable. We hit the National museum which was ok content wise by museum standards but the building and the grounds were spectacular. There were massive Banyan trees throughout the grounds that must have been many centuries old and even for a botanical heathen like myself they were the highlight.

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Having headed out we did the tourist schlepp chauffeured by our mate and hit Independence Square, Beira Lake, slave island, the lighthouse, Sambodhi Chaitiya dagoba, a market for some shopping and a massive lunch, Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, old Dutch hospital, Hindu temple, grand mosque, Parliament House. We stopped for cold drinks and fresh juices throughout the day and generally had a really pleasant time. No harassment, no filth, no drama.

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At sunset we headed to Galle face green which is a magnificent stretch of green lawn directly fronting onto the beach, with sea breezes and throngs of people day or night. The place has the Sri Lankan flagpole and at sunset the military ceremony of the flag lowering, combined with the sun going down over the Indian Ocean is not to be missed. As the breeze blows permanently off the ocean the area is full of parents flying kites of all varieties with their kids.

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On the food front we have been absolutely spoilt. The main dish is Kottu or “Koththu Roti” which is a Sri Lankan version of left overs in a fried rice. While notionally leftovers it is made fresh almost everywhere with your choices of fillings but vegetables, egg, shredded roti, onions and rice are the staples and you pick and add the bits you want added. This is generally done on a flat BBQ plate and the clatter of flying metal scrapers as they chop and mix the concoction is both mesmerising and deafening.

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My favourite both before I came and since being here is the egg hoppers. Wiki tells me that “hoppers are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy”. The unique part is that hoppers are cooked in small “wok” like rounded pans so the dough cooks thick and soft on the bottom, and thin and crunchy around the edges. Add to this the string hoppers and the plain hoppers with some of the ever present pickles, chutneys and sambol and you have for yourself a great feed.

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We headed out to Livinia Beach for a flash feed with Ruwan and his wife. It was a Chinese restaurant (of all things) right on the sand. The setting was spectacular with the lapping of the waves but the food was trash. This may be an ongoing issue for us as we cannot go to Chinese restaurants anymore as they will not be authentic. We already have our doubts about how authentic the Australian version of Indian is…we are now adding Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to the mix…we may be screwed on future take out options. Now the food at this restaurant was tasty enough but nothing like what we expected when we ordered.

 

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Jaisalmer

We hit Jaisalmer which is a town in north Western India near the Pakistan border. This place is possibly the most tourist oriented place we have been since landing in India. The prices of everything in the town are 2-5 times more than everywhere else we have been (this means that dinner for 2 with beers is about $30). The main attraction is the fort in the centre of town but there are also a bunch of desert related activities available such as camel safaris, jeep safaris and dirt biking etc. The key thing that we have noticed though is the regular returning of fighter jets as they patrol the India/Pakistan border. On our drive to the desert we passed the base and we now know that this is the home of the “Border Bayonettes”.

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Directly opposite our hotel is sunset point. This is a mausoleum area where everyone heads at sunset to watch the sun go down over the desert…which of course we did too. The hotel is owned by a kiwi woman and her husband who also run camel safaris…so we headed off on a 5 hr camel ride through the desert. Jill was really looking forward to this as it is a full moon and the concept of the stars, camels, desert and moon just seemed to be ringing her bells for some reason.

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As we drove in we hit a checkpoint where we had to pay 20 rupees to keep going. The dude told us that we had just crossed the Pakistani border and that was the fee. Some of you may have remembered the Great Wall comment and the gullible tourists who bought it…well I bought this one…I entered into a chat with Jill about not needing visas and that you could just bribe the guard at the gate. It was about 2 hrs before it dawned on me that I had joined the ranks of the gullible tourists. Alas it was a windy day that whipped up the sand and the sunset and moon were both partially obscured by sand.

Now let’s talk about camels. This was my first camel ride. I know others who have been on them and every story that I have heard has not been complimentary. They were right. Having seen a bunch of old movies I knew that the Arab kings had harems, and these harems were protected by eunuchs. Having never knowingly met a eunuch I wondered how they managed to find so many. After having my first camel ride the answer is obvious. The motion of a camel and the anatomy of males do not react well with each other. The first 10 minutes were possibly the most uncomfortable I had been ever. After the ten minute mark my anatomy decided to rearrange itself to possibly my armpits and was no longer in the saddle firing line. What seemed like an eternity later the ride was over and we settled down to watch the sun set over the sand dunes.

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While lazing on the dunes we relaxed to the soothing sound of Indian tourists in 4WD jeeps blasting over the dunes throwing empty beer bottles and general rubbish in what was, at one time, a pristine environment. The killer was as we ground our way through the desert my dude driving the camel was texting and talking on the phone most of the way…when we turned a corner a random guy on foot offered us beers from a carpet bag over his shoulder (kinda shattered the middle of the desert concept). We chatted to our guides who told us that the foreign tourists are great but the locals treat the environment as their own personal trash cans.

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As we sat waiting for the sun to go down we got into a conversation about the location of the Pakistani border. To try and check our location we tried google thinking we would get a 3G signal. As it happened Jill was able to pull up the local wifi signal from the camping spot run by one of the big 5 star hotels. The whole middle of nowhere notion completely shattered we watched the sun disappear behind a cloud of dust and went back to the hotel.

Our movements are slowing as we near Christmas as the transport options are full. After Jaisalmer we returned to jaipur for a night and then off to Udaipur where we will be on Christmas Day. While I love curries I am hoping to have a traditional ham and turkey style Christmas meal but our googling is not yielding results, even at the 5 star hotels, at this stage. Jill has e-mailed a couple of them but the customer service over here has seen no responses.

Categories: India | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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