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Galle Fort – Our Final Stop in Sri Lanka

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Guest Houses in Galle Fort

After two and a half whirlwind months touring Sri Lanka, we pulled into Galle with exhausted bodies and tired minds. This would be the last extended stop of our 91 days in the country.

Lighthouse-Galle
Yes, that’s lightning behind the lighthouse. Nature and man, working together!

We were actually spending our nights in Fort, not Galle. That might sound like an unnecessary distinction, but the peaceful neighborhood demarcated by the old stone walls of the colonial fort feels a world away from the noise and hubbub of modern Galle. It’s so disconnected, that we’ve come to think of Fort as an entirely different city.

Fort occupies an area roughly 130 acres in size, and about a kilometer from north to south. Apart from a smattering of tuk-tuks, tourist buses and old-timers, traffic is very limited on the neighborhood’s few streets, which provides Fort with a tranquility I had reckoned impossible in Sri Lanka. We were instantly charmed — after so much time in congested cities, Fort would be an excellent place to relax in our final weeks.

There’s a heavy expat presence here, mostly British, whose influence is unmistakable. Upscale restaurants occupy nicely restored colonial buildings. A variety of shops and boutiques offer selection (and high prices) not seen elsewhere on the island. The sight of an older British gentleman puttering down the street on his moped is commonplace, here. I did a double-take on our first afternoon, when a white guy at the Peddlar’s Inn asked his friend if she was going to play cricket with the gang, later. “Say what? That’s not what tourists… ah, yeah. You live here.”

Fort has a sleepy, comfortable rhythm that threatens to make us lazy. Dangerous, given the abundance of things to do and see around Galle. But you know? A chilled banana coffee does sound good. Who cares if it’s pricey? We can afford it, and we can afford to relax for another hour. Or two.

Location of Galle Fort on our Map
Hotels in Galle

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Viewpont Galle
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Old Time in Galle

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April 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm Comments (4)

Nuwara Eliya

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Ceylon Tea

Known around Sri Lanka as “Little England”, Nuwara Eliya is the highest city on the island, at around 6128 feet above sea level. Throughout history, this mountainous patch of the country had been almost entirely unpopulated, but the British recognized the potential value of its soil and climate. In 1846, explorer Samuel Barker (who would later “discover” Africa’s Lake Albert) founded Nuwara Eliya, which quickly established itself as a favorite retreat for the ruling class, and eventually gained prominence as a center for tea cultivation.

Nuwara-Eliya-Post-Office

We arrived in Nuwara Eliya expecting to be enchanted by its quaint English charms, but were quickly disillusioned. Today, it’s a very Sri Lankan city, with the usual array of shops and smoggy, noisy traffic. Some vestiges of the privileged colonial life still remain, notably in the horse track, the grand old hotels and government buildings, but to call Nuwara Eliya “charming” would be a real stretch.

After pushing through the muck of downtown, we ascended Single Tree Hill, which cuts a beautiful path up through the fields of the Pedro Tea Estate. We passed a single Buddhist temple, and a ton of Hindu people — Nuwara Eliya is notable for having a majority Tamil population, brought over from India by the British to work at the tea plantations.

Besides the hike up Single Tree Hill, we couldn’t find much entertainment in Nuwara Eliya. There’s a park which we were done with in ten minutes, and a famous golf course. Golf’s not our thing, so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking at one of the beautiful old hotels near the course. The most storied is the Hill Club, which proved its snooty credentials by denying us entrance. No shorts allowed. The Grand Hotel, though, was less exclusive and allowed us to stretch our dirty, bared limbs on their veranda for a couple hours.

We didn’t have a great time in Nuwara Eliya, but the city’s attractions weren’t the main reason we were visiting. Horton Plains National Park is nearby, as well as a large tea plantation. As a base for excursions, Nuwara Eliya served its purpose fine, but the city itself was a disappointment.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
Hotels in Nuwara Eliya

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Britain Meets Sri Lanka
Posh House
Kind of the Castle
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Nuwara Eliya Temple
Tea Picker in Sri Lanka
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Army of Pickers
Hobbit Landscape
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Tausend Fuessler
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March 4, 2012 at 4:29 am Comments (5)

The Kandy Garrison Cemetery

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Budget Places To Stay in Kandy

Tucked just behind the Temple of the Tooth is an odd relic from the kingdom’s colonial days. The Kandy Garrison Cemetery holds the remains of about 150 British souls, who were buried far from home in the early 19th century. The weathered tombstones and neatly-kept grounds make for an atmospheric escape from the throngs of people at the temple.

Kandy Christian Cemetery

Walking around the graves and reading the names and ages of the people interred within, it’s impossible not to imagine their lives. Most of the Brits here died young, victims of malaria, war or cholera. 23 years of life seemed to be about the average; I saw only one man, a doctor, who made it past 50. It was mostly soldiers, but there were infants and women as well — I kept picturing tearful goodbye scenes in London or Bristol, as a young girl says goodbye to her family for distant Ceylon, where she would die months later.

A very beautiful, evocative cemetery. It gave me the idea that every tombstone should have a little notebook attached to it, so you can learn about the life of whoever was buried underneath. That’s a good idea in general and, if I’m ever dictator of the world, I’ll implement it. In Kandy’s Garrison Cemetery, it would make for especially interesting reading.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
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March 1, 2012 at 8:15 am Comments (3)

A Concise History of Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka History Books

Originally settled about 36,000 years ago, Sri Lanka has one of the world’s oldest histories. So attempting to condense its long and turbulent story into a “concise” version is a fool’s errand. But then, we are the foolish children of a modern age, without the time for outdated concepts like thoroughness or nuance! Give the history of Sri Lanka to us in 140 characters or less, please.

Oldtimer in Sri Lanka
34000 BC Appearance of the Balangoda Man, the earliest evidence of humanity yet discovered on the island.
18000 BC Arrival of the Veddas, an indigenous people still extant in present-day Sri Lanka.
543 BC Prince Vijaya of India lands on the island, and becomes the country’s first recorded monarch. Sri Lanka would be ruled by native kings until 1815.
380 BC The capital is moved to Anuradhapura, where it remains for 1400 years.
250 BC Buddhism arrives to the island, and is thoroughly embraced. Sri Lanka remains one of the religion’s most important centers to this day.
47 BC Queen Anula of Sri Lanka becomes Asia’s first female ruler.
993 AD The fall of Anduradhapura marks the end of the island’s ancient history. The Cholas of India almost succeed in erasing Buddhism from Sri Lanka, and are only driven out in 1070.
1153 Parākramabāhu the Great rules over the greatest period in Sri Lankan history, initiating numerous construction projects and successful wars against India and Myanmar.
1505 Portuguese explorer Lorenzo de Almeida arrives on the shores of Sri Lanka, and establishes the port city of Colombo, initiating European colonialism on the island. The capital is soon moved inland, to Kandy.
1656 Sinhalese rulers sign an ill-advised treaty with the Dutch who, after booting out the Portuguese, immediately claim power themselves.
1796 The British arrive, and after two long campaigns, conquer the Kingdom of Kandy, bringing the entire island under foreign rule for the first time in history.
1824 Tea is brought to the island to replace a failing coffee trade, and quickly becomes one of the main export crops. Ceylon, as the British call Sri Lanka, becomes almost synonymous with tea.
1948 Independence returns to Sri Lanka. Almost immediately, Sinhalese majorities institute policies which marginalize other ethnicities.
1983 The Sri Lankan Civil War kicks off in earnest, pitting the Sinhalese government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who eventually control most of the north.
2004 The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami ravage Eastern Sri Lanka, with over 35,000 dead and over 500,000 displaced.
2009 After 26 years of fighting, the government finally defeats the Tamil Tigers, bringing an end to the devastating Civil War.
And on… Anxious for peace, the Sri Lankan people turn attentions to recovery and eco-tourism. Sri Lanka currently enjoys a high rate of growth, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As long as its different cultures get along, the future looks bright.

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February 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm Comment (1)
Galle Fort - Our Final Stop in Sri Lanka After two and a half whirlwind months touring Sri Lanka, we pulled into Galle with exhausted bodies and tired minds. This would be the last extended stop of our 91 days in the country.
For 91 Days