The Call of Historical Galle

Galle sits pretty on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Getting there once you hit the expressway from Colombo, is under an hour’s drive. It’s a scenic ride of hills, palm trees, rubber trees, the occasional cow, quaint houses and sections of mountain cut through to yield; so that you could travel comfortably and (to me) quickly.
 
The Galle city centre is peppered with shops. Yet Galle has so much more to offer and it can be done in a day or better, two.: just opt for a Galle city tour by car, tuk tuk, even by bicycle.
 things to do in Galle, confident jump

Places to Stay in Galle

I stayed in a serviced apartments which was just a couple minutes from the expressway exit on reaching Galle. You don’t have a sea view but the apartment was clean, furnished and very comfortable - with a swimming pool and gym thrown in. Since I would be out for most part of the day, this suited me as I only just needed a place to crash.
 
And there are plenty of places to stay: from five star hotels to three star places. Walking down the little lanes of Dutch Fort Galle, you will also come across little bed and board places primly kept. An online search should give you a good idea of the options and prices - and do read the reviews before you decide.
 
To travel to Galle Fort, I opted for a tuk-tuk with a metre, to avoid wrangling over prices: I just paid what appeared on the metre. This is the best way to get about in Galle unless you have your transport sorted.
 
Places to stay in Galle
 

The Galle Ramparts

I drive into Galle Fort. The curved entrances of the Old Gate have these intricately carved British coat of arms, symbolic of a bygone era.
I head for the Galle Ramparts first. There is something mesmerising about this place, first built by the Portuguese in 1588. The foresight to build this Fort at such a strategic location was obviously appreciated by the Dutch and British who came later. But I am here for the landscape and to lap up the generous view of the Indian Ocean. The Galle Lighthouse catches your attention first, when you reach the ramparts. Walking past the lighthouse along the rampart, I head straight to the southernmost end of the fort; Flag Rock. Approaching ships were warned of dangerous rocks from here – hence its name.
 
Part of its stony wall still exists and provides seating for those who want to take selfies and group photos - it’s the signature photograph to take in Galle. It’s a nice spot to sit and also watch these guys who engage in daredevil jumping into the waters below (for a fee). It’s a front row seat to soak up a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean, which glistens and froths in the warm equatorial sun. But the glare and heat can get to you in Galle, so make sure you have a cap, shades and a bottle of water.
 
Heading back, I pass the ice cream truck and grab some juicy mango slices laced with a salty chilli powder from the vendor under the trees - drinks and food are always available here.
I walk to the century-old Meeran Mosque - opposite the lighthouse - a pristine white structure with stained glass. The main building is beautiful, with cool cement floors leading to an open layout for its worshippers. The mosque welcomes visitors to see the place and the trustees are happy to talk about the mosque’s history.
 
Galle fort, day excursions

Galle Fort

There are so many things to do in Galle. Within these walls are a handful of museums and I picked the National Museum which is housed in a 17th century Dutch building and requires an entrance ticket. I loved it. It is like being transported back in time: utensils people used, beautifully woven clothes people wore, knives and armour and even the currency used for trade.
 
And the Museum is almost next door to the Dutch Reformed Church. Rebuilt in 1750, this church features some interesting gravestones from the Dutch cemetery, which line the floor and walls of the church. There is also an organ which dates back to 1760.
 
Walking on, I make for the narrow cobblestone lanes with colonial style houses that make Galle Fort so distinct. But where to begin and end? Pedlar Street, Leyn Baan Street, Lighthouse Street...

 Places to eat in Galle

Places to Eat in Galle
You must indulge in Sri Lankan food here: seafood is abundant and the choice of prawn, lobster, fish are phenomenal and fresh in Galle city. It’s a fusion of Sri Lankan and other cuisines that makes it so delectable. At the Dutch Hospital is this trendy restaurant called ‘A Minute by Tuk Tuk’. Seated on the second floor with the sea around me, I tried the Sri Lankan prawn curry with roast ‘paan’ (a local bread that is so crunchy on the outside with a thin soft centre) accompanied by freshly squeezed papaya and lime juice. The portion was more than enough for me and the food was flavoursome. The ‘Rampart Hotel’ on Rampart Street, which serves a decent Sri Lankan cuisine seafood lunch, comes at a more reasonable price with a nice sea view. It isn’t a hip place but may go easier on your pocket.   And there are also many chic coffee shops and restaurants worth checking out too.
 
Do bear in mind, things can be generally more pricey within Galle Fort as opposed to just outside the walls - history does come with a price tag!
 
Nic Nacs & Souvenirs
There are many little boutiques which sell Sri Lankan gems, trinkets, batiks and vibrant handicrafts. I tend to slip into the curio shops that have quaint and startling bits of silver jewellery. There’s something so attractive about these charming shops in Galle Fort because you are bound to find a ring or a souvenir that you won’t find in the more commercialised stores, plus it is nice to have a souvenir from Galle Fort. But walk around and check a few shops before you settle for something as the prices can vary.
 Places to visit in Galle
Other Things to do in Galle
Another place I wanted to cross off on my bucket wish list for Galle, was Jungle Beach. It was just a 15 minute ride from Galle Fort, roughly 6kms. From the drop off point, I had to trek down the side of Rumassala mountain to reach this stretch of beach. It’s beautiful as there is no large shore as such; just the sheer drop of the mountain with dense jungle cover, and an expanse of relatively shallow water to wade and frolic in. Families, travellers, loners - are all here.  Huge boulders hug most of the shore where I sit for a while, before heading back to Galle Fort. This is a nice place to hang around, so you may want to bring something to drink and nibble, the trek down to the beach will leave you thirsty anyway.

 

On a Galle city tour, including a visit to the Handungoda Virgin White Tea Factory will give you the chance to taste numerous varieties of low country Ceylon Tea. There is also the unique garage (possibly the only one in the world) that makes Morris Minor chassis panels - which you should visit, especially if you are a car fan.

 

A catamaran ride on Koggala Lake is another nice thing to do on a Galle City tour. If you enjoy birdwatching you must not miss the lake. Marshlands surround this beautiful lake which is home to several species of birds, both endemic and migratory. The biodiversity here is a sharp contrast to the shores of Galle.  

 

Speaking of which, the fish market in Galle city is a hub of activity and a display of so many varieties of fish, that you may enjoy visiting in the morning hours.

 

There is also Galle’s Old Dutch Market which has been around for more than 300 years. You will see colourful and beautiful displays of vegetables and fruit. Vendors calling out to draw your attention to mangoes, mangosteens, pineapple and other amazing Sri Lankan fruit.

 

But I rush back because of the impending sunset.  Catching it at Galle Fort, is really, something else. Maybe it is the expansive horizon with nothing beyond, or how the light reflects off the clouds, but the colours that spray the sky are indescribable and memorable. You have to be in Galle Fort to see it.

 Izhara Huzair

 

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