On my visit to Sri Lanka I am regaled with alluring stories about the fortified town of Galle, from whispered tales of King Solomon’s ships sailing in, to breathless accounts of Sinbad the Sailor. Curiosity draws me to the southern tip of the country, 119km south of the capital Colombo, to find a magical place which more than lives up to its fabled reputation and UNESCO World Heritage title.
Historically, Galle was an international hub for Asian-European trading along the silk route. Grand ships the world over sailed into its bustling harbour, resplendent with goods to barter in exchange for the island’s precious gems, opulent pearls, exotic spices, and scented woods, leading Marco Polo to rhapsodise over Sri Lanka as “the finest island of its size in all the world”.
Galle, Sri Lanka Travel Guide:
Galle Fort Gallery
Just a few steps from the Gatsby-esque Galle Fort Hotel. The quaint exterior belies the film collector’s books and sought after posters hidden within. I am instantly transported to cinema’s halcyon days when gods and goddesses ruled the spot lit firmament. Highly coveted original Bollywood posters hang alongside a loin clothed John Travolta in ‘Staying Alive’, while repro prints from Sri Lanka’s advertising past lie next to post cards with a sultry Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Elephant Walk’, and ‘Tempestad en Ceilon’ emblazoned across them.
The Fort Printers
The Fort Printers captures my eye with the grandness of the ‘London’ embossed printing press stationed at its doorway. Originally an 18th Century mansion turned printers, it has since been renovated into a hotel comprising of five highly desirable suites, the interior perfectly balancing a harmonious blend of clean contemporary lines and meticulously picked antique pieces.
The Historical Mansion
A veritable Aladdin’s cave of dust covered antiquities. I find a magpie hoard of colonial artefacts. Rows on rows of glass cases are set under restored 17th Century teak beamed rooms, brimming with long stilled typewriters, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie / Dutch East India china and ancient sea faring equipment.
Behind its faded glamour Galle has quietly been rising back to prominence, with a growing influx of artistic, literary and bohemian British and Europeans settling on its seductive shores. Galle’s new found artistic renaissance has been instigated in no small part by the indefatigable energy and influential drive of British ex pat Geoffrey Dobbs. In between his very busy schedule, I was fortunate enough to speak with Geoffrey on his many endeavours.
Drawn to the splendid beauty, unrivalled history and charmed lifestyle of the southern coastline, Geoffrey was inspired in 2007 to launch the Galle Literary Festival. Attracting leading novelists such as Gore Vidal, Germaine Greer and Richard Dawkin to participate in discussions, readings and workshops, the festival attracts Sri Lankans and Europeans the country over to the attend. Since inception it has been listed in Harper’s Bazaar as one of the sixth most appealing literary festivals, and is widely credited for the boom in tourism for the area.
Geoffrey is also a leading supporter of the charitable foundation Adopt Sri Lanka established after the 2004 tsunami, with projects ranging from turtle conservation, a global school partnership and community swimming programmes.
This year the literary festival takes a sabbatical, with Geoffrey involved in organising Gourmet Galle, running from February through to early April 2013, highlighting the southern coast’s culinary delectations from Galle through to Tangalle. World class chefs such as David Thompson, Rick Stein and Skye Gyngell are taking part in cooking up street food, cocktails atop The Lighthouse, promenade concerts on Tabrobane Island in front of the Sri Lankan navy, matched by the startling spectacles of tuk tuk polo and fireball hockey.
Plans already abound for the following Galle Literary Festival, taking place in October 2014, with discussions underway to invite Aboriginal writers and artists to participate alongside prominent leading authors, as well as an exhibition on Sri Lanka’s most renowned and influential architect Geoffrey Bawa.
As dusk starts to fall I join families streaming in unison from their homes towards the fort walls. Festive bonhomie takes over as children strike up cricket matches, young lovers are silhouetted under umbrella canopies and the gentle lull of a ukulele drifts through the air, the player’s legs dangling nonchalantly over the precarious precipice. We are all joined together in expectation, viewing the horizon in cinemascope as the swollen sun blushes the skyline with coral hues, and then slowly melts into the Indian Ocean with a final magnificent sigh.
“Lose oneself in mystery and wonder while, like a wave lifting us into new seas, the history of the world develops around us”– Paul Theroux, The Tao Of Travel