Sri Lanka v England Cricket Tour 2012
Des Newton - Howzat Travel's Tour Director for our upcoming tour to Sri Lanka - visited the 'the pearl of the Indian Ocean' in August and presents his findings to you in this report.
For those people already booked on the tour, this will give you a taste of what to expect. For those who are still thinking about it, hopefully this will whet your appetite!
- Des Newton - Howzat Travel Sri Lanka Tour Director
Part One - Sri Lanka Destination Guide
Click map to enlarge
The Castle, built by the Dutch East India Company, dominates the lovely seaside town of Galle. It would interest many, during a lunch break at a test match maybe, to take a half hour tuk-tuk excursion through the vast grounds and buildings of the castle to experience a glimpse of life in the 17th century and see young boys diving off the walls into the sea far below for a few pennies.
The town itself is busy with 100,000 occupants and the central business district heaves with action. St Mary's Cathedral dominates the streets and it is home to the impressive National Maritime Museum.
The best road is the one out of it which takes you to the Lighthouse Hotel, which escaped any serious tsunami damage as it has a front like the point of a ships bow which was facing the wave so cut through it like a battleship. I think it saw it coming as it had a bright light looking out over the sea.
Galle International Cricket Ground
Of course, Galle is home to the Galle International Cricket Ground, which has a special feel about it with all sorts of emotions spilling forth after it was devastated by the Tsunami. It has now been resurrected to an improved standard and the people are proud of their new field - one of the most scenic grounds in world cricket.
With the imposing Dutch East India Company Fort and its clock tower dominating one side while opposite only a street separates the field from the busy main trading centre of Galle and with the Indian Ocean visible from both ends, it is a fascinating cultural place to watch cricket.
It exudes an endearing mixture of a countrified and a seaside ground with a laid-back atmosphere cloaking the fierce battle that is raging on the pitch. In the past it has always been a successful haunt for spin bowlers with Shane Warne taking his 500th test wicket there and, very predictably, Muttiah Muralitharan having repeated success; Australian debutant spinner Nathan Lyon and Sri Lankan Rangana Herath were both among the wickets during the most recent test to be staged there so all eyes will be on England's Graeme Swann, although there was also help for the seamers during this match with Ryan Harris, Shane Watson and Suranga Lakmal all being successful.
There are no huge stands, the few that are there are only two tiered, but most of the people are accommodated under tent-like canopies for shade with plenty of circulation to keep cool. On the open embankments you can see many interested onlookers with their shopping bags, peering through the fences from the outside to catch a glimpse of the action; this gives one a feeling that it is really a ground that belongs to everyone here and that the people love their cricket. It’s all quite informal.
Known by the locals as 'Hikka', this town was one of the original seaside spots long before any tourists arrived. It is known for its surfing and coral snorkelling. You can also take a glass-bottomed boat out to the reef to see the colourful little fishes if you don't want to get your feet wet and there is a turtle hatchery nearby which gets great reviews.
After the tsunami, a lot of sewing machines were donated to these good folk so a spin-off of this is that many tailors can now make custom fitted shirts, shorts, trousers skirts and more for you at rock bottom prices.
There is probably more night-life here than anywhere on the coast from Colombo 99 kilometres away. We went to a good restaurant called 'Refresh' on the beachfront and had some excellent food washed done with good wine.
There are some 'nightclubs' around but I did not sample them.
The distance from Hikkaduwa to Galle is 13 miles. It will take about 20-25 minutes to get to and from the cricket in Galle, taking the beautiful coastal road.
This is merely a rural area and is a few kilometres south of the nearest village, Bentota. A short tuk-tuk ride will get you to the watersports and river cruise offered on Bentota, but again, the hotels here are where the action is.
Ahungalla is located 26 miles up the coast from Galle. Your transfer to Galle for the cricket each day will be along the beautiful coastal road - with amazing views of the pristine beaches - and will take about 35-40 minutes.
This village has a big river - the Bentota River- very close to our hotels and it is probably the home of the leisure industry on this coastline. Within easy walking distance we have access to the SRP Watersports Centre which offers water skiing, wake-boarding, snorkelling, canoeing, jet skiing, banana tube riding, tube riding and a river safari (about three hours seeing birds, iguanas etc) all at very good rates. Click the price list to the right to see the array of activities of offer.
On the riverbank, one may get a meal and a drink at a restaurant I noticed. Our hotels (and the adjacent ones next to us on the beach where non residents are welcome) arewhere the action is.
The distance from Bentota to Galle is 34 miles down the coast. Transfer times to the cricket in Galle will be about one hour along the newly-constructed Southern Expressway.
Beruwala is a small fishing village. The only entertainment to be found here is in Bentota about seven kilometers away. However, the hotels are excellent, so you would probably not want to venture out anyway.
Beruwala is loacted 39 miles up the coast from from Galle. Transfers to the cricket each day will be on the newly-contructed Southern Expressway and will take up to one hour 15 minutes.
One crosses the bridge over the Kalu Ganga river to be greeted by the magnificent sight of the Gangatilaka Vihara Buddhist Temple displaying a row of yellow boxes on the side of the road. It may take a few minutes to pass as people stop their cars to put small change into these boxes for the benefit of the monks. A few years ago the country was running short of change and couldn’t work out why, until they discovered a veritable mountain of money in the temple safe taken out of circulation.
This little village is renowned for its cane and wickerwork and one can see the little shops on the roadside sporting their goods. The main industry is fishing and the hotels offer the only restaurants/bars as the town does not seem to have caught on to the idea of dining out yet. Shopping may be an option but it is very informal.
The distance from Kaultara to Galle is 46 miles. Transfer times to the cricket in Galle will be up to one hour 20 minutes along the newly-constructed Southern Expressway.
The population of Colombo numbers about 700,000 and it is the commercial capital of this land. It has a long history of seafarers calling on it through the ages and is by far the main port for sea trade. When browsing through the city you are struck by the informal traffic rules which call for tolerance of which there seems an abundance as there is a distinct lack of road rage. The buildings display an era of bygone grand architecture mixed in with modern buildings and run-down, dilapidated structures with beautiful temples, monuments, lakes and open markets to add to the potpourri of styles.
As in all of Sri Lanka, don't get too excited when seeing signs that advertise 'Bars', 'Pubs' or 'Beers' as they are very threadbare with chairs and basic tables in dingy surroundings. However, the more adventurous may wander in and find great value for money. Lion Lager is the locally famous beer and Arak (distilled from Palm sap) with a mixer (soda) the most popular short drink. The beer costs about one pound for 650 ml. The good pubs are mainly in the hotels.
The city is a good place to shop. Many famous western brands of clothing are made here and are available at bargain prices. If you get carried away they will offer to ship your purchases home for your convenience. Some of the more well known complexes like Odel, Fashion House, Paradise Place and Fashion Bug are a shopper’s delight. Sapphires and rubies are known to be obtained at bargain prices too.
There are various restaurants like the Bavarian for good steak, the Beach Wadiya for fresh sea food – authentically local not on the tourist map – and the Shanmugas, famous for its Indian cuisine, but I must point you to 34 Queens Street. Here you will find The Cricket Club restaurant. It is a house that has been converted into a pub restaurant with cricket memorabilia covering most of its walls and a great vibe. It even has a signpost in the garden pointing, with the mileage, to most of the famous cricket grounds in the world.
On the opposite corner one finds the Gallery Café. This could well be one of the top restaurants in the city. It has an artistic theme with paintings on the walls and has a big al fresco section serving great cuisine in aesthetic surroundings. But, outside of these, like the pubs, the best restaurants can be found in the hotels.
Colombo has interesting city tours; you can experience visits to the Malay quarter, the Colombo 7 Cinnamon garden area, which is the Beverley Hills of the city where most of the foreign embassies are positioned, the very arty Arts and Drama Building, Buddhist Temples, Independence Square The Sinhalese Sports Club, the Splendid Colombo Museum and the new Parliament Buildings which are surrounded by a lake with tight security.
Note: It must be a great place for folk from the north of England to visit as it is twinned as a city with Leeds! Hope this is a good thing.
The imaginative forces of nature must have enjoyed creating this masterpiece of beautiful hills and mountains covered in forests looking down on rivers meandering their lazy way through this Garden of Eden.
It is now filled with humanity and buildings and traffic, but still holds it beautiful head up high. The lake, the magnificent Royal Botanical gardens (Earl Mountbatten had his headquarters there in World War Two), the legendary Temple of the Tooth (imagine 50 elephants taking part in a procession from there once a year), the culture Home of the last Kings in Sri Lanka and long history combine to give this city its own special character.