When Mr ESLT and I visited Sri Lanka we stayed in Aluthgama which is 80km south of Colombo on the west coast of the island. I think it’s a great base for exploring the island. If organised trips aren’t your thing you will find a lot of eager taxi drivers willing to take you wherever you fancy. They will also give you great tips on when is the best time/day/time of the year to visit specific areas/attractions. Therefore if Yala Nature Reserve is on your ‘to do’ list prepare yourself for a 4.00am start. The trains around Sri Lanka are mostly reliable and cheap too. Although you will be hard pushed to find one that isn’t jam packed full of people.
Galle had been recommended as a great day out from Aluthgama. So one day we hot footed it down to the local train station to wait for the next train to Galle. Tickets where approximately 50p each and easily purchased from the ticket office at the station. The train itself was an experience and in a way exactly what I had expected – hot and packed with people hanging from the open door ways. Something that certainly wouldn’t be allowed in health & safety conscious Britain but appeared to be the norm in Sri Lanka. Every now and again you would get someone passing through selling locally produced snacks and drinks which were very welcome in the September heat. Mr ESLT and I got chatting to a chap (‘Tony’) who commuted from Galle to Aluthgama to work and gave us lots of information and tips about where we should visit on our arrival in Galle. He also explained that the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami had hit a train on the line we were on killing over 1,000 people and pointed out the exact place it happened.
Once we arrived at Galle train station we jumped in a tuk tuk and asked him to take us to the best places in city. Now looking back we completely left ourselves open to a massive scam. However, tuk tuks are fitted with a meter similar to black cabs in London and you are charged per kilometre you travel. This put us at ease somewhat even though I suppose in hindsight he could have driven us all over the island to rack up the rupee.
So where did we go? What did we do?
Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya (Yatagala Temple)
A quiet temple built over 2300 years ago which is a Buddhist place of worship. You have to climb up some steep steps to get to the top where the temple is, you will also get great views of the surrounding countryside from up there too. I was very surprised to find that there were only a handful of other travellers/tourists at the top. This allowed us time to walk around and take as many pictures as we wanted. It was built during the reign of King Devanam Piyatissa of the Anuradhapura period. Here you will also find numerous statues and a giant reclining buddha. For a small donation a monk will show you around the site however it’s unlikely that they can speak English well enough to give you a commentary on what you are seeing. The temple is classed as a Sacred Area and a lot of money has been spent to ensure it is as beautiful now as it was when it was first built. A very tranquil, relaxing place to spend an hour or so away from the crowds of the city.
Handunugoda Tea Plantation
Next stop was this awesome tea plantation. We were greeted by Xavier who happily showed us around the tea plantation which covers over 75 acres. He explained how and when the leafs are picked and then what happens to them and how they are turned into the world’s favourite beverage. Xavier also pointed out plants, flowers and trees and proudly told us that this tea plantation produces the famous Virgin White Tea which is a tea that has not been touched by the human had and is shipped all over the world, particularly Paris and costs a lot more than black tea. After a quick walk through the factory/museum which contains the machines for turning the leafs into the finished article we spent time in the shop where we could taste over 20 different flavours and types of tea, as a massive tea drinker I was in heaven and of course I bought some to enjoy back home.
Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project
The project was established in 1998. The main aim of the project is to monitor local sea turtle activity and conserve the local nesting sites. Here you can see many sea turtles some of which have been injured and are unable to survive on their on in the wild. There is also a hatchery which is one of the main activities the project focusses on. Eggs are rescued before predators get the chance to eat to destroy them. This ensures that more baby sea turtles survive and make it back to the sea which is crucial to the survival of the species. The entrance fee is around £2.50. We spent around 30 minutes here as by this point we had to ensure we left enough time to get to the train station for our return journey to Aluthgama.
On our way back to the train station our tuk tuk pointed out the stilt fishermen out in the sea doing their best to catch fish to sell. By all accounts you will only find stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka and even now they are a dying breed so we were lucky to catch them. We jumped off the tuk tuk and took some pictures. We were confronted for money straight away. Mr ESLT of course handed over some cash and said thanks. Then more money was demanded so we quickly hopped back on the tuk tuk and headed back to the train station.
We felt that the tuk tuk driver was dragging his heels towards the end of the afternoon and we had to keep reminding him that we had to be back at the train station by a certain time as we had to get the last train back. We found out that evening from other guest at our hotel that, that is a common trick – they don’t get you back to the train station on time so then offer to get their car to drive you back to your hotel as they know you have no other option to get back and then charge you the earth for the pleasure. Therefore keep an eye on your watch and keep reminding your driver that it is imperative that you catch the train. There are of course lots more interesting and fun things to do in Galle and I wish we had spent more time there. I especially would have liked to have visited Galle Fort so maybe you could factor in some time for that to. A lovely afternoon combining history, culture and wildlife which all in all cost us approximately £20 so a bargain to boot!