The beautiful Loire Valley, with its romantic chateaus, the flowing river and the picturesque countryside.
My chat with Juliet Coombe, author and an experiential guide to Galle got me very excited about exploring Galle Fort. Juliet is an Englishwoman who has made Sri Lanka her home; she, her husband, and his family are an inextricable part of Galle Fort’s history.
Juliet recommended Shanjei to walk us around the fort and that was a great introduction to the place. We started at the beautiful Amangalla hotel, the grand old dame of Galle Fort. It was originally built as a residence for the Dutch governor and then became the New Oriental Hotel, which was locally run before it morphed into the ultra-luxurious Amangalla. The National Museum, which has exhibits of masks, Dutch furniture, weaponry, and lace, adjoins the hotel and is worth a quick look.
We met Shanjei under the shade of the beautiful tree in the car park of the Aman and started our exploration of Galle Fort. It was a step back in time as we walked up to the stone clock tower on the front ramparts of the fort.
The Galle Fort is a perfectly preserved piece of colonial history and dates back to the 1600s with Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. The main entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage site is through the gate created by the British. Walking along the ramparts from the clock tower above the entrance, out towards the sea, you get a bird’s eye view of the cricket stadium. I can totally lie back on the ramparts watching a cricket match and sipping some cold beer…
Looping back to Church Street, we again pass the tree we started from and step into the Dutch-reformed church, or the Groote Kerk, which is oldest Protestant church in Sri Lanka. The interior of the church has elaborate carved stones dedicated to families that lived and died in the area.
At the entrance to the church was a man, draped with frocks, table linen, and bed-covers – all in pristine, white Dutch lace. Of course, I could not resist buying a souvenir piece.
We wandered on and came to the National Maritime Museum – a stunning and very long yellow building housing some maritime bric-a-brac; you can give this a miss and move on to the Court Square.
In the eastern corner of the square is a government building, Aker Sloot, originally built by the Dutch and right there is the breadfruit tree – the first of its kind introduced by the Dutch into Sri Lanka. The court square is large and shady, and the perfect place for a lounge and a chat.
Leading off from the court square is Hospital Street with buildings painted a dazzling white. No hospitals here though – all the buildings are now high-end shops and restaurants.
One of my favourite things in Galle Fort was the lighthouse at Point Utrecht Bastion. We stepped up to the top of the rampart wall leading off the lighthouse and walked along the grassy embankment, looking out to the sea and feeling a lovely cool breeze coming. Diagonally opposite the lighthouse is another interesting building – the Meeran Jumma mosque.
At the end of the rampart, on top of the promontory, Shanjei introduced us to the famous Cliff jumpers. These are five young men who have, from the time they were teenagers, been doing an act of sheer dare devilry – jumping off and free-flying from the walls of the fort into the dangerously shallow, rock-strewn waters below.
Enthralled, I asked one of them if he would jump for us. They charge a small amount which I was more than happy to pay. His golden-streaked hair flying in the wind, he peeled off his shirt and got ready. He spread his arms and took off into the air from the edge of the fort wall and, almost flying, plunged down the rocky wall about 40 feet into the water. My heart stopped…. And a few seconds later, he emerged from the ocean to a round of applause and cheers. He then climbed on to some lower rocks nearby for two more jumps. As if that were not enough, he climbed barefoot on the vertical wall, back to the very spot he started from! I was simply awestruck at his death-defying, free-style I-am-a-bird-and-I-can-fly act.
After that mind blowing experience, we traced our way back on Leyn Baan Street looking at the quirky mansions and the shops full of knick-knacks, and finally made a way to Pedlar Street for a well-earned rest and a bit of food and drink at Poonie’s Kitchen.
This is tucked away behind a boutique and set around a koi pond. A thambili or king coconut on a hot day was the perfect start. The food was fresh and wholesome. They only accept cash so just make sure you have enough when you decide to visit Galle Fort.
The Fort has many characters and many stories- museums and monuments, spice traders and lace weavers, quaint shops with Keep Calm and Curry On aprons and atmospheric mansions and hotels.
Yes, Galle’s got it all.
I have found time to travel to many countries and live in 2 countries (3 if Scotland ever does becomes one!) and 6 cities during my career in finance. I was a diplomat first and started in the Indian Foreign Service with my first posting being Paris – The City of Light. And began my lifelong love of travel and coffee there! An MBA followed and I’ve been in finance since.