UNESCO World Heritage Site

The remaining walls around Galle’s Fort

From the bliss of Tangalle it was a couple hours northwest along the coast to Galle (pronounced gawl, or something like that), the capital of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. Back in the day it was Portugal’s major port on the island and is still an important port for Sri Lankan trade. Perhaps just as important for today Galle has become something of an art center for the country; the day we arrived, in fact, was the closing day of some poetry festival.

Like so much of Sri Lanka, Galle bears signs of its long colonial experience, from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the English. The major stamp of that colonialism in Galle is the Fort, a World Heritage Site and the largest remaining fortress built by Europeans in all of Asia. The Fort was built on a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. Today it is full of boutique hotels and restaurants and art galleries and all those things that tourists love. For me the best part was that in 45 minutes or an hour you could walk along the ramparts and watch Sri Lanka – and plenty of Western tourists – pass by.

Colonial architecture in the Fort

I somehow had the sense that this was a beach destination but I quickly learned that wasn’t at all true; this is a town for art and hanging out. Unfortunately there wasn’t really a lot to do here. The architecture in the Fort was interesting and the whole area had a nice vibe to it, but that takes a couple hours to experience.

The good news was that the hotel where we were staying had a relationship with a resort a bit north of the main town where we could go for the day. A big pool and right on the coast. As with Tangalle it wasn’t a place to swim; the currents are too strong and dangerous. But for the hours between breakfast and late afternoon a perfectly pleasant place to lounge. And to our surprise and delight the poolside restaurant was exceptional, exceptionally rare for a place like that but a welcome exception.

Mark lazing out on the coast. Not the best beach in the world (or particularly close…) but pleasant enough.

One more stop in Sri Lanka – this time a place that should actually have a beach for swimming – and then we’re off to the Maldives. Now that’s exciting.

Notwithstanding all the tourism and emphasis on the arts, Galle is definitely still a working port. The good news for us is that the fish you get in restaurants is wonderfully fresh and pretty inexpensive.

And of course very much a Buddhist country

More of the walkable ramparts around the Fort

The grounds and a corner of what was a huge pool at the resort we retired to for the day. We thought it strange that they didn’t landscape the pool area at all, but with the loungers and umbrellas all oriented toward the sea that worked just fine for us, too.

Our first night we went to the bar first and then the restaurant at an Aman Hotel just up the street from ours. Aman is one of the most expensive, exclusive hotel brands and we’d read good things about the bar. Sadly, the bar you see here was lovely but certainly didn’t live up to my expectations. The martini was small, weak, and not very cold. Sad indeed.

Here we are walking around the lake in central Kandy. That’s the old royal palace, housing the Buddha’s sacred tooth, over Mark’s right shoulder.

From Colombo (sort of but not really the capital) we took a train up to Kandy, the last capital of Sri Lanka in the reign of the kings, i.e., before the British took over. The city is pretty much in the middle of the island, up amongst the hills of the Kandy plateau. Thus it’s a bit cooler up there and very pretty with lush green hills all around.

We rode up on the train, a beautiful ride that took a bit under three hours. Sadly, we were in 2nd Class as the presumably more comfortable 1st Class seats are all sold out long ahead of time. Always. In the world that I used to live in that would be a signal to add more 1st Class cars but apparently that logic doesn’t prevail here. To be fair, though, the 2nd Class car was perfectly pleasant (I still have fears of India in my brain) and at about $4.07 each it was quite the bargain.

Mark at the train station in Colombo, getting ready to board. The ride was beautiful but decidedly bumpy; there was no reading going on.

So far, at least, the glow of Sri Lanka hasn’t worn off. Kandy is centered around a very pretty lake that just begs to be walked around, again and again. The big site to see there is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, allegedly a tooth of the Buddha’s that was salvaged from his funeral pyre. Housed in the old royal palace, this is supposed to be one of the holiest places for Buddhists. Moreover, the belief grew that whoever had possession of the sacred relic was meant to rule over that land and for many centuries control of the relic has been a big deal. During the recent civil war that Tamil Tigers bombed the palace where it is held on multiple occasions but ultimately the relic was always saved.

It’s probably worth noting that if you Google “Buddha tooth relic” you will discover that there are a number of the Buddha’s teeth still allegedly in existence. Count me a skeptic even if UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site.

Inside the temple, where the holy, magnificent, sacred tooth supposedly rests

Mostly, then, this was just a wonderfully calm, gentle stop. Between walks around the lake and some nice hiking up in the 250-acre Royal Forest Park Udawattakele above the old royal palace a very pleasant place indeed. Food, sadly, isn’t Kandy’s strong suit but we did discover a Chinese restaurant run by a British/Chinese couple that had good food, good drinks, good prices, and a great view over the lake. Of course it was packed every night and we’d have to wait for sometimes a fair bit for a table to open. In the world where I used to live that would be a signal that someone should open something similar but alas, as with train seats, those market signals don’t seem to work so well here. As long as there’s one good restaurant, though, we’re good.

From here we’re off to the true highlands up in Ceylon tea land.

Hiking up in the Udawattakele Royal Reserve – quiet, clean, calm, and lovely

Ducks crossing Lake Kandy

A monk walking around Lake Kandy

Even the lizards like Lake Kandy. We were surprised by how big these little buggers are, but likely pretty harmless – they come up on land to rest in the sun after gorging themselves on whatever they eat in the lake.

Speaking of monks, I love the way this little monk’s red robe stands out in the sea of white

One more picture of Lake Kandy

And finally, what blog post would be complete without a shot of Mark’s feet enjoying our hotel pool?

High above the Blue City near the entrance to the fort. You can see a hint of the blue on the buildings below.

Apparently Rajasthan has a thing for cities of color. First we had Jaipur, the Pink City. Then Jaisalmer, the Golden City. Now we’re in Jodhpur, Rajasthan’s second-largest city, and it’s known as the Blue City because of all the blue buildings. At first we didn’t get that because we just weren’t seeing any noticeable blue at all. It wasn’t like Jaipur where the pink just wasn’t that pink; we went into the old city and didn’t see blue at all.

If you hang in there, though, and really start wandering back into the warrens of the old city, suddenly blueness starts happening. And then more blue. Blue everywhere! It was really pretty nice. The pictures here don’t really capture it, and to some degree it only became obvious when we were up in the fort and could look down on the city; then in the older parts it was a sea of blue, but still the pictures don’t capture it. Take our world for it though; Jodhpur is worthy of its nickname as the Blue City.

More blue, though this doesn’t really do justice to the blue-ness we eventually found

And just a little more blue

Of course, there can be a downside to wandering around the back warrens of the old city. Jodhpur, like everywhere we’ve been in India so far at least, feels perfectly safe from a crime point of view (ignore the traffic, for now, the purposes of this discussion): people are friendly, curious about us, and there are always lots of people around. At one point as we were walking toward the fort we were on a narrow, winding lane that was nice as there was no room for traffic. A dog started barking at us which was unusual, insofar as there are lots of dogs here and they’re all pretty chill. This one was decidedly unhappy about us, though, perhaps because there were puppies nearby, so we quickly went past and left her behind. Not sixty seconds further up, though, another mean dog started growling at us, this time in front of us. Wait – narrow lane, no exit, mean dog barking and baring her teeth in front, mean dog barking and baring her teeth behind. Yikes!

As should be obvious, we escaped. When no humans appeared to save us – I saw some at some point, they were mostly just curious – I picked up a big rock and pretty much just scared the dog in back (who seemed slightly less dangerous) away by threatening her with it. She didn’t know that I don’t have such good aim these days, but it worked. And then we were back on the trail up to the fort.

Mehran Fort, looming over Jodhpur

What is there to do in Jodhpur? Well, as is the case with these big, older Rajasthani cities, there’s a big old fort, the former home of the royal family. Turns out there is a reason UNESCO named these forts collectively a World Heritage Site; they’re fabulous. This one was huge, a long climb up, imposing, and beautiful. Now to be honest there’s not a lot to do at your fourth fort (or whatever it is), but even by the fourth one they’re fascinating. Huge doors, massive sandstone buildings, intricate carvings – they have it all.

It was a long climb up to the fort. We discovered as we were leaving that there was a parking lot much, much closer to the entrance. The funny thing is that at that entrance you had to pay a fee to get in. If you walk up it seemed to be free. Good exercise and saved $10!

One strange thing about Jodhpur: the near-absence of cows. I can’t say there weren’t any, but after all the cows we saw on the streets of Jaipur, Pushkar, and Jaisalmer at some point we realized, “Wow, there just are almost no cows here.” Which, to be honest, makes walking on the streets a little less stressful; you don’t have to pay quite so much attention to what you might be stepping in…

Another thing worth noting about Jodhpur is that we’re here at the right time of year. As we’ve experienced throughout the two-plus weeks in India the weather is delightful: decidedly cool in the morning; warm and sunny in the afternoon, cooling again in the evening. It’s not always like this, though; like much of Rajasthan Jodhpur sits in a big desert and is incredibly hot during the summer. From April through June, when the modest rainy season cools things down a little, the average high is over 100 degrees. Some days, of course, are measurably hotter than average; the record high for May is 128 degrees. That will kill you. So we’re glad to be here during the (comparatively) cold season.

This is what getting ready for a bike ride is all about – just being lazy at the pool

Besides seeing Jodhpur and the fort, the main reason we’re here is to get ready for a Grasshopper Adventure group for a bike tour of Rajasthan. For the record, “getting ready” consists mostly of just resting, buying some bike shorts, and … resting. The tour actually started two days ago in Delhi but we arranged to just meet the group here. Their day in Delhi was just a walking tour; we’ve seen enough of Delhi and weren’t eager to go back there just to take an overnight (Indian) train down here. So pretty much as soon as I click on Publish someone is picking us up to drive two hours north to where the riding starts. Then it’s nine days on the road through parts of Rajasthan we would otherwise never, ever see, before arriving in Udaipur. We’re pretty excited!

All of which means that posts here might be a bit sparse over the next 10 days: I’ll be tired after long rides, and when others are selecting our lodging, particularly in the small places we bike through, Internet access may not be what we’d like. Stand by, then, and we’ll be back eventually.

Our hotel – a little local boutique place – had good food and great doors

Speaking of doors, this is one of the main doors at the fort that would be closed to outsiders. The big spikes on the door, one of which I’m holding, are to keep elephants from head-butting their way in.

More buildings at the fort

An entrance to the fort

The view over the city from the fort

And one last view

There was more to Jodhpur than just the fort. Here is mark in one of the main markets near the old city.

If Michigan has the world’s best tomatoes, Rajasthan has the world’s best carrots. We’ve tasted them in a number of the dishes here and they’re just better than anything anywhere else.

Even when not blue, there was a certain beauty to Jodhpur

Lunch everyday was a beautiful place just a block or so from our hotel called On the Rocks. Hands down the best food we’ve had in India and in a very pleasant setting. Marred only when I discovered that they were hiding the currency conversion scam, so I’ll have to dispute all three bills with Visa. What a pain!

A pleasant lunch at On the Rocks (before I learned about the scam). Note the wine glass on the inverted saucer. That’s not just me being weird – the tables are made of some sort of wicker that’s entirely uneven so the restaurant uses the saucers as coasters to provide a more stable base. Never seen that before!

And Mark at dinner in the courtyard of our hotel. Lovely!