Dharman Wickremaratne, in Daily News, 11 July 2011
Pic by Sunday Times
Located between Bentara and Ginganga, the Galle District belongs to the South-Western Wet Zone. On its Western border is the Ocean. The district experiences heavy rainfall during the South-Western monsoon and consequently its wide rivers never run dry throughout the year. Ancient Arab travel records identify Galle as Klah while Chinese travellers called it Lolay. It believed Galle earned its name either from massive rocks and mountains like Roomassala in the vicinity or a parking lot for ox carts in the area centuries ago. Many are the historical sources relating to Galle. These include records of the Greek traveller Cosmas (545 AD), Arab travellers Al Masoodi (1000 AD) and Ibn Batuta (1344 AD), Chinese seafarer Deng Ho (1410 AD) and Portuguese adventurer Lorenzo De Almeida (1505 AD). The first reference to Galle by the crew of a British ship was made in 1592. The Dutch traveller Coster wrote on Galle in 1640.
UNESCO Heritage site: After the 14th Century, the Portuguese, thereafter the Dutch and finally the British occupied Galle, resulting in the area coming under different European cultural, religious and architectural influences and lifestyles.By the third and fourth centuries Galle became an important centre of East-West trade, according to Chinese and Arab records. Sinhala chronicles such as Mahawansa, Bodhiwansa and Poojawaliya and folk tales too provide an insight to the area in ancient times. During the British period the district was divided into seven administrative units – Kadawathsathara, Gangabadawatta, Wellabadawatta, Walallavita Korale, Talpepattu, Hinidum Pattuwa and Galle Town.
The Galle Fort – spread over 92 acres and facing the sea on three sides – was first built by the Portuguese in 1619 after capturing the area in 1505. At the time the fort was home to 26 Portuguese families. After the Dutch seized it on March 13, 1640 the moat was repaired. Following the British occupation the fort was renovated in 1873 and opened to the public. Since 1974 it has been an archaeological reserve and today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Colombo-Galle horse-drawn coach service began in 1838. In 1894 the railway was extended from Colombo to Galle and the following year to Matara. The first proper bus stand in Galle was erected in 1978 on the instructions of Albert Silva, the then MP for the area, according to senior businessman and Director, Galle Commercial and Industrial Council, S. A. Chandrasiri.
Colombo-Galle Bus fare: This bus stand was however was totally destroyed in the December 2004 tsunami, which claimed thousands of lives. As a relief measure the JVP built a temporary bus stand after the calamity. Work on the new modern bus stand commenced on October 23, 2010. Among those who played a leading role in this project was Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, MP, son of the late Minister Richard Pathirana, whose cherished dream had been to provide the town with a new bus stand. Chandima Weerakkody, Manusha Nanayakkara and all other parliamentarians and Provincial Councillors in the Galle District gave their maximum support to the project.
Although I was born in Pathegama, Matara, I grew up in my maternal ancestral home in Beralapanathara, Deniyaya. At the time only one bus (route No. 375) plied between Colombo and Deniyaya. This bus which used to leave Colombo Fort daily at 9.30 a.m. stopped for 45 minutes at Galle town giving us time to have lunch. We had our meals at Sidney Hotel owned by Henegama Appuhamy of Akuressa. It was 5.30 p.m. by the time the bus reached Kotapola from Galle. From Kotapola the bus left for Beralapanathara. At the time there were buses from Galle to Deniyaya every three hours. The old bus stand in Galle was located near the bazaar. This was around 1958, says leading businessman Chandrasiri. Colombo-Galle bus fare at the time was Rs.2 per passenger. Today the fare is Rs. 107 and if the bus is air-conditioned it is Rs. 215.
Tourism Industry: The number of permanent residents in and around Galle is 90,934, while 165,680 people arrive at the Galle bus stand daily. The total number of buses catering to them is 692 of which 380 are private buses operating in the Southern Province. The number of inter-city buses is 147 and 165 buses belong to the CTB. According to Southern Province Public Road Transport Authority Director Raja Kumara, 44 platforms are required for the 96 bus services currently operating.
The new Galle bus stand is scheduled to be handed over to the Galle Municipal Council following a decision taken at a meeting presided over by Minister Basil Rajapaksa at the Southern Province Governor’s Office on July 4. The Economic Development Ministry spent Rs. 419 million for the construction of this bus halt. The work was completed in eight months under Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s direction guided by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Government’s Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB) handled all the construction work which Minister Rajapaksa inspected several times. He said that efficient local engineers completed the job enthusiastically. He noted that the new bus stand would benefit not only the people of Galle but also all others of the Southern Province. It would enhance the beauty of the area, including the Galle Fort and boost the tourism industry, according to him.
Expressing gratitude to the President on the success of this project, the minister also said that roads, by-roads, lanes and canals within the fort area have also been repaired and modernized, parallel to the completion of the bus stand project. The bus halt is 168 metres in length and 10 metres wide. The ground floor is 1,255 square metres in extent. It has 29 platforms; a rest room for the disabled, three newspaper stands and automatic teller machines installed by four leading banks. The first floor comprises a shopping complex with 16 stalls and a restaurant. Stalls for traders are allocated by tender procedure. The upper floor is 2,152 square metres in extent. Of this a 300 square metre-space is allocated for people to stay in the event of a tsunami. This bus stand is the realization, a long-time dream for the people of Southern Province. It is also the largest project since the construction of the Hambantota harbour.
Natural Environment: This bus stand is also the first of its kind which connects a railway station by a flyway. The latter is 41 metres long and has a cover to protect commuters from rain. It is on May 7, 1894 that the first train from Colombo reached Galle. Today 20 express trains ply between Colombo and Galle, according to Galle Station Master M.D. Dahanayake. Seven Matara-bound slow trains from Aluthgama also stop at Galle. A new railway station was opened in Galle on November 5, 1968. Today 2,620 people board trains daily at the Galle station. Similarly 2,314 train commuters get off there. Galle’s Acting Mayor Mohamed Hussein Niyas told us that the timetable for buses operating from the Galle bus stand is displayed on a giant computerized screen. Places will be soon allocated near the police barracks for 29 pavement hawkers who have been evicted from the bus stand area.
From the upper floor of the bus halt Roomassala and its scenic natural environment can be observed to the left. Thorny plants that are indigenous to the Dry Zone and those found in the Wet Zone can both be seen at Roomassala where the tower that shows directions to ship’s crew is also visible on top of the hill. W. Burton built this 45 feet-tall tower in 1875. Seen towards the South is the Old Dutch Canal and in front is the sports ground. The Presbyterian Church and its bell tower built in 1752 AD according to Dutch architectural style in the shape of a cross are also visible. This building style cannot be seen in today’s churches.
Dutch Colonial Period: Even the privately-owned houses within the fort reflect the Dutch colonial period architecture. The walls are high and thick and doors and windows are tall. Corals had been used as building material. Human history is full of revolutions and some have occurred after buses were introduced. Former Government Agent and Author Leonard Wolf noted in his diary in 1911 that in the past a person’s knowledge depended on the distance he travelled by cart. When Wolf returned to Sri Lanka almost 50 years later, in 1960, and having seen high-speed buses on the roads, he said that wherever buses went they turned village lifestyles into mechanical ones. The transformation that occurred in Sri Lanka’s rural society between 1910 and 1960 was a virtual repetition of what happened in Sussex, England between 1910 and 1921 because of buses, according to Wolf who witnessed it and further noted it in his diary.
Although Galle Fort is the result of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rule in Sri Lanka, it has been built on Sri Lankan soil and hence it is ours. It is this country’s resources they had used in building and renovating it. The fort is located in an area where ancient Sri Lankan kings fought against foreign powers. The story of the Galle Fort is a story of the blood, tears and sweat of Sri Lankans. In this context there is no doubt the new bus stand too would be a cause of pride for the people of Galle.