23 June, 2024


Oh Galle Face!

By Chanaka Bandarage

Chanaka Bandarage

One good thing done by the present government is to grow grass at the Galle Face Green, especially during the Covid period – to fill the empty patches. Now most of the Green is a beautiful turf. True, the turf is damaged in the Aragalaya areas.Can the authorities be able to continually maintain the Green in its current pristine condition? Let’s hope so. The responsibility largely lies with the general public. It is they who use it.

One bad thing done by the present government is to build scores of new cafe/restaurant type buildings on Galle Face – from beginning of the Galle Centre Road at Galle Face Hotel end, to One Galle Face end. These new units are yet to be opened.

Due to these new structures, the Green’s width has further narrowed. 

Over time, due to various modifications the Green’s width has drastically been narrowed. Say by about 25% (it has always been a very narrow strip).  

The first big changes were done by the then former President Premadasa around 1992/93. He acquired large Green areas to erect the current car parks (on Galle Face Centre Road side). This car park development was warranted. He also planted the palm trees.

Around 1996, the then Colombo Mayor Ganeshlingam erected the current terraces and the many cement steps everywhere. Prior to that the Green was one flat land.  Due to this, the Green was further narrowed.

It is good if the Green was left as a big flat land.

Chandrika Bandaranaike built the current suspension bridge or the ‘spectator’ bridge across the sea, near the flag pole. Such a structure is out of place for Galle Face. The authorities must be vigilant when this bridge is over-crowded on busy days like Sundays and Poya days. The last thing we want is an accident there. 

Today, the Galle Face Green is managed by the Ports Authority. This is wrong. It should be handed back to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). It is how the British ran it.

The Ports Authority has absolutely nothing to do with the Galle Face. The transition happened solely to satisfy the desire of a once powerful minister. 

The infamous ‘World’s Biggest Christmas Tree’ was at Galle Face. That was in 2016.

For political and personal reasons several Presidents ‘clipped the wings’ of the CMC. Due to this the CMC’s revenue base has dwindled. 

CMC does a reasonably good job under trying conditions.

The politicians gave the CMC’s power and authority to various other bodies; especially to UDA. This prominently happened during the 2007 – 2012 period. These stupid decisions were not done in the best interests of Colombians. Today, the UDA has more power and authority than the CMC. They are the beneficiaries of the CMC’s lost revenue. There are few stories about the UDA’s corrupt behavior; the writer is unable to verify their veracity.

Now back to the Galle Face:

A large up market restaurant commenced operations few years ago- located at the very beginning of the Galle Face, on Galle Face Centre Road’s Galle Face Hotel end. They have erected a very big sign, as if they own that part of the real estate. They have acquired a portion of the Green as their permanent car park. They play loud music that spreads beyond the big flag pole.

Who has given them all these privileges and power?

The government seems to be obsessed in establishing eateries on both sides of the promenade. On the coastal (sea) side, eateries now extend up to Shangri La end.  Previously they stopped at the big flag pole. 

Is this good? The writer states no.

Some of these newly built cafes and restaurants (numbering over 20) are sure to sell alcohol and play live or other loud music. The noise would amplify into the Green. 

The Galle Face is a public space. It belongs to all of us. The governments have no right to palm off parts of it to private businesses/individuals. Surely these businesses must be owned by politicians or their henchmen.

The purpose of the British establishing the Green (in 1859) was recreation.

The 1.6 km long promenade was constructed especially with the purpose of ladies and children to saunter and take in the fresh air.

Until the turn of the last century families flocked to Galle Face to enjoy the sea under the vast open sky. There were many who used the Green for their early morning or evening strolls and physical exercise. People used to buy gram/wade from vendors. They were simple, mobile traders, not established eateries. Ice cream vans of reputed companies parked alongside the Galle Face Centre Road and sold quality ice cream.

But, now the main attraction of Galle Face is street food – it is famous for greasy/oily, meaty foods such as kotthu, roties/parata, burgers, fried potatoe chips, hotdogs, wades with small fried crabs on top and buriyani. Then, the carbonated drinks like Coke, Fanta, Sprite etc.  

Areas where the eateries located are very crowded and noisy. Some shops have erected stadium type lights.

It seems there is no one to monitor the standards of the food.

Lots of Colombo’s school children especially in the ‘elite schools’ are obese. It has been reported that even some of our Children have type II diabetes. The adults’ situation is far worse.  This is as a result of consuming too much junk food. People think it is fashionable to eat at McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King etc. But, they do not think about the bad effects of those foods. It is reported that around 75 new patients are admitted daily to the Maharagama Cancer Hospital. These are our own citizens! Even women especially in Colombo, have taken up alcohol consumption in big way – mainly beer.  Thankfully Sri Lankan women are not yet smoking in public.

There is not a single place to sell healthy foods at the Green.

It is nice if there are stalls to sell කොළ කැඳ, පොල්පලා, රණවරා, බෙලි මල්, fresh fruit juice  etc in early mornings.

The new 20 odd cafes/restaurants that were built during the Covid period once opened are sure to emanate further thick greasy smoke and meaty smell into the Green. This will be offensive to the recreational users of the Green.

Those who come to the Green for quiet enjoyment/evening stroll want to enjoy the breeze, walk, jog, do exercise/mediate; basically have a quiet, tranquil time. 

Galle Face should be a haven for all.  The elderly should not be marginalised. Today its evenings are dominated by youngish, vocal, impatient type crowds.

Kite sellers, plastic toy sellers have forcibly acquired large swaths of the Green, people find it difficult to maneuver through and walk. At dark, children and even adults fall over after getting entangled on kite strings – as kites for sale are anchored on the floor. When such things happen, they often receive abuse from the kite vendors as if it was our fault.

One could see men in small groups secretly drinking alcohol hidden under the night’s darkness. This should be discouraged. There is a Police point located on the Green.

Again, the Galle Face is known worldwide as Colombo’s place for peaceful and serene enjoyment.  

With the addition of about 20+ new cafes/restaurants and the seaside eateries now extending up to Shangri La end, the Galle Face will solidify its position as Colombo’s primary place for night life – alcohol, DJ music and street/junk food. 

Sadly, the above two identities do not complement each other, they are poles apart.

True, street/junk food cannot be stopped. They are a part of Colombo culture. It is alright to indulge in them, but not too frequently. Slave Island and the Galle Road’s Colpetty, Bambalapitiya areas can be the areas for them. There is also the Marine Drive – spanning from Colpetty to Dehiwela. Colombo’s nightlife can blossom in those areas, perhaps also at Pettah’s Floating Market area.  But, it should not be at the Galle Face Green. Since recently fine night street food outlets have popped up in Aluthkade area closer to Hultsdorf. This should be encouraged as foreign tourists seem to be flocking to this area.  As it has a great potential to become ‘big’, CMC must intervene and ‘modernise’ the Aluthkade street food market.

A visitor to Galle Face in the early morning could see thousands of crows converged on the park to eat the previous night’s leftover food in dustbins and food scattered across the Green. In the early mornings there are many stray dogs. Large rats have formed, some are big as cats.  Waste water and junk from food businesses could be seen lying stagnated in the open dilapidated drains. 

These bad developments have taken place as a result of introducing large scale eateries. 

There is the strong possibility that eateries of both sides of the Green could further increase and end up at Kingsbury Hotel end. The cash strapped governments are greedy for rent monies.

Opening up Galle Face for such large scale eateries is contrary to the purpose in which it was established. The Galle Face is very important and significant to Colombians. It may have qualified for World Heritage status, but, perhaps not anymore. In trying to  commercialize it to the maximum, the authorities have meddled with it too much.  They forgot that it is not a simple real estate; Galle Face has an important historic status and value. 

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Dear Chanka
    I’d like to write tons in response to this. I absolutely agree with your concern for Galle Face.
    But I hadnt realised just how bad things were until I read this. It’s really years since I went there. My last trips were during GGG & I only moved about at that end, & in crowds, so I didnt really see what was happening further away.

    Years ago I sent regular protest letters to the press about the Port City. Was, am, totally against it. One of my main reasons, which I didnt seem expressed very much, was that it would reduce the 180 degree spread of ocean that we could gaze upon from the Green. It would take away that great joy.

    But I had no idea that permanent structures were going up on the Green itself. What has happened to all the environmentalists? Where are they? Dead, or too old — like me?

    These buildings are a crime. Please, please, somebody intervene & stop this happening. The Green should be sacred, maintained by the appropriate body, for the people of this sad country, particularly for the people of Colombo who have shrinking “virgin” land in which to escape from the pressures & chaos of urban life.

    • 0

      Manel, the 20+ permanent structures are already completed. it is only a matter of opening them for business. When that will happen, I do not know. They are smaller than the main restaurant that is built at the beginning of the Green (GF Hotel end). This big restaurant has taken a lot of Galle Face space (as described in my article). Why Galle Face? Aren’t there other places for them?

  • 0


    “I didnt seem expressed very much” should of course be “I didnt see….”

    • 0

      Once the Port City is fully built the whole area will be dark.

      You are correct; there will very little sea view available from the Galle Face Green. Even the surrounding hotels (all 5*) will lose most of their sea view. The President too will lose his view, currently he could see the sea well from his office in the Presidential Secretariat.

      Await my article about the Port City soon.

    • 0

      Further apologies: I meant to type “Chanaka”.

  • 0

    What drew me to the article, this late, one may wonder. The absence of any comment!
    Chanaka Bandarage has picked up a pertinent subject to write about. He deserves to be read. We need to contribute with our opinions.
    Galle Face Green is no ordinary, average esplanade. It is a repository of our History.
    It is the face of our country. Please preserve it the way it has always been.
    It embodies our grandeur. Maintain its tradition. It reflects our values. Preserve it. It showcases our appreciation of aesthetics. Do not destroy it.
    Please, please, restore the Green.
    Thank you.

    • 0

      Nathan, up to early 20th century the Green was there on both sides of the Galle Face Centre Road. That is why it was named ‘Centre’ road. Later the British built the Army headquarters on the land side of the road.

      It was then a large flat land with many coconut trees, especially on the coast. People went there to sit and relax with families. Not commercialized at all like now.

      • 0

        Chanaka B,
        Galle Face Green brings back memories of my yester years.
        I have been to the Barracks you are referring to.
        As a youth, I have spent hours at the bottom of the light-house, located at one end of the green, holding hands affectionately.
        The Green gave a majestic appearance to The House. I was not happy when The House was moved to Kotte.
        The Green had started losing its glory, with that ‘move’!

    • 0

      It may be desirable to restore the Green to its former glory. But I have reservations about some of the views expressed.
      “It is reported that around 75 new patients are admitted daily to the Maharagama Cancer Hospital. These are our own citizens! Even women especially in Colombo, have taken up alcohol consumption in big way – mainly beer. Thankfully Sri Lankan women are not yet smoking in public.” Is there any real evidence that fast food causes cancer? Hasn’t our traditional betel leaf been proven to cause cancer?
      What’s wrong with women smoking or drinking, if men are allowed to? Let me make clear that NOBODY should smoke. The author seems to view the Colonial period as an example of good administration of the Green. But the prudish author doesn’t seem to know that one of its attractions was horse racing.
      As to kola kenda, beli mal, etc, merchants are there to make money. They sell what people want and what they can profit from.
      Overall, a good article, but the streak of misogyny and holier-than-though puritanism is the cow dung in the curd.

      • 0

        Old codger, thanks.

        Yes there is a direct link between fast foods and cancer.

        See Wikipedia –

        “Greater body fatness is a cause of many cancers……
        The bottom line. Processed meat, overcooked foods, and fried foods may increase your risk of some types of cancer. That’s because these foods may contain carcinogens, or compounds that cause cancer.”

        In Sri Lanka, women drink less and I see it as good.

        Overall I think alcohol and smoking are bad and people should be away from them as much as possible.

        I did not mean to be sexist at all! (ha ha ha ha).

        There was no race horsing at Galle Face but only horse riding. Anyway, I do not see anything wrong with that –what they did in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

        We had a big race course then in Colombo.

        • 0

          “That’s because these foods may contain carcinogens, or compounds that cause cancer.”
          The key word there is “may”. If fast food was so deadly etc, etc, why has our life expectancy and population increased? Obesity is only one of the (presumed) causes.
          4200 people died in traffic accidents last year, but do we rush to ban cars?
          I must make clear I am no fan of fast food, but we must avoid spreading ill-founded ideas. You must remember that the very people who told us that coconut oil is bad for the heart 30 years ago are now recommending it.
          The bottom line is not to take currently fashionable ideas as immutable truth.

          • 1

            Life expectancy has increased considerably because of increased medical intervention.
            True, access to nutritional food, shelter and medicine have overridden the risks posed by toxic food.
            But can that be a defence of toxic food?
            Thy are strict on GM foods in Europe, but not much in the US, where the multinationals have a strong say.
            I agree that, in debates on coconut and sugar v. synthetic sweeteners medical opinion is driven and divided by vested interests. Science plays a lesser role.
            The case against obesity is strong because of the health issues obesity raises more than death due obesity related illness.
            If traffic accident death rate is serious, action has to be taken to control over-speeding, reckless driving and violation of road safety rules. It is best to have a good public transport system.
            If killer accidents still persist, we may consider banning the private motor vehicle.

          • 0

            Old Codger

            If you search the net, there is so much information that fast food is directly linked with cancer.
            Anything deep fried, we have to think twice before putting into our belly. Eg: Chinese rolls, cutlets, wades, patises etc.
            It is mostly the fried starch in such food that contains carcinogens. If the brown outer crisp is too burnt (like blackish) – higher the risk of developing cancer.
            (Also, oil has high cholesterol that causes heart attacks).
            Yes coconut oil is better than most other cooking oils (olive oil is the best), but they should be taken in moderation.
            In the street food, we do not know how many times they have re-used the oil – could be 10 – 15 times!
            If we frequently eat such food, the likelihood of getting cancer (and heart attacks) is quite high.
            Daily physical exercise is a must.
            Also, we do not know anything about the condition of the ingredients of the fast food item– starch, meat/fish, vegetables like potatoes, onions, spices etc. They could be very good. At the same time they could be very bad. Eg: They could be spoilt, contain chemicals, dead insects, rat shit etc.
            If they are of bad quality, then cancer cells could develop in our body and other illnesses such as gastritis, indigestion.
            If they are home-made fast food; they are somewhat safe, as we know what we are eating.
            The bottom line is – everything must be done in moderation.

            Now, let’s go and eat a Kotthu!

  • 1

    I guess most people are totally focused on basic survival and no longer care about aesthetics and uninterrupted views etc. In parliament, a jockey had also commented on whether oxygen is there to be eaten. In that backdrop, with most people starving and fallen to unprecedented depths in quality of life, the greenery on Galle Face would hardly matter to them anymore. Hence the absence of comments also.

    • 0

      Yes, very few people care about things other than food and survival.

      • 1

        Why would people care about things other than food and survival, when they have to struggle is to survive?
        How many of those who care about health, environment etc. care about social justice?
        It is a matter of competing priorities in a badly divided society.

  • 0

    I am least surprised. Chinhalese are a special breed. They will not think twice before they decide to trade their mother and father for a quarter penny. I think there is nothing left to redeem from the Pearl of Asia.

    • 2

      “Chinhalese are a special breed. They will not think twice before they decide to trade their mother and father for a quarter penny.”
      How much will members of your community decide to trade their mother and father for?
      It takes a sick mind to wildly insult people of other identities.

  • 0

    Sad to note that permanent eateries are popping up across Galle Face in Colombo. These eateries cater for people bussed form outstations for an evening out. Without sounding rude, they cater cheap street food. Galle Face Green bustles with activities during the evening in to sun set/night.The rest of the time the Green is empty as its too hot to walk around. I agree these eateries should be moved out of the Green.

    Marine Drive from Colpetty to Dehiwela and beyond is another classic example of mismanagement. Along Marine drive all kinds of outfits are cropping up from car garages, tea shops, massage parlours, etc. there are partly demolished houses and parapet walls. Driving along Marine Drive is an ugly experience.

    when I grew up I used to play cricket down Vivekananda Road along the sea side road that goes up to 42nd lane, the game only interrupted now and then by the kama karaya returning lunch plates to the house holds. Warnapura brothers used to play cricket down Collingwood place. It was so quiet and serene. Now every residential road that connects marine drive to Galle Road is jammed packed with traffic during peak times.

    large scale corruption is destroying the beauty of Colombo at the ground level while white elephant Lotus Tower is projected as the face of colombo.

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