Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 25th July, 2010
Having a free day at the end of my week’s work in Sri Lanka, I took a local bus from Colombo down to Galle: three-and-a-half hours, 107 rupees (60 UK pence), stopping whenever anyone wanted to get on. I had an aisle seat, but can only recommend this mode of travel to anyone who enjoys (or at least doesn’t mind) having sundry people’s bottoms and legs pressing against their arms the whole journey, as every square inch of standing room was full. It was a relief then to get to Galle, pulling up outside the cricket ground, which is already festooned with huge posters of Muttiah Muralitharan being congratulated by a beaming, chubby-faced President Mahinda Rajapaksa after his 800 Test wicket triumph earlier in the wek. So too the lofty walls of the Dutch Fort, which proved to be so strong that they withstood the tsunami of 2004, while much of the new town of Galle and suroundings were destroyed.
The old town’s survival was truly a blessing, as the settlement (known simply as Fort) within the walls is a stunning example of Dutch colonial architecture, some of it in a state of gentle tropical decay, but much wonderfully maintained, as befits a UNESCO World Heritage site. As well as churches and gracious mansions, there are masses of hotels and restaurants, from backpackers’ hangouts to ultra chic (the couple at the next table to mine on the veranda of the Galle Fort Hotel were slowly imbibing a bottle of Moet champagne). There’s hardly any traffic, apart from a few three-wheel tuk-tuks and for part of my gentle amble around town I was accompanied by a friendly goat. A truly magical place. Moreover, I got the train back to Colombo (three hours, 180 rupees or one pound ten pence), which was glorious, now following the seashore, with the waves of the Indian Ocean pounding alongside, now passing through tranquil villages of immacuately kept houses, Buddhist temples and lush vegetation.