A Closer Look At Galle Fort
Text by and Pictures Gazala Anver
The Galle Fort looks best in black and white. Why? Because time seems to be at a standstill here. But that’s not entirely true, there have been and there are developments taking place, yet the enchantment remains. This was not my first visit to the Fort, nor will it be my last, but it seems as if there is something new to see every time I go, even if it is to return to the same places, like the lighthouse and the ramparts nearby.
Galle is dead at 6:30a.m. There isn’t a single shop open but the Fort beckons from the distance, history calling out to you. It is a perfect day, at least to me, overcast and gloomy, the fragrance of rain and grass carried by the wind. Inside, a few school children can be seen and joggers make the best of the cool morning air. I said it before and I will say it again, the Galle Fort looks best in black and white. Overhead, dark clouds swirled, the wind picked up and I decided to explore. Walking past the Dutch Church, past the tall twisting trees, I followed a route that took me through a once closed gate, through a tunnel and into a grassy area overlooking the entrance and the clock tower. Wary of the numerous snails clumped together, I stood outside the fort, on the green, looking up at the tall formidable walls that endured while all around, the world changed.
Following the jogger’s path to another green precipice, I finally made my way down Church Street. The Maritime Museum is a must see. At this time of the morning however it was closed, but my previous visit took me to a rather creatively designed interior, the skeleton of a whale overhead. Past the churches, which too were closed, and down the cobbled streets of the Fort to, inevitably, the lighthouse and the ramparts. On the way I was pleasantly surprised by the chant of prayers by Muslim boys in an Arabic school.
The wind almost blew me off at the ramparts, but I held on, watching as, to my surprise a tourist walking on the shore below. This was new to me. I decided to do a bit of digging around and finally came to a broken stairway leading to a the beach. The waters were clear and shallow, I could see my feet through them and the beach was coral washed and deserted. That was only because I came early. When I returned in the noon, to my dismay I discovered rather shady characters taking a swim. That pretty much put an end to my plans to hit the beach.
It was around 8:30a.m. when Galle Fort awoke from its slumber, there were more people milling around: tourists, garbage collectors, locals living within the Fort, students and teachers and even construction workers. The church was finally open: the stained glass windows a spectacle. Of course, the caretaker mumbled under his breath about a donation, but as I later discovered, it would be best to keep your wallet hidden. The church was resplendent and it was clear that the Galle Fort is home to a mix of ethnicities, with mosques, temples and churches within.
I returned for lunch and had my first taste of what a tourist feels like. I was dogged by a tour guide who followed me around and asked for a fee for following me around. I was tailed by a lecherous beach boy and most infuriatingly, when I asked for information from a trishaw driver, I saw him wink at the tour guide and try to take me goodness knows where.
History aside, the Fort could do with a little cleaning up. The heritage site was plagued by posters of politicians contesting for the upcoming Municipal Council elections: the law makers are inevitably the law breakers. There was garbage dumped every few paces, including in some of the really old buildings. Traffic within the Fort is an absolute nightmare. The narrow quaint streets were meant for walking, and part of the charm is lost from within the steely confines of a vehicle.
Lunch was a bit of an affair. I walked around and was discouraged by the price tag in most places, but I finally settled for a cafe that served pretty good biriyani and fresh fruit juice. The Fort is most definitely not a place to go to if you want a budget lunch, but for a decent Rs. 800 you might find something filling. A must try is some of Mrs. Ameena’s home made chutneys and accharus which you can buy from her house on Leyn Baan Street.
There is quite a bit of Fort I still have to explore, I discovered towards the end. It’s a place you could let your imagination and your feet roam, take a stop at the top of the ramparts, sit on some of the stone benches and watch the crows perform stunts midair while battling with the strong wind, the sea ahead and the wind drowning out all noise.
More old buildings are slowly being opened up now. For instance, the Governors’ house. Previously only a tree growing through the door could be seen, but now the stairs have been opened up. Although the gate to the house was locked up, it was quite exciting walking up the broken stairs and looking at the sprawling white house. Perhaps on my next visit it would be open to public.
The Fort, as I have said before, is a place you could keep visiting and never tire of. There are numerous little shops selling jewelry, antiques, food and a bit of history. The buildings themselves are monuments, and the place refreshing and peaceful.