24 Jul Finding the Soul of Galle Fort with Creative Maverick Atheeq
Fort is a gem of a heritage town; its red-roofed white-washed colonial houses catapult you back to days-long-gone. But more than the buildings, it’s the people that make this place unique. Fort is a place that celebrates unity in diversity; a glorious potpourri of ethnicity with a cosmopolitan vibe that is a vivid reminder of its multicultural past. We wander through Galle Fort to meet its long-time residents and hear their stories. We meet Atheeq Ifthikar, founder of Ceylon Soul, experience creator, and photographer for a stroll around Fort.
Who I am today has a lot to do with Galle Fort. It has moulded me in every way: the languages I speak, the philosophies I have in my head, those I have met. People come here because of the Fort and I get to meet them because of that. The philosophy of the place includes oneness, unity, togetherness, sharing, and caring. These values come from every religion and have always been practiced here. Whenever there were riots or curfews outside the Fort, residents have told me they just continued with their everyday activities since they felt safe. It’s not only due to the protective walls but because of the vibe and togetherness. People have always been very open and caring. When our parents travelled, they would leave us with our aunties or neighbours; the community is like an extended family. They saw my sisters and I as a bundle of joy. Even though we were probably trouble for them, they took care of us. The Fort is rich in every way. You have safety, really good food; I’m talking really good food. The meal that reminds me most of the Fort is ghee rice, breadfruit curry, fried beef, and salad. My introduction to chutney came from one of my aunties who lived in Leyn Baan Street. She is famous for her phenomenal chutney made from dates, mangoes, and limes.
Atheeq and his soulmate Praveen in action in the streets of Galle
Big mansion, little tableau in Middle Street
Finding the artistic spirit in small corners
Sharing the Fort’s Soul
For about ten years, I have given walking tours of Galle Fort. I take a lot of pride in having Ceylon Soul walks here. I have met film stars, criminal lawyers, royalty, business people, broad and narrow-minded people from different sexualities and statuses. By communicating with them later or seeing their Facebook posts, I can tell that aspects of Fort life have rubbed off. The walks are about much more than learning facts. I am not a historian or archaeologist; I don’t know all the precise details about every building, but I know about the community. What we have in common is humanity and a way of life: we all eat in the morning, we all fall asleep. I value this place so much and really treasure it. I could be doing other things, but I stick to being here. I am living in paradise. I will always stay connected to the Fort. Everything I have started in my life has taken off from here, including my interest in travel and photography.
“The Fort has basically been my university. It’s where I’ve learned everything” – Atheeq Ifthikar
I’ve only started fully valuing Galle Fort over the past few years. It has really changed my life. Mingling with other people and also living in Colombo and Singapore, I learned a lot, but this is where I have learned the most. Like when you do any form of training, there can be hard days, and you grow through experience. Just observing how people interact here is humbling. If you see someone you know, you always stop and say hi. It’s like ants when they are making their way towards a piece of sugar; when something comes in front of them, they get diverted, and their path moves. A route which would normally take 30 seconds, takes 5 minutes in the Fort because people always stop to speak to you. That is so different to just ignoring or tooting your horn. Here nobody will just pass by without stopping.
I could be doing other things, but I stick to being here. I am living in paradise. I will always stay connected to the Fort.
A route which would normally take 30 seconds, takes 5 minutes in the Fort because people always stop to speak to you
Want to Find the Soul of Galle?
Atheeq was the photographer for the iDiscover Galle Guide, which is an illustrated map that comes with a free navigational app. Curated by the passionate folks from the Galle Heritage Foundation, the App&Map guide features 3 handcrafted walking itineraries that help you see Galle through the lens of locals. The map is an artistic ode to the heritage town while the app helps you to get around and provides intimate portraits of long-time locals and know-how on the historical layers of the architecture.
The iDiscover Galle Fort project is proudly powered by Embassy of the Netherlands.
Explore Fort through the lens of locals with the iDiscover map, created and designed by locals
Words by Daisy Perry
Daisy is a writer who finds inspiration in everyday Sri Lankan life. She loves listening to and recording people’s stories. In the Fort, she is most likely to be found having tea with friends or having a swim off Lady’s Sea Bath Beach.
Photos by Atheeq
Atheeq is a photographer with a passion for Galle Fort. In fact, it is here that he learned how to use a camera. He loves capturing people’s unique characteristics. Atheeq is most likely to be found on the ramparts giving a walking tour or at his friend’s art gallery on Leyn Baan Street.