A Teardrop From Serendib

AT FORT BAZAAR ON SRI LANKA’S SOUTH­ERN COAST, AN EARTHY IN­TER­PRE­TA­TION OF LUX­URY TAKES A WRITER BACK IN TIME.

World Travel Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY SID­DHARTH DAS­GUPTA

At Fort Bazaar on Sri Lanka’s south­ern coast, an earthy in­ter­pre­ta­tion of lux­ury takes one back in time.

Does nos­tal­gia end up hav­ing far too easy a way with me? I sup­pose there’s a ring of truth to this. I’ve been com­pelled by the tex­tures of the past, from ever since I can re­mem­ber. My bu­reau of trav­els and writ­ings lies tinged with the fab­ric and the fra­grances of times gone by, my nav­i­ga­tional com­pass au­to­mat­i­cally at­tuned to­wards hori­zons and de­sires drenched in vin­tage. Per­haps it’s a sense of long­ing that lies at the heart of this, the need to hold on to things and places and peo­ple of­ten al­ready gone.

But in the court­yard of Fort Bazaar – the Teardrop Hos­pi­tal­ity Group’s white-ac­cented star, I’m find­ing an un­de­ni­able af­fir­ma­tion to my love af­fair with wist­ful­ness. This tango with the past has landed me, yet again, smack dab in the heart of some­thing spe­cial. I’m in the coastal gem of Galle for an en­counter with re­lax­ation and res­o­nance. For­tune and good judge­ment hav­ing played their parts, Fort Bazaar is my home for the next three nights. This is the sort of ad­dress with which I’m pre­con­di­tioned to form­ing an im­me­di­ate con­nec­tion.

Fort Bazaar used to be a 17th-cen­tury townhouse. Keep­ing the orig­i­nal skele­ton (to­gether with a defin­ing cen­tral court­yard tree) in place, Teardrop has trans­formed the prop­erty with rare amounts of fi­nesse. When the Group’s Jo­hanna Jameel tells me about pho­to­graphs from the some­what re­cent past, I’m taken aback to find derelict row houses of rooms, ly­ing idle since the 1950s. It was Teardrop’s decade-log re­solve that meta­mor­phosed the im­age into what stands be­fore my eyes now – a rich repos­i­tory of past and au­then­tic­ity, with cre­dence given to the ad­dress’ orig­i­nal British and Dutch colo­nial her­itage.

I feel a pal­pa­ble buzz to my new home. It rev­els in the white and lime green tim­bre of its colour pal­ette; it comes to life in the lilt­ing ca­dence of a court­yard dap­pled with di­vans, lamps that flicker with non­cha­lance come night­fall, a sprin­kling of red ta­bles and chairs, and an air of seren­ity that com­pels writ­ers to reach for their pens; and it sparkles in the com­mu­nal vibe of its main­stay – the Church Street So­cial Restau­rant & Bar – which, be­ing ac­ces­si­ble from the main road, is ev­ery­one’s en­try point to the prop­erty. There is a quiet grace to ev­ery­thing I’m com­ing across. This is an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of lux­ury that be­lieves in hold­ing back, rather than show­ing off.

Lo­ca­tion-wise, this couldn’t have worked out bet­ter. Galle is a town filled with cus­tom­ary hus­tle and bus­tle, but the Galle Fort – also known as the Rampart of Galle – is a trea­sure-trove of bo­hemian charm that cra­dles the town on its south­ern tip. First built by the Por­tuguese in 1588 and for­ti­fied by the Dutch in the late 17th-cen­tury, Sri Lanka’s best-pre­served colo­nial town­ship is now pur­veyor of all

things hip and bou­tique on the is­land. There are bars that play a bit of jazz, there are fam­ily-run Sri Lankan restau­rants that serve spice and her­itage with ev­ery spoon­ful, there are home­grown fash­ion la­bels that pour on the eth­nic swag­ger, there are bistros that hint at the area’s long-ago her­itage, and there are poster shops that of­fer up the per­fect is­land me­mento or an homage to a nearby home­land in the form of vin­tage Bol­ly­wood posters.

Given my ho­tel’s lo­ca­tion on Church Street, all these lie within walk­ing dis­tance; most of them, in fact, are an aim­less am­ble away. I pick up a poster dap­pled in moon­light and the area’s defin­ing light­house at Stick No Bills; I head for a vodka mar­tini to the Aman­galla; I pick up some shirts and fab­ric from Odel; Ex­otic Roots wel­comes me with its Pan­dora’s Box of trinkets and art; For­taleza bids me farewell af­ter feed­ing me with seafood brought in that morn­ing from the tides; The Kitchen serves up pasta in an alfresco set­ting kissed by ocean breeze; while my fond­ness for quirk and a touch of whimsy are sated at the Three By TPV bou­tique (on the de­li­ciously named Leyn Baan Street). Around ev­ery cor­ner, I feel I’m walk­ing into a con­flu­ence of old Goa meets un­apolo­get­i­cally unan­chored Riviera… ripe with the in­tox­i­ca­tion of Bo­hemia, blessed by the in­dul­gences of a mar­itime vibe.

Amidst con­ver­sa­tions and laugh­ter, amidst deep dis­cus­sions and light-hearted flir­ta­tion, I duck in and out of a bou­quet of plea­sures. Each night ends with much drunken rev­elry and friend­ships forged. Sun­sets are cher­ished at the Galle Light­house, which casts a far­away eye on the ocean be­yond; fresh co­conut wa­ter is par­taken of on early morn­ings from a pa­rade of shacks lin­ing one of the Fort’s ram­parts. Sri Lanka was once known as Serendib; as serendip­ity would have it, I run into friends of friends who colour this ex­pe­ri­ence with their ac­counts of Sri Lanka. My con­nec­tion with the ad­dress grows a notch deeper.

From among its 18 rooms, my Bazaar Bed­room de­liv­ers un­in­ter­rupted views of a court­yard I’m much in love with – its trees, di­vans of cane and white wood, cu­rios plucked from Sri Lanka’s wealth of home­grown artistry, and candlelight that frol­ics in the night breeze are the stuff of po­etry and me­moirs. Fitzger­ald would’ve loved the place, I note to my­self. My room’s lime green coun­te­nance houses a queen-size bed of old wood, a bath­room with a sun-light that floods its gran­ite form with bright­ness, and even a retro tele­phone, all of which com­pel you to ac­cept the past with­out much protest.

I’m made privy to the prop­erty’s other rooms as well: the Banyan Bed­room with its pri­vate ve­ran­dah; the Up­per Suite that looks out over the Fort from a pri­vate balcony; and fi­nally, an Up­per Fam­ily Suite with its ad­di­tional bed­room. Fort Bazaar’s de­vo­tion to hos­pi­tal­ity doesn’t fal­ter at any stage; all rooms come in­clu­sive of break­fast, mini bar soft drinks, af­ter­noon tea, and evening mock­tails.

In this bou­tique townhouse ho­tel, I find my senses and my lit­er­ary pro­cliv­i­ties be­ing nour­ished with a re­strained sense of grace. I head to the up­per level li­brary when­ever the mood, or a phrase, takes me, and find my­self con­sumed by its lush green set­ting; the Z Spa en­hances my sense of lan­guor to per­fec­tion by pam­per­ing me with a bou­quet of lux­u­ri­ous treat­ments and ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing a col­lec­tion of sig­na­ture mas­sages, each ad­min­is­tered via home­grown red, green, pink, and black tea-blended Ophir prod­ucts.

Teardrop’s hos­pi­tal­ity legacy in Sri Lanka ex­tends wider to some of the most com­pelling small bou­tique ho­tels on the is­land. It’s this school­ing in the art of the small ho­tel that de­liv­ers cour­tesy, warmth, and re­spect each time I in­ter­act with Fort Bazaar’s staff.

The only time the ser­vice ethic slips is at the Church Street So­cial Restau­rant & Bar (the lat­ter cur­rently sans al­co­hol, serv­ing more as a café). My com­pan­ions and I have placed our lunch or­ders 35 min­utes ago, and there’s no sign of a sin­gle plate or piece of cut­lery, leave alone the food. “This is how things are right now in Sri Lankan hos­pi­tal­ity,” a lo­cal friend tells me. “Good wait­ing staff keeps get­ting poached on rote.” When the food does ar­rive, most of it is wor­thy of the wait – in­clud­ing a Chicken Cae­sar where the poul­try has been re­placed by the dark siz­zle of crisply grilled prawns. Rus­tic fam­ily-style shar­ing plat­ters of char­cu­terie and cheese, la­goon crab salad, and the mélange of Sri Lankan and Asian fu­sion cui­sine have man­aged to res­cue the ho­tel’s flag­ship restau­rant from its is­land-like slum­ber.

Galle, and this ad­dress, con­tin­ues to leave its mark on me. I soak up at­mos­phere within the Fort’s cen­turies old walls; I savour the minu­tiae of Sri Lankan hos­pi­tal­ity; scones and high tea at the ve­ran­dah hit just the spot at 4, as the world idles by. It’s at the ve­ran­dah café that I sit as I write this to you. The thor­ough­fare in front of me is elic­it­ing notes of sepia from the air. Light and life stream though the open arches. An old jazz record plays away. Once home to a mer­chant who dealt in spices and tea, Fort Bazaar has ended up adding an in­deli­ble fra­grance to my jour­neys. Nos­tal­gia, wouldn’t you know it, re­mains the head­i­est of af­fairs.

This Page, from top, Galle Fort wel­comes the bo­hemian trav­eller with much charm and artistry; An open ve­ran­dah to wel­come guests and the break­fast set to Fort Bazaar Op­po­site, Sri Lankan quirk and orig­i­nal­ity spring to life at Odel Pre­vi­ous pages from left, Fort Bazaar’s cen­tral court­yard, a sanc­tu­ary for sense and soul; Church Street So­cial - the bou­tique townhouse’s road-fac­ing restau­rant

This Page, from top, Fresh coastal fare at Church Street So­cial;The up­per li­brary at Fort Bazaar Op­po­site, A wealth of bou­tique stores and art gal­leries fill Galle Fort’s in­ner lanes Pre­vi­ous pagesfrom left, The prom­e­nades in Galle Fort of­fer much space and time for re­flec­tion; The is­land’s coastal lega­cies creep up on you in un­ex­pected ways

This Page, from top, Is­land life idles by from one of Galle Fort’s many cafes; Galle Light­house re­mains a fo­cal point of the is­land voy­age Op­po­site, Healthy, sea­sonal pro­duce forms the bistro’s main phi­los­o­phy Pre­vi­ous page Galle’s beaches, both neigh­bour­ing and dis­tant, are at their best come dawn

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