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Galle: where time stands still...

Friday, August 31, 2018
Pics courtesy Airbnb Experiences and Wikicommons

Galle Fort

Situated at the very tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the historic city of Galle with its strong colonial influence and easy, laid-back vibe is a great holiday destination, offering a whole host of activities for you to partake in, says Raul Dias, who tried out a few on a recent holiday

Let me be upfront with you. My very first encounter with Galle had left me heartbroken. It was exactly 11 months after the horrific 26th December 2004 tsunami had all but decimated this once-beautiful city of Sri Lanka that sits at the very southern tip of the island nation. Everywhere I looked, a sea of rubble and reconstruction at a feverish pace assaulted my eyes. The historic Fort area where I was told the ‘real’ Galle was, was unfortunately sealed off to non-residents and thus out of bounds for travellers like myself.

It was then that I made a promise to myself that I’d wait and let Galle rejuvenate before I set foot there once again. Little did I know then that it would be almost 13 years after that I’d be back. And boy, was I in for the surprise of my life!

A vintage car parked along one of Galle's Old Town's streets

Rise of the Phoenix

August 2018 and the Galle that showed itself to me was a complete volte-face from the one of my memories. Clean, freshly swept streets, whitewashed walls with colourful bougainvillea creeping all over them. Happy, smiling people greeted me everywhere I went. And not a single remnant of the earlier carnage of Mother Nature marred this new facet Galle was showing me. And yes, this time I not only got to ‘see’ the stunning Fort area but live in it as well!

My Airbnb accommodation, the brand new Yara Galle Fort boutique hotel—which my friends and I were the third set of guests to be welcomed into—is a magnificently restored former Dutch Colonial style home. Located in the very heart of the Fort, the hotel, I was told, was first built in the mid-1700s and is a mere 70 metres away from the pristine white painted Dutch Reformed Church.

Speaking of churches, for an area as small (130 acres) as the Fort, it sure had a lot of places of worship. From the Meeran Jumma Mosque opposite the lighthouse and the serene Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple on Parawa Street to the beautiful Anglican All Saints Church a few yards ahead of the Dutch Church, all exist in perfect harmony with each other.

Ateeq leading a group of traveller through Galle's Old Town on his Galle Fort Walks with a local tour

A walk though history

Desirous of a more in-depth historical recounting of Galle that no amount of reading can provide, I signed up for the newly curated Airbnb Experiences’ ‘Galle Fort Walks with a Local’. Conducted by Atheeq, a budding travel photographer and fifth-generation member of a prominent gem trading Galle family, this 1.5 hour-long walk came highly recommended and something I was looking forward to.

And so, after a lunch of a yummy fish burger—made with chunks of tuna marinated in the local, jet black-coloured ambulthiyal spice mix that I enjoyed at the wonderfully ‘punny’ named Tequila Mockingbird Bar and Grill in the Old Hospital Building—we were off on foot to explore Galle with a local and yes, “like a local” as is the idea behind this Experiences initiative by Airbnb!

All Saints Church in Old Town, Galle

Here, we were shown places like the still-functioning court house, the town square in front of it and the Fort’s lighthouse that was built only post WWII, showing us that the Fort area kept evolving. The Portuguese, Dutch, and British occupied the Galle Fort at various points during Sri Lanka’s colonial history, and they have each left a unique imprint on its fabric. As we navigated our way through the Fort’s charming alleyways at a leisurely pace, a fascinating blend of local design traditions and European colonial influence became evident in the architectural style of its many interesting structures. Atheeq made sure to keep the walk peppered with interesting facts, stories, and myths, all interwoven by the unique perspective and narrative of a local like himself, who knows this terrain as well as the back of his hand. And as a parting treat, we were taken to Galle’s best gelato shop named Isle of Gelato for some divine treats like the pistachio and orange-cinnamon double scoop that I happily gourmandised.

The court house in Galle's Old Town

Surf’s up!

As one of the world’s leading new surfing hot-spots, with their impressive swells, the waters off the beaches in and around Galle are fast becoming a haven for surfers who flock to them in droves. And so, recognising this is another fun initiative by Airbnb Experiences—learning to surf with surfing guru Oshan Diluk.

Born and raised in beautiful Hikkaduwa a little further up from Galle, Oshan knows the best places around Galle to host successful surf lessons especially for beginners. With over four years of experience as a surfing instructor he provides a whole lot of tips and advice to help you ride your first waves. Interestingly, Oshan also volunteers to teach the local kids in Sri Lanka how to surf and many of his students have progressed and got scholarships to learn advanced level surfing in places like Indonesia, the surfing capital of Asia.

The first part of the 1.5 hour-long lesson takes place at the beach, where one can get an idea on how to find balance and the right posture on the board. Oshan make sure to also spend some time talking about safety rules and surfers’ etiquette. Afterwards you get to hit the water to put that theory into practice.

A hands-on holiday where you do a whole lot more than just ‘site-see’, now that’s Galle for you!

Surfing guru Oshan Diluk conducting a surfing lesson on Dewata Beach

FACT FILE

Getting there

There are daily direct flights from most cities in India to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on airlines like Srilankan Airlines, Jet Airways, Air India and Spice Jet. Travel within Sri Lanka is easy with many buses, mini vans and car hire companies offering their services. The journey from Colombo to Galle using the super-efficient expressway is a comfortable two-hour drive.

When to visit

The months from October to February are the best time to travel to Galle, when the region experiences a pleasant climate with plenty of cultural and artistic events taking place in and around the region.

Accommodation

Though Galle has an excellent selection of hotels to choose from to suit all budgets and tastes, why not get more up close and personal with the city and live like a local? Airbnb has an amazing portfolio of vacation homes that you can rent out. Visit www.airbnb.co.in for more information on accommodation options and the new, curated Airbnb Experiences in Galle.

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