Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Rain and Sri Lanka’s Galbokka Point Lighthouse


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Priyan R Naik

When I visited Shillong in April, it was definitely not the season for heavy rainfall but being Shillong,  it would invariably rain in the night making me worry whether rain would upset the next day’s program. However, to my surprise, no, the next day would be fine except for one or two drizzling spells.  Not having carried an umbrella from home, I was forced to do a recce of Khyndailad (Police Bazaar) only to find several makeshift stands with colourful umbrellas of all sizes and made ‘manned’ by  aggressive sales women determined to sell their wares. I picked a magenta pink  ‘Chinese’ umbrella for myself and rain ceased to be a cause for anxiety thereafter.

Later the same Shillong umbrella came in handy to tackle Sri Lanka’s rain, when visiting Colombo’s  Galbokka Point, along the marine drive waterfront south of the Port of Colombo, during a heavy drizzle. Here stood the impressive symbol of Sri Lanka’s maritime heritage, a  lighthouse shaped in the form of a 29 metre high tower,  cylindrical in shape with a balcony and a lantern on the first landing. Lit for the first time in 1952, its sea side had beautiful black and white patterns on the exterior. Built on a 12 metre concrete base with 4 lion  statues made by skilled craftsmen positioned at the four corners of the base of the tower, it well served its purpose of warning mariners of dangerous, shallow and perilous rocky coasts, guiding vessels safely in and out of Colombo port. Sadly, the lighthouse deactivated a long while ago, has become completely  landlocked with the construction of the Colombo Port City,  hardly visible due to surrounding high rise structures everywhere. Today the lighthouse is fast getting obscured by nearby buildings built for the Colombo Harbor’s Expansion project. Nevertheless, except when it rains, this spot offers  panoramic views of the Indian Ocean because of which it has become a city landmark, for tourists and locals to flock, to sit and relax and enjoy magnificent views of the Indian Ocean.

Maintained by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, the lighthouse has a naval gun battery located on its base. These guns are used by the Sri Lankan Navy to offer traditional  gun salutes, the most prominent being a 25- Gun Salute to the nation on the National day, the 4th of February each year. The origins of this tradition can be traced to sailors of the Ceylon Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve who had fired a 15- Gun Salute at this spot on Sri Lanka’s first Independence Day, February 4, 1948. Later this became a 25-Gun Salute.

Two additional naval guns were brought in from the United Kingdom to prepare for the  Royal visit of  Princess Elizabeth, which could not take place as she had to return halfway due to the death of her father the King because  she had to be anointed the Queen of the British realm. These guns were moved to the base of the  lighthouse and added to three more guns, gifted by the Indian Navy to be used for the purpose of firing Gun Salutes. I went looking for the guns  but could only locate gun battery foundations. Apparently, most guns had been taken away for maintenance while certain others were placed inside the lighthouse where  tourists are not allowed to enter.

While  not typically associated with lighthouses due to its inland location, Meghalaya has  a natural rock formation, a singular monolith closely resembling a lighthouse known as the  ‘Lum Kyllang’ , a unique tourist attraction. Located near the village of Mawkyrwat in West Khasi Hills district,  it offers breathtaking panoramic views of lush green valleys and distant hills. Do remember to carry your umbrellas when visiting  Meghalaya’s lighthouse though; you never know when it rains!


(Priyan R Naik is a Bengaluru based contributor at The Shillong Times)


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