Our resident Templeberg Fellow Dion Teasdale had this to say about his time spent at Templeberg Villa Galle, Sri Lanka.
‘There are no airs or graces at Templeberg!’
That’s what Christopher Shields, co-owner of the 19th century Dutch colonial villa located on the outskirts of Galle, on Sri Lanka’s south coast, says when I arrive at 4am in the morning.
I’ve flown 15 hours from Melbourne to Colombo (via Bangkok) and then driven another 2 hours to get to Galle, the historic fort city famous for it’s architecture, beaches and literary festival, and for surviving the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
After nearly 20 hours in transit I’m hot, sticky and jet-lagged (the bags under my eyes are nearly as heavy as the ones on my back), and I must look a sight, but Christopher’s words immediately put me at ease.
‘You’re here now,’ he says. ‘And all you have to do is make this place your home.’
And while I feel instantly welcomed and relieved, the touches of luxury, service and indulgence do not go unnoticed.
Despite the hour, Christopher stands before me with freshly combed hair, and eagerly unburdens me of my luggage. The entrance to the villa is lit with candles and lanterns, incense is burning and there are lights swinging gently in the branches of trees.
Raja, one of Templeberg’s night watchmen, greets me with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eyes. He steps forward and offers chilled hand towels rolled into fat fingers on a silver tray, which I use to cleanse and revive my face and neck.
Christopher and Raja lead me up onto the front verandah of the villa and Karin, Christopher’s mother, the Madam of the villa, appears in a flowing nightdress to offer refreshments. We agree it’s too early (or late) for gin, and opt for a pot of Ceylon tea and a bowl of spicy ginger biscuits.
As we sit on the verandah sipping a locally grown brew, I struggle to make sense of my new surroundings. I know Templeberg Villa is perched on top of a hill, encircled by a 5-acre coconut plantation in the middle of a lush tropical jungle, but under the cover of darkness I can’t see beyond the manicured front lawn.
A steady breeze, coming in from the Indian Ocean a few kilometres away, disturbs the heavy palm fronds hanging overhead. Something – perhaps a bird, or a dog, or some strange creature from the jungle – calls out. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Each sound hints at the unknown world daybreak will reveal.
For now, I choose to focus on the small details and the things I can see – the internal world cocooned within the walls of Templeberg. A fat gecko with translucent skin scurries across the wooden verandah doors and disappears into the adjoining guest lounge. I take a peek inside.
The lounge is decked out in period and contemporary furniture dressed with designer cushions and matching rugs, there’s a giant bookshelf heavy with travel guides and novels by Sri Lankan writers, and side tables displaying an exotic collection of objects d’art.
There are sculptural light fittings, locally woven wall hangings, handmade lamps, vases and candelabras, mirrors framed in timber from local Jack Fruit trees, and arrangements of glossy leaves and fresh tropical flowers I assume have been cut from the surrounding gardens.
Beyond the lounge there’s a dining room and then a porch that leads to a small cluster of whitewashed buildings with terracotta tiled rooves that make up the villa’s accommodation. In the centre, at the heart of the villa, there’s an expansive lawn with a Jack Fruit tree flourishing over outdoor seating, potted palms and wild orchids.
It’s classy and on trend, but homely at the same time – stylish yet warm and inviting. I take a deep breath and feel myself beginning to unwind.
‘The monkeys will pass by soon,’ Madam Karin says, making note of the hour. ‘They swing through the fruit trees and grunt – you won’t be able to miss them.’
‘And before that there’ll be the Muslim Call to Prayer,’ Christopher adds. ‘And in between you’ll hear the bread van as it drives around the local village playing Fleur d’Lys or It’s A Small World Afterall.’
We finish our tea and I’m led to the bungalow at the rear of the property, my home for the next four weeks. It has two rooms – the first with a four-posted bed draped in mosquito netting, and the second (with desk, chaise lounge and pedestal fan) is set up specifically for writing.
As soon as I am left alone I toss my luggage aside, strip off and flop on the bed, reminding myself of Christopher’s motto – no need for airs or graces here. I have come to be myself, to unravel, to write.
I want to stay up, turn my computer on, start writing, but I don’t. I have a whole month for that. Instead I spread out under the mosquito netting, and quickly drift off wondering what shape the world will take on when the sun comes up.