Galle Fort is not a ‘real’ city! So, why is it so much fun?


I have an issue with cities (or enclaves within cities) that exist solely for the purpose of tourism. Like Venice. For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit, but I found Venice empty and boring (not so if you like sipping wine next to a smelly nalla.). There are no “normal” people, going to work or school or just lounging about. Everyone who stays within the city limits only has one purpose: to serve tourists.

Galle Fort area could easily fall into that category, but it doesn’t.

The historical ocean fort that overlooks the Indian Ocean is truly a triumph of mankind. After the fort got the world heritage site in 1988, the Sri Lankan government has developed the area around the fort. People who are living there — we spotted many Muslim families — have been made part of the process. They run shops and small guest houses, including the fine Rampart View.

The local and the cosmopolitan meshes quite well. Even so, most restaurants had one obligatory “Rice and Curry” on the menu. Locals told us that if we wanted Sir Lankan food, we had to step out of the Fort area.

Sure, Galle Fort area has the usual restaurants and cafes, design and curio shops. It is a sanitized version of a real city. Full marks to the Lankan government for amazing execution (much better than anything comparable in India).

While the mix would definitely appeal to the Western tourist, I found so much more on offer. We had great meals, met interesting people of all types, and had so many brilliant conversations with the locals.

You could argue that I could find all of that in Venice too. Perhaps. Is the difference then the absence of the nalla — and the presence of that gorgeous Galle fort?


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