Drawn to Galle Fort by Juliet Coombe was launched in Galle recently. Drawn to Galle Fort is a monumental effort, 2 years in the making not discounting 5 more years full of insights from travellers she has picked up from being an active participant in the Fort’s meteoric rise as a global tourist hotspot superpower, a locale and location like no other populated by age old wise grand folk and gifted, talent scions revolutionizing its edifices. Made possible by the support of Hatton National Bank (HNB) who believe in projects like Drawn To The Fort show excellence in the country.
The bombast of the graphics and quirky illustrations of young designer Kavinda Dhammika accentuated by printing job done by Aitken Spence Printing and Packaging hits you straight between the mind and its eye, the colours of Fort stalwart Asia Hewapathirana comes at you with fury and aplomb as the edgy wacky cool as cucumber cover and inner sleeves blasts open a burning furnace of intellectualism, packing both tropical mojo and equatorial heat enough to make a herd of elephants go berserk and stampede through the poetic thicket where a double kick is delivered by the way of a Nehru quote and a Lermontov quote setting the scene up for the star attraction – the gatefold sleeve embossed with the most sprawling, comprehensive and up-to-date map of the Galle Fort and the Galle Main Town – a true labour of love and tireless efforts and dogged leave no stone unturned research, the result of an ongoing and fruitful collaboration between the author publisher and the Galle Heritage Foundation who she feels is the key to the areas success.
An authoritative contents page informs us that you can turn the page to any page and a dizzying deconstruction awaits one, so why not start at the top. The Foreword opens up your eyes to a Galle, a Fort and an entire South with a race of people who remain unbowed despite calamity. Each separate section is punctuated by watercolours of Fort attractions done by no stranger to the Fort, British painter Robert Sedgley and also accompanied by unobtrusive sketches made by Frenchman Nathaniel H’ Limi who observes the nitty-gritties inside the Fort and nowhere is this work more apparent than in the Introduction to the book called Ritual Fort which encounters head on a deliciously dark and at times macabre and sordid chapter and passage of time in the Fort fraught by our basic instincts and sadomasochistic tendencies, of colonial imperialism and bewitching tufts of hairs and bloody padlocks.
Curious and Curiouser! To allay the fears of anyone who is already heaving their noon meal, pray have no fear as next up is the lithe and light Top Ten section, starting off magnificently with an aerial shot of the Fort and then we head to the Fort Secrets with jewellery made using cuttlefish moulds, a graveyard beneath a pulpit and a baffling ring that will bring you only infuriation. This continues on during the first half of the book with architectural Treasures, fascinating Rituals, all you ever needed to know and more about Gemstones, Toddler and Children friendly activities and sights to see, to Animals who are residents of the Fort, ranging from vermin to octopus, to finally food for your belly in the form of the sweet and the spicy in authentic twists on Sri Lankan Cuisine, unique mouthwatering concoctions that make up the Street Food peddled here and to that perennial housewives delight – Recipes.
Before everyone’s favourite Walks section starts there is a Top Ten Responsible Travel Section which is a must read as this contains time honoured and more importantly tried and tested street knowledge to give you enough street cred from how to strut your stuff, how to do the jingo with the local lingo to what can really be useful and even help you in a sticky situation.
The research contributions made by Wendy Shaw and Lina Kruse really show through and they along with the rest of the book’s final team can be found in the rib tickling bios section much early on. Moving on, the Walks all start from their starting point at the Traveller’s Table at the Serendipity Arts Café down Leyn Baan Street, which means coir/rope in Dutch, a little morsel of interesting information so that all is not double Dutch to the erstwhile reader. “Yes, the names are Dutch and Sri Lankans live here and the gallows still might work if you threw and ran a rope over it, any questions, your honour? The Secrets Walk is just the inception of a series of walks whose titles should give you an inkling as to what might go on on these walks, and we don’t
want to let the cat completely out of the bag now do we? The King Solomon Walk, the Art Walk with Janaka De Silva’s stupendous Sithuvili Gallery, the Architectural Walk with the Lighthouse, Kids
Walk, and the Vintage Fort Millionaires Walk strictly for the dirty rotten filthy stinking rich – oh well, let us leave out the dirty rotten bit for the jet setters; the Walks then become microscopic both in analysis and proportion as we seek next every bit of the nooks and crannies of the Fort Streets in the Street Directory. This detailed section includes almost every sign of human dwelling and from hole in the wall humanity to pothole humanity and for those despairing, the bask in luxury – boutique villa hotels, restaurants and guesthouses found on the 4 Main Streets – Church Street, Lighthouse Street, Pedlar Street (no this is not Mexico and we are not talking about drug pushers – what did you take this place for?), Leyn Baan Street, and the Side Street – Parawa Street and finally to the many sidewinding Crossing Lanes of Galle Fort.
Galle Fort as you turn the pages of this exciting book has it all and everything you want is found in these pages regarding the Street Directory. The end when it comes seems near but it is quite far and the epilogue of the book takes a look at the exciting places to stay, landmarks to earmark and wholesome fun activities. Skim high above the roofs of the Fort and traipse along the Southern coastline with Simplifly, eat Zen style although transcendence is just a pit stop in this section chocker block full of Train Spotters, ponder at the origins of the mysterious picture of a pipe smoking British gentleman found on a Singhalese Buddhist temple wall painting, walk the hallowed hallways at the local Tolstoy’s home, meet your maker while para-motoring to extreme sports heaven, drink virgin white tea and take part in the Mad Hatter’s Garden Party in a paddy field or in the Fortress in the Sky, and go whale watching in Mirissa or on an exquisite leopard safari and finish off by renting your own island for a day or two or cut water at Katharagama. A range of places to stay outside the Fort and tour operators to book exciting customized tours with are listed prior to the Helpline list of helpful numbers useful in an emergency.
As John Lennon once said before he got shot ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’ So quit dreaming (and no we don’t say that you are a dreamer) and start happening life – start with this book – Drawn to Galle Fort by Juliet Coombe available at all major book shops.