The vast Indian Ocean is in front of you. Miles and miles of it, as far as your eyes can see. Its menacing waves are crashing into the boulders beneath you. Dark clouds are slowly moving in up above from all directions as the Sun slowly sets in the distance, giving the evening sky a golden hue. The sea breezes and the light drizzle are calming you down after a day of exploring in the intense heat and humidity. The palm trees are swaying with the breeze as birds fly past them to their nests. Even though you are amidst a crowd of evening visitors, you feel a strange sense of calmness in the air. A sense of peace that you haven’t experienced before.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
I know I failed miserably to describe the settings, but I hope you get the point. It is just one of those evenings that you wish never ended. You wish everything would just stop wherever they are. The Sun, the birds, the waves, the breeze. Everything.
Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way.
I am sitting on the walls of the Galle fort, with the famous white light house to my far left. People seem to be flocking there for the perfect view of the sunset. Behind me, is the clock tower and a flag staff, where the Sri Lankan flag was flying royally until the evening started to set in and a couple of guards took it down after their customary evening ceremony. Down below, the Galle Cricket Stadium, which I had seen on TV over the years, seemed to be having an off day. Built by the Dutch, the Galle fort seems like a very safe place to spend the evening. After all, its walls has endured battles and the 2004 tsunami (for the most part).
As great as Galle is, it is not where I stay for the night. I am put up about 6 kms from Galle, in the wonderful beach town of Unawatuna. I have been here for the past five days, after returning from the Sri Lankan hill country, spending the day lazing around at the beach and its nearabouts and coming to Galle in the evenings.
The days are usually quite lazy, except it involves getting up a little early and heading to the beach before it got crowded, for a morning dip. Then returning back to my cosy guesthouse, for a shower and to shake off the sand from my sandals. Breakfast is usually at a beachside joint and is usually healthy except for the one time I ordered pizza and regretted it.
Rest of the day, when the tourists show up at the beach and colourful chairs and umbrellas are spread out over the sand, is spent either exploring the vicinity of Unawatuna or laying in my verandah, listening to music, and reading a book, while sipping on some delicious coffee.
To be truthful, when I say “exploring the vicinity”, I mean walking through the beachside market, saying hello to the tuk tuk driver who once took me to Mirrissa beach, some 40 kms away to see the local stick fishermen who never showed up, or the weird little dude with wavy hair, who offered me a beachside room at a really good price; the only catch was, to get to the room you have to negotiate with his rabid dog that would be waiting for you by the stairs. There are several other such people whom I would meet during these walks.
The only day when I actually stepped out of the area during the day was when I decided to trek up to the beautiful Buddha temple, located up on a hill near Unawatuna. From the temple, looking down below at the town of Unawatuna, with the bright blue sky and the endless sea with palm trees all around, I wondered;
“Did I really just walk this far?”
On my way back, I visited the “hidden” Jungle Beach, which really isn’t hidden. Following the markings, I stepped out of the road and into the jungle, walked through the trees and carefully jumped past the rocks to find this pretty little beach. Unlike Unawatuna, this beach had at most ten people, some laying on the sand, others floating in the water with their snorkelling pipes on. There is only one shack there, from where I ordered the local ginger ale, sat on one of the big rocks around the beach, under the cool shade of the trees and watched the waves come and go.
I promised myself that I would come here every day during my stay in Unawatuna; a promise I didn’t keep because lazing around in the verandah, ordering delicious food is much easier than walking up on a hill with the mid day Sun beating down on you. I would choose to sip on a nice glass of cold coffee with ice cream on top than sweating it out in the hot Sun any day of the week.
Late afternoon, I would catch a bus to Galle and come to this exact spot where I am sitting right now and spend the evening. I would walk through the insides of the fort, along the narrow streets with beautiful Dutch houses with orange sloping roofs, hotels and cafes. It is incredible how peaceful the whole place is, and at times, I would find myself wondering if I was walking through a ghost town, until suddenly someone passes me by on his bicycle. I would invariably pass on a smile of relief to the rider and he would return the favour with a toothy grin.
As the Sun slowly sets and the darkness creeps in, I realise that I need to head out of the fort and find a bus to take me back to Unawatuna, where a nice dinner and a round of evening drinks awaited me. This will be followed up by a nice long walk on the beach.
Even though, it has been three months since I stepped off those fort walls for the last time and bid adieu to the birds and the waves, I often find myself day dreaming about catching that old red bus to Galle, crossing the busy road to enter the fort, climbing up its walls with the sound of the waves ringing in my ears, and then just sitting there totally numb, in complete awe of it all.