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A good pair of walking shoes and Galle is yours!

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: August 11, 2015 09:10 IST
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Down in the Indian Ocean, cricket turned out to be the great unifier and Archana Masih, only an intermittent fan, became its ambassador of sorts.

Inside the Tea Breeze cafe in Galle, the lad at the counter changes the channel to one showing the IPL as soon as we settle in; while by the emerald waters of the Unuwatuna beach, the cafe owner speaks about Kohli as I sip a tall glass of mango lassi.

In fact, India meets you often in Sri Lanka.

It begins just outside the airport, as Tata Nano taxis drive up to pick passengers. Maruti Altos and Swifts whizz past on the sleek Southern Expressway that links Colombo to Galle.

The tuk-tuks on the road are good old Hamara Bajaj. The quaint Galle railway station bears a plaque noting the Indian government's assistance in laying a railway track and then of course – there's always Bollywood...

'Chura ke dil mera' from Baazigar and an A R Rahman melody from Bombay wafts out of two cafes. Lucky, the shopkeeper of an artifacts store, speaks about Akshay Kumar in between hardselling masks for energy and happiness.

The conquest and success of India's soft power is there to see. Petar, a Serbian hotel manager chats about his year-long stay in Delhi's arty Hauz Khas village. While a European tea entrepreneur picks a can from an assortment of teas and makes you smell a prized selection of fine Darjeeling tea. This one has specks of bright purple leaves.

Then, of course, there are some traits -- apart from cricket, tea, curry, rice and Jacqueline Fernandez -- that unite us inhabitants of the Great Subcontinent.

Like when the compere at folk dance programme invites at least a dozen people on stage to light the ceremonial lamp in a show that was free and open to all.

In what seemed like a last minute idea, also asks for a foreign visitor in the audience to light the lamp.

A German readily obliges.

But it is the Dutch that have left their imprint in this southern tip of Sri Lanka.

Inside the walls of the Galle fort, their legacy rests in the corridors, columns, slatted windows of houses and cafes; and in the entrance gate built in 1669 -- a most sought after spot for photographs by romancing couples.

You see them at different vantage points, surrounded with professional photographers, with tripods, lights, shades et al – getting themselves photographed in various poses.

One couple even had a drone camera hovering overhead, clicking their photos as they posed precariously on a rock surrounded by water. The boy then carried his beau to the water's edge so that her feet did not get wet.

Watching this over a cup of Sri Lankan tea and omelette (akin to our masala omelette) at the Tuk Tuk Cafe in the tastefully restored Dutch Hospital precinct housing cafés and shops with a fabulous view of the ocean, provided an unexpected but interesting breakfast interlude.

Down the corridor, at The Tuna and the Crab, the delicately flavoured fish with ginger rice was to become the best meal of the trip. The other was the ten-course Sri Lankan meal at the basic Lucky restaurant.

Run in the verandah of a home, the food was served by a friendly girl. In a country that abounds in pineapple, their sweet and sour pineapple curry was a revelation.

While we are on food, in the charming verandah of the Galle Fort hotel, with its rows of door-sized windows, lay the most delicious lychee-coconut sorbet.

Over delightful spoonfuls, watching the street outside was an idyllic way to spend an afternoon. On the next table, two girls played a game of checkers on their napkins.

They sipped their coffees; I licked the sorbet, jazz music played in the background, the street was quiet -- it was a perfect world.

A good pair of walking shoes is all you need to discover Galle Fort.

From its ramparts, to its two old churches, the lighthouse, clock tower and rows of cafes, hotels, shops and homes -- walking through its narrow lanes is a languid stroll in the past and very reminiscent of Fort Kochi.

There are some treasures that lie outside the fort walls too.

Hop into the readily available tuk tuks and ride outside the fort walls to the vintage Galle train station or the beaches nearby.

Buy a platform ticket and walk into the quaint station past the lovely wooden time table that must have hung there from colonial times.

Our friendly tuk tuk driver, who doubled up as a guide when he wanted to, also took us to what is the best vantage point to watch cricket in Galle -- the ramparts of the 350 year-old fort.

With a fort on one side and the ocean on the other, it is a superbly located cricket ground; while Galle is also where Lasith Malinga, one the Sri Lanka's most popular cricketing stars comes from.

Not surprisingly, few youngsters were spotted sporting the famous Malinga blonde locks!

With an array of colourful masks, artifacts, gem stones and tea, there is plenty to buy and take back home.

Batik prints, Buddha heads, spices, and elephants in various sizes.

In a shop with a closing down sale, I found some lovely white cups and saucers at half price.

And if you forget to buy something for your neighbour who has been watering your plants while you were away, there are enough stores at the airport for last minute gifts.

'We don't offer wi-fi. Talk to each other' -- the message written on a restaurant in Wijaya beach; the teller who remembered our name on our second trip to the bank; the librarian in the old Galle library speaking about the oldest book dating back to the 1800s -- were some of the gems that I carried back with me.

With all this in my bag, there was really no need to buy any of the precious stones Sri Lanka is famous for.

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Archana Masih / Rediff.com
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