Galle always had something about it beyond its postcard appeal in certain areas that attract scores of tourists, local and foreign. The Fort has transformed from a sleepy village into a hotbed of establishments, but there is more to it than fancy hotels, overpriced restaurants and quaint souvenir shops. There are jumpers, bikers, artists, people chanting and splashing their way into a new decade of expression, entertainment and kinesthetic wizardry.
The beaches in the vicinity are slowly starting to sparkle with a possible cultural renaissance. Exciting dance floors, mind bending visuals in holy mountains and local/exotic talent keeps sprouting, spreading their limber branches. Providing much needed beauty, shade, fertility and gnarl to Galle’s new cultural landscape. If you want more than a tan, Lion and happy fruits, swim a little further, dive a little deeper… checkout the new coral along with the ones that haven’t lost their vibrant hues… from the rapid development and growth.
Located on Lighthouse Street (where The Living Room used to be) in the Galle Fort, Exotic Roots is a cove of well-curated goods and possible outpost of hope for a DIY art and music scene to emerge in Galle. They have shelf space for cool, progressive, ethical (or whatever trending tag you want to attach) businesses; gallery space and performance space for musicians and artists as well (if they think you are legit and worth the space).
It carries an effervescent collection of paintings involving tuk tuks, turtles, dream cities, wondering women and more, inspired by tropical feels, the constant caress of waves. Exotic Roots was dreamt into this world by a trio of talented women (Catherine and her two daughters, Inca and Asia) who run this snazzy art shop.
Catherine is a self-taught artist whose paintings reverberate with the vibrancy of the tropics. Her primary inspiration is her chosen home, Sri Lanka. Cath exudes a light and warm vibe both in person and through her paintings. Her daughters soaked in maternal inspiration ambled along with their mum, indulging in her visual worlds. They have honed their unique styles and approaches, while breathing in the same creative fragrance of the tropics as their mother.
Asia’s work has an almost surreal feel to it, with a localised fairytale touch. Viewing her work straight up makes you feel nice, and sometimes has an almost therapeutic quality to it. Her fine brush strokes, well-tuned technique and eye for detail are “truths we hold to be self-evident”. Asia’s recent work experiments with south Asian folk and pop cultural motifs, making use of cutouts and collages including block prints and bright swathes of sari material. She is inspired by Sri Lanka and India – the human and physical geographic climes and contours of these two countries are the prima materia of her creations.
Inca’s work varies between folk inspired depictions of dream cities perhaps influenced by vaguely impressionist / expressionist currents and obsessive Pink Floyd fanfare. Her more recent work appears to be more mysterious, seeming to take inspiration from both science fiction, poetry and shamanism. Reiterating natural motifs appear, at times deep, at times dark, her recent work is shrouded in gusts of decidedly feminine, topical psychedelia.
Besides carrying their own work Exotic Roots has a plethora of choice picks for anyone seeking to indulge. They have funky Ethiopian jewelry, sun drenched threads, fruity (yet tart) sarongs with pockets; all great gear for a beach party that could also work well at a swanky ‘paduru party’. Other cool grabs include hand painted terracotta, antique ceramics, small scale boutique designer wear, palm leaf umbrellas, pastel pigmented Ganesha carvings and plenty of tasteful trinkets.
As waves of travellers move further south, relevant nightlife spaces are sprouting, along with your regular ‘cool spots’ serving ice cold EGB, catering to the demand for quality entertainment. MOJOS is one of them.
Mojo is a bar and beach club managed by a Spanish brother and sister duo from the Canary Islands. It’s a small space overlooking Ahangama’s wave-laden shores and has a nice Friday night vibe. Drinks are reasonably priced. They have padded ‘ambient’ chill spaces to breathe in the ocean, rest worn feet, escape dance floor dynamics and perhaps to comfort and hydrate friends in flight. Their door policy is pretty flexible and don’t have an “all locals (a.k.a brown dudes) pay a ton of cash or fuck off” flow going on. The crowds on a typical Friday night consist of sun burnt “I am here for the waves and party” types, local beach-side heroes, curious outsiders (both from Colombo and elsewhere) and tourists jonesin’ for bangers getting inevitably mashed.
The Spanish know their fiestas and this sibling duo definitely infuse our southern coast with a little bit of that loco. They have cool guest DJs playing there often (they are open to new billings if you holler at them). It is currently one of the best places in the south to dip in to for some decent music and dance on a Friday night.
Kingfisher is one of the most iconic spots in Una. It has transformed from a cozy little beach spot with delicious food to a boutique hotel, restaurant, bar and lounge. It is also one of the hottest Saturday night destinations in the south at the moment.
Kingfisher cracked its brilliantly hued wings, taking flight in the late ‘9Os and used to be known for throwing really good, huge parties. A lot has happened since then, and Kingfisher has evolved and upgraded with the times.
Kingfisher has a chic post-Ibiza, Mediterranean kind of vibe now. With faded white-washed furniture, a newly decked out bar and lounge spaces framed in travel mag glam. The food can be surprisingly good even though you may have to get there early to place your order, it can take a bit of time but is usually worth the wait. And their Long Island Iced Tea is also quite good and will have you dance floor ready in no time.
After small hiatus, Kingfisher has transformed into ‘The Saturday Night’ party destination more than ever before. Such transformations have their hiccups but with Kingfisher, it is generally positive. The nightlife scene in the Galle area can be dull sometimes, as far as options are concerned, and Kingfisher more often than not is the only decent one. The parties don’t have same mystique they had back in the day, but you can still end up having some good times on a thirsty Saturday night. Most importantly, Kingfisher supports the local cause and provides a steady and worthwhile platform and venue for local upcoming DJs from Unawatuna to season their game.
Rumassala, Unawatuna’s hilly embrace, is as legendary as it is beautiful. Hanuman the Indian monkey warrior god is supposed to have returned from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka with a piece of it containing special herbs native to that region, to treat his soldiers injured in battle. A mound of it had dropped off his hand on his way to the battle ground, creating Rumassala. It’s a curious legend, villagers claim the rare medicinal plants growing in the area are from the Himalayas via Hanuman and is found nowhere else in the country. Gravity in the area also seems to be consistently lower than the rest of the world according to satellite maps (refer to Sunela Jayawaradene’s new book for more info on this). Regardless of the legend, Rummassala Hill does have a mystical aura to it. The Japanese peace pagoda perched atop the hill by the Hanuman statue, is probably one of the most energetic and serene places in the area. A hermit Japanese monk lives at the temple premises and if you go there at the right time, you can catch a drift of the spiritual currents running through area as the monk chants Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō…
Bludge are a couple, a couple of artists, tucked away in the greens of Rummasala Hill, taking refuge from the ordinariness of the world, amongst an enclave of sacred herbs, that dripped down from Hanuman’s hands.
Sala, one half of Bludge, makes geometric art with overt spiritual motifs that recall mandalas. His latest series is based around Ganesha and has a mini-Ganesha carving pasted to the center of the canvass and a ‘Thorana’ of geometric forms emanating from it. The yantric and popular psy-aesthetic influence is strong in their art and they seemed to have definitely carved out a niche amongst local artists. They unabashedly delve into their influences and are not afraid of letting it show it in their art.
Souk 58 is an interior design house that has an outlet that offers home-decor related items such as cushions, curtains, fabric, furniture, etc.
They offer contemporary living, inspired by iconic Sri Lankan imagery, with a pleasing and astute approach to functionality and aesthetics, producing work that is both comfy and cool.
Their products are crafted by and sourced from locals, using skilled traditional techniques honed and passed over generations, thus creating a much-needed intersection between contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship. They have a fully stocked and stacked onsite workshop and offer bespoke home decor and furniture as well.
If you want to experience some of their work, check out the recently opened Fort Bazaar in Galle Fort. Souk 58’s hip and elegant interiors are undeniably tropical while drawing on the colonial and Middle Eastern influences that have shaped culture especially in the Galle Fort with its Dutch architecture and palpable heritage of Moorish history. Tasteful touches such as the cushioned alfresco seating in the courtyard allows you inhabit pleasant inner (psychological) spaces with sense of immediacy and ease. The interior design at the Fort Bazar is a great example of Souk 58’s penchant for combining the functional and aesthetic, traditional and contemporary, in novel and satisfying ways.
Good Market provides a large and convivial space (Galle Fort – Law Court Square) for small scale, socially and environmentally conscious, ethical and ‘progressive’ businesses. It’s the place to hit up if you want to indulge in vegan cookies and desserts, polos cutlets, locally made or sourced artisanal gear, spices, garden supplies and live music.
As the name implies, Good Market caters to trendy and ethical consumers, basically good people who want do good things for the planet and people while copping dope stuff and living lush.
Good Market in Colombo has provided a great platform for a number of startups who have gone on to create successful businesses that have contributed to Sri Lanka’s food / entertainment / cultural ambiance in much needed ways (Life Foods, Cafe Kumbuk, Butter Boutique etc). They also provide a space for live musicians to perform (although the quality of the music veers towards the mundane sometimes, with generic covers of Top 40 hits) and places for local artists like Bludge to display and sell their work in Galle.
It’s definitely one of the most worthwhile spots to dip into on a Saturday afternoon in Galle, plus you are supporting a good cause and treating yourself at the same time.
Stunt Bikers (FSRZ Fort Stunt Riders)
On Saturday afternoon in the Galle Fort you are likely to see a stunt biking crew whizzing around landing maneuvers crazy. A budding surf scene in and around Galle is expected, a growing stunt biking scene is bit of a surprise. You see different crews around Galle working their moves, it is perhaps the only city in Sri Lanka where such a scene is evolving. The FSRZ are perhaps the most formidable out of the lot.
They started off three years ago at a pretty basic level with only three members in the crew: Akash, Josh and Dulan met in the Fort, starting off on mountain bikes just trying to figure out how to do wheelies. They kept persisting from there on, watching YouTube videos to up their game and learn new tricks while improvising new ones along the way. They now have a ten-person crew, and fly souped up bikes to perform an array of tricks, with videos documenting them and slick playlists to soundtrack the whole scene.
The FRSZ have a committed core group. Akash used to sell his paintings to various souvenir stores in the Fort to be able to upgrade his bike. Dulan’s broken a few limbs perfecting his tricks. It all seems worthwhile when you see them in action with trap beats blasting from their boom boxes, setting the generally sedentary Law Court Square on fire. It’s encouraging to see crews like FRSZ working from the ground up, sprouting alternative culture in Sri Lanka, keeping the ground fertile and flowers blooming.