A local guide brings a place to life. Read about Daisy and Patrick’s memorable experience while on a holiday in Galle with local guide Shanjei.
Visit Galle with local guide Shanjei
We had arranged to meet up in front of the Buddhist temple located in the heart of Galle. As we arrived, we watched a group of youth playing cricket on the lawn across the street. A tuk-tuk driver stopped to ask if we needed a ride, but we were already set because Shanjei, our local guide, would be accompanying us for a guided tour around Galle Fort. The Galle Fort is an old trading settlement, built by Dutch sailors in 1663, and has survived through the toughest times. The Fort is not only a beautiful place but also recognized and listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its rich cultural heritage value. Tourism thrives well within the walls of the fort and, at the same time, daily life simply continues on for the local inhabitants. What you get is a wonderful mix of people, cultures and languages.
Selling hot air
Shanjei began his career in marketing in Colombo. “I used to sell hot air wrapped in a nice bow,” he shares. However, after several years of marketing talk and endless meetings, he decided to change his career. “It felt unmeaningful and like I was trapped in a concrete jungle. I had to get out of that world and out of Colombo.” Shanjei then moved to Galle where he heard many creative people lived, hoping to develop himself as an artist. Shanjei laughs as he remembers his mother’s reaction, “She thought I had gone crazy!”
One afternoon, Shanjei was asked to fill in for someone as tour guide in Galle. With his vast knowledge about the city, he took the challenge. To his surprise the next day, he was jokingly asked if he had put something in the tourists’ tea. They were all ecstatic about his guided tour. This great compliment made Shanjei think. “I am passionate about history, art and culture, and enjoy interacting and getting to know new people. I had discovered my calling!”
Shanjei found his place as a tour guide in Galle. He founded his own company and branded his tours ‘Demystify Mystical Galle’. “Galle is a metaphor for Sri Lankan history. The origins of our culture lies like a hidden treasure in the architecture, the food, the stories and the people in Galle. Through my work, I can share the magic of that treasure with those who visit my city.”
Melting pot of nationalities
It’s not a coincidence that we met in front of the Buddhist Shri Sudarmalaya temple. “If you look closely, you can see all kinds of styles in it. The Buddhist Stupa, but also the Gothic and Roman influences that the Portuguese and Dutch settlers brought with them. Like Galle, this temple is a melting pot of nationalities and religions.” It’s true. From the raised fortress wall, I see a church, a temple and a mosque – all in one view.
Conversations instead of dates
Before Shanjei starts a guided tour, he briefly explains about his unique and tailor-made tours. “I’m not a teacher who overwhelms you with names and dates. I prefer to have conversations. I want to hear from you what you want to know and what you find interesting. Then I’ll make sure all my visitors get to learn as much as possible about Fort Galle, depending on their interests.” I explained to him that my interest lies mainly in the way of life of the local people, both now and in the past. “No problem!” Shanjei replied.
World heritage without entrance fee
As we walk along the fortress wall, we see the sea on the left and the city on the right. “Did you know that Fort Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?” Shanjei asked and went ahead to explain that it is the only World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka where people still live and tourists don’t need to pay to visit. The fort was built by the Dutch to protect their people and trade from potential enemies from within and outside. Pointing to the wall, he elaborated, “The entire fortress is made of coral, mixed with stones and gravel made from shells. The Dutch made the walls so strong that it prevented flooding from the tsunami in 2004. The people of Galle were very lucky because of this.”
No material things, but stories
We made several stops to say hello and interact with the local people. Shanjei is well known and loved by many in Galle. From time to time he would share interesting tips about his stories. “They serve the best tea here, and at that stall you can quench your thirst with a glass of lime juice.” Unlike many local guides, Shanjei will not take you to the obvious shops. “Many local guides get commission by taking tourists to specific shops and restaurants, but for me I don’t do or encourage that. I want to share the stories about my country and offer a memorable experience. And if I take my guests into a restaurant, it’s about an interesting story. And it’s me who treats them to a meal!” Behind his thick beard, appears a big, cheerful smile.
Your own Sri Lanka trip
At Better Places Travel, you can design your own tailor-made travel experience with a special focus on a Galle Fort tour in Sri Lanka. Ask for a travel proposal directly from Shasheen, our local travel expert.
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