Monday, 5 March 2012

Sri Lanka, Part Three: Ports, Plaques and Mass Invasions

Part Three: Galle

Galle was the last port of call on our whirlwind Sri Lanka trip. Quite literally a port, in fact; its strategic position on the southern coast of Sri Lanka once made it a very convenient stop for ships travelling from Europe to Asia.

The day we arrived must have been fish market day. Stalls lined the beach, and fresh fish were everywhere – piled high, then gutted, weighed and sold. 

Our driver Laksman, took us straight to Galle’s historic waterfront fort. The fort was built by the Portuguese when they arrived in Galle, and later extended by the Dutch.  While it did make a great backdrop for photographs, it was far too rife with irritatingly persistent hawkers, selling everything from cotton table cloths to ice creams.

Turning away from the fort, we strolled down small, narrow streets.  There was a definite Portuguese and Dutch flavour in the architecture.

We came to a small courtyard restaurant; once a Dutch printing business . The original press was on display in the entry.  We ordered lime drinks and fresh fruit platters and sat under the shade of frangipani trees. In the water of a lap pool beside our table, white scented flowers floated where they had fallen.

The midday heat eventually got the better of us and we headed to our hotel, thoughts of swimming pools uppermost in our minds.

We couldn’t help stopping in the atrium of the Lighthouse Hotel. Along the banisters of a circular staircase marched a mass of brass and copper figures. It was a depiction, a wall plaque said, of the Portuguese landing at Galle in 1505.

At the bottom was Lorenzo de Almeida, landing with his troops and surveying the coast with his telescope.

King Dharmaparakrama Bahu watched the onslaught from the top of the staircase – while playing his flute.

The plaque on the wall compared Bahu to Nero, the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. I thought of my classics-loving daughter, and her particular study of Nero. I knew exactly how she felt about this popular “misconception” and could hear her leaping eloquently to Nero’s defence.

The afternoon disappeared in a pleasantly lazy haze of swimming and beach-combing.

Collecting shells turned out to be quite addictive. We all kept looking for the next shell, the one that would be just that much better than the last.

Eventually, sunset ended our shell-collecting and sandy ambling.

Tomorrow we would be on the road again, this time to Colombo and then back home to Riyadh.

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