There is a place in Sri Lanka which surprised me more than anyone else. I’m talking about Galle, a small town in the south-western part of the island.
The fact that this was the last stop in my journey in Sri Lanka has definitely affected my judgement. For 15 days I lived, saw and breathed Sri Lanka, its history, its culture, the ways of life of its inhabitants, the chaos of its towns and the remoteness of the hills and the mountains. Then I arrived in Galle and I felt like I crossed the boundaries of Sri Lanka.
The first impression was like being lost in a new world and this is due in the to the unique look of Galle, so different from everything else I had seen so far, and to its character and the feelings it was able to offer me.
The moment I stepped out of the car I started walking the small alleys of the historic centre and all around me I found a colonial town of Central America, the very opposite of the Asian cities I had visited so far. The confusion and the mess of other places in Sri Lanka ñ so close to nearby India ñ in Galle leave room to quiet and order. The pedestrian roads, the Dutch colonial buildings, the many little shop, the elegant restaurants, the yoga and meditation centres and the orderly market make you forget where you really are.
But how can the same island host such a different town? The answer lies in Galle’s history. In the XVI century the town gained strategic relevance when a Portuguese fleet, taking a wrong route, arrived on its coast, decided to settle here and built a fort.
Although the Portuguese settlers improved the defences with walls and bastions, they couldn’t stop the attack of the Dutch fleet who overwhelmed their enemies and conquered Galle, making it the most important port in Sri Lanka, later declassified to second one only by the capital Colombo. In 1663 the Dutch army rebuilt the fort they took down and they did such a good job that the walls are still standing nowadays.
It is its past of colonizations that shaped Galle. Taking a walk you may enjoy getting lost in the internal streets of the Fort of Galle ñ an UNESCO heritage ñ and you will be surprised by the architectural marvels including buildings, churches, mosques and temples. Once you enjoyed the liveliness of the internal streets, I suggest you take a relaxing walk on the bastions which will allow you to have a wonderful sight over the sea. At the top of the eastern part of the walls there is am 18-metre high lighthouse built in 1938.
I bitterly regretted having spent only half a day in this town since ñ although a time enough to see the major highlights ñ it was not enough to grasp fully the spirit of this place.
I am going to add one last. It doesn’t concern directly Galle, but the road connecting it with Mirissa. Close to Koggala you will easily spot the well renown fishermen on poles, a very characteristic sight of Sri Lanka. When I saw them from my window I had my driver to stop, but when I got closer all my enthusiasm vanished: it’s just another trap for tourists.
The fishermen are using fake rods with plastic fishes attached to them. And when I took a few pictures a man approached me and pretended money for my photos.
Who knows, maybe someone else found the real thing somewhere in Sri Lanka, but so far I never had about such an encounter from any other traveller.