After our short stay in Galle it was time to move further south to the beach resort of Mirissa. We could have taken the train, but instead negotiated a good price with a Tuk Tuk driver for the 32km journey to Mirissa. Our driver was a very nice man, spoke good English, he carefully stowed our two wheeled holdalls in the back, and we were off. Surprisingly “being in a Tuk Tuk, probably because it was brand new”. the journey down was easy, nice and scenic too, as the route down hugs the coastline. We arrived at our lodging Celestial Inn, a nice place, very quiet located down a small lane away from the busy main road. After we dropped our bags it was time to go off and explore the much publicised beach. Once there we both agreed it wasn’t for us, the beach was lined with beach bars, and was very crowded. I have to add the beach itself is nice, it just had too many people on it. So we settled down in the quietest place we could find, grabbed an expensive cold beer and formulated our next move. As the sun went down all the beach bars brought in there sun beds and replaced them with tables ready for evening dinner crowd. We did eat on the beach that night and we did enjoy our meal, but a nice serene evening with just a few people around you it was not as the beach was crowded. Before we cancelled all our hotels we were going to stay four nights here. We were really glad we had changed our plans. After our first evening we were quite prepared to leave the next day, but decided to stay another night and go into Weligama to get some well needed supplies. Decided to take the bus into Weligama. Now let me tell you the local bus drivers in India and Sri Lanka are completely off there head, they drive so fast, “in fact like lunatics”, spend most of there time on the wrong side of the road, overtake on blind bends and don’t even wait as you try to get on, but thankfully we arrived in one piece. Weligama town itself is pretty nondescript, and busy, also the beach is very scruffy indeed and strewn with litter. Needless to say we did not stay long. So we got our supplies and headed back on the bus for another hair raising journey. Had an evening meal away from the crowds on the beach and went back to our lodging. All in all Mirissa was a let down.Let’s hope Talalla beach bodes better.
It was time to leave Bentota behind and take the train to Galle. The train journey from Bentota to Galle takes around 50 minutes. As the train line hugs the coast for most of the way you will be treated to some stunning view of the coastline. The only downside to the train is that it gets extremely busy and you cannot reserve a seat. When the train arrived it was packed, no seats and people standing in the aisles, luckily for us we managed to stand in between the carriage doors, with the doors open, admiring the view. I felt sorry for the people who were standing in the aisles as they could not see a thing as there heads were above the windows.
When we did our research into Galle we decided that we was not going to stay in Galle town but in Galle Fort itself. Galle Fort was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese then extensively fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century and is a historical, archaeological and architectural heritage monument. There are many interesting sights to see in the Fort and if you have a copy of the Lonely Planet there is a really good walking tour. Some interesting buildings of interest are the All Saints Anglian Church built between 1868-1871 and would not look out of place in an English Village Old Lloyd’s Shipping Office with its well preserved ship arrivals board. The Dutch hospital which was once filled with victims of the plague. Ironically now it’s home to many upmarket restaurants. The Clock Tower built in 1882, who’s clock mechanism was built by the British is said to show the correct time even today. When we looked it was three hours out. “That’s why the Swiss make watches now” Also what’s nice about the Fort is you can walk all the way around the walls, which afford great views over the city and the bay. Staying in the Fort is a little more expensive than outside but it’s worth it. We found a great place called Villa Amilisa, it was in a great location and a very good price considering the other hotels. Originally we had only planned to stay one night but we liked the Fort so much we stayed for two. Which turned out to be a good thing as we met a really great couple Don & Marilyn from Canada. Spent a great evening with them and will definitely stay in touch
When we were India their were a few occasions that we found that we wished we had booked for longer and a few that we could have stayed for less, and although we had booked most of our accommodation through Booking.com and could cancel quite close to our arrival date, once we were there we could not alter our dates, and quite frankly some accommodation we would not have stayed at all. “Photos and descriptions do lie”. When we was in Pondicherry and were having hotel problems, and the fact it was getting late and needed somewhere to stay we booked one hotel on Booking.com for one night costing £71 per night. We ended up staying at the same hotel and got a far better rate than Booking.com £41 per night “that’s not our normal budget, but White Town Pondicherry is expensive”. So when we arrived in Sri Lanka and was told that it is quite for tourists, we took the plunge and cancelled all of our accommodation and just decided to go with the flow. I have to say, so far it’s worked out brilliantly.
After our flight from Chennai we arrived in Sri Lanka. As we had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and the journey to our transit hotel where we were just going to to get a few hours sleep was very short. We did not get any indication of what Sri Lanka was going to be like, the only thing that I noticed immediately was how much calmer the driving was. I thought that this was due to the fact it was 02:30 am, and everyone was asleep.
On our journey to the bus station to get the bus to Bentota it was quite clear to the fact that Sri Lanka was going to be nothing like India. As on the way was immediately evident that it was going to be much calmer “driving wise”, the streets were so much cleaner, and everything seemed so much more sedate. Straight away we knew we were going to love Sri Lanka. Our journey from Negombo to Colombo took around an hour, “but not without its problems. See below”, the second leg of the journey was around two and a half hours for a distance of just 70 miles because of heavy traffic. Total journey price £6;30 Taxi would have cost upward of £30.
Bus scam beware
We were taken to the bus station by Shaun who was the manager of the Transit Inn where we stayed for our first night. He told us that the fare to Colombo would be 130 lkr £0.59. We had three seats, one for our luggage. So our total fare for the journey would be 330 lkr. On arriving at the bus station in Colombo the conductor of the bus wanted 800 lkr, two seats for us a seat for each of our bags “both bags were on one seat” and 400 lkr for the toll which was the toll fare for the whole bus. “We noticed the fee at the toll booth”. Needless to say even though he wasn’t happy we said no and just gave him the correct fare. The next leg of our journey to Bentota went much smoother the conductor was very helpful and he didn’t try to scam us.
I’m sure if you looked at Bentota in the glossy brochures you will find endless high end faceless hotels, so for some this may well put you off visiting, but if you cross the bridge heading south out of town and head for the beach you will find, what seemed to us like miles of unspoilt immaculately clean white sand beaches. Our choice of homestay was Villa Lalita, a really lovely home stay, great value and amazing hosts. Villa Lalita is in Pitaramba Road, which is turning on the right, over the bridge heading south. There are plenty of other home stays to choose from down this road. Our homestay was just a 5 minute walk to an amazing beach, that you will almost have all to yourself. We possibly counted fifty or so people in like I said what seemed like miles of beach. We didn’t do much else in Bentota except soak up the sun, as we needed a rest after our busy schedule in India.
Restaurants in Bentota . Pier 88, which is in Bentota town itself, they served good food. Good location on the river. Happy Fish “although if you chose a fish dish the fish would not be too happy”. Located just across the bridge heading into town, another one with river views. Finally the Golden Grill which I can also recommend. “Just don’t order a bottle of Sri Lankan wine, it’s appalling”.
Über and Ola Cabs appear not to be available in Sri Lanka, but another useful app I found was PickMe which does work, but not in all areas.
Next stop Galle Fort.
After a relatively short journey from Pondicherry we reached the last stop on our India adventure, Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is situated on the coast in the Bay of Bengal. It is quite a tourist haunt for many locals “especially at weekends” as well as international visitors. The main area of the town is called fisherman’s colony . Which consists of one main street leading down to the sea. Here you will find plenty of shops restaurants and gift shops. Like I said quite a tourist trap. There are some interesting sights to see here, like The Shore Temple. The Shore Temple is sited on a small peninsula of land overlooking the Bay of Bengal. The Pancha Rathas or Five Rathas. Are five temples shaped like chariots, each carved out of a single piece of stone, which date back to the seventh century. Krishna’s Butterball is a huge rock measuring some 6 metres tall and 5 metres wide and weighs some 250 tons. It precariously sits on a slope and looks like it can roll down at any minute. In 1908 the then governor of the town Arthur Havelock tried to move the stone because of health and safety reasons, with five elephants, but had no success, quite amazing really. Arjunas Penance, also know as The Decent of the Ganges, is a huge rock carving, measuring 29 metres long and 13 metres tall. Legend says that it is the decent of the Ganges from heaven to earth. Another must visit is Crocodile Bank Trust, which is a few kilometres from Mahabalipuram. Now when it comes to visiting places which involves animals we are very choosy indeed, as there are so many places purporting to be “Sanctuary’s, Conservationists, Rehabilitation centres,which are no more than a glorified tourist trap where they treat the animals badly just to make a lot of money. So we did our research and from what we had read we decided to visit. Crocodile Bank Trust was formed in 1976 by Rom and Zai Whitaker with the goal of protecting the three species of Indian crocodile, the Mugger, Saltwater crocodile and the rarest the Gharial. As by the 1970’s Indian crocodile population was on the brink of extinction. We both really did not realise how many species of crocodiles there were. Today Crocodile Bank has 17 species and has an excellent program of introducing them back into the wild. Entrance fee is just 50 rupees and is open Tuesday to Sunday 09:00 until 17:00
That’s the good side of Mahabalipuram the down side is the beach where all the fishing boats are situated at the end of the main street, is quite frankly filthy rubbish strewn everywhere, from discarded fishing nets, plastic bottles dog and cow excrement not a nice place to walk at all, but if it’s a nice part of the beach you are looking for just walk along the beach away from town past the large Raddison resort for about a mile or so where the beach is much better. There are no sun beds or beach shacks selling drinks food so you will have to take your own towel if you want to sunbath. All that said it is still a very nice place to visit.
On a sad note, during our walk along the beach we witnessed maybe six quiet large sea turtle carcasses. One looked quite recently deceased. We saw no evidence of there demise but I would not be surprised if their deaths were caused either by being caught in a discarded fishing net, or they had eaten some form of plastic. As quite often they think a floating plastic bag is a jelly fish which they eat. I spoke to the owner of our accommodation and he said that this seems to occur the same time each year. Whatever the reason it was a sad sight.
I feel I have to make a special mention about our accommodation The Blue Moon Guest House. Blue Moon is situated a couple of streets away from the main street in a nice quiet location. “I can recommend the room at the very top as it has views over the ocean”. The owner Saravanan is so nice, very helpful and speaks very good English.Blue Moon has basic good clean rooms and serves a good breakfast. So give them a look if you are in the area.
We only ate at two restaurants during our stay. One was Nautilus, the other was Vinodhara Guest House both served good food.
After leaving Kumbakonam our next stop on our trip was the town of Pondicherry. This small town was the largest French colony in India, and was so right up to 1954. The French influence is still very much in evidence, the architecture, French street names, bakery’s and French speaking Indians. Pondicherry has three different areas. There is the heritage quarter, white town and the new town which is basically like stepping back into India. Our stay in Pondicherry did not start too well. On arrival we had problems with accommodation, one was nothing like as described, another after booking online told us on arrival that they had no rooms available. When I showed them our booking reference, we was informed that it was a computer error,and I was plagued by ” what I can honestly say” was the worst cough I have ever had and was feeling quite ill. Not a good start. So it was good that we had a full seven days stay in the town so I had time to recover. Once we finally got the accommodation settled it was time to enjoy Pondicherry “in between coughing fits that is”. Over the first few days of our stay, we discovered that we had arrived during an Indian festival called Pongal. It is a four day harvest festival dedicated to the different Gods to promote a good crop growing season. What is really nice about it is that many of the locals create intricate designed drawings (mandalas) on the pavements, created with many different coloured powders. A truly amazing sight. In Pondicherry there isn’t many notable sights to see, but that is not to say it isn’t a very nice place to spend some time. It is far removed from main stream Indian, and was a little bit of calm and serenity after our very busy previous few weeks.
So our week consisted of taking walks along the promenade with its nice refreshing breeze, to visiting some of the many good restaurants in the area. Notable sights are the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, also the Pondicherry Museum, which is housed in a very beautiful ornate building. A bit further out of town if you want to venture further is Auroville “which we did not visit”, but it’s described as a township devoted to an experiment in human unity community. It was founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa who is also known as “Mother”
Restaurants & Eateries
Le Chateau I can highly recommend the restaurant in the hotel where we stayed. Le Chateau, the food is excellent, staff are first class. Also the kitchen is housed behind a glass wall where you can see the chefs preparing and cooking the food.
Cafe del Flora A great place to just chill and relax. The cafe is owned and run bu a nice French guy, and serves baguettes, quiches and various other delights and good coffee.
Sicily’s Another nice place right on the seafront, serving great coffee, delicious cakes and really good pizza.
Not a lot else to say about Pondicherry except if you are touring southern India it’s a nice place to stay. Next stop Mahabalipuram.