Archive for August, 2011

A VOICE FROM SRI LANKA, Number 72

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Warm greetings from Sri Lanka to readers worldwide. Thanks to all those who send comments, which can be done easily by clicking on “Comments” below. You can also view comments by others there.

 

Rail mail

It has long been difficult to buy decent envelopes made in Sri Lanka, so I was delighted to receive a CD from a friend here packed in a locally made, self-sealing envelope, complete with a Sri Lankan image on the outside and bubble-wrap stuffing inside. When Neel phoned the number printed on the back (071 6822458; Suriya Products) to order 100 (at Rs 20, 11 p, 18 cents each wholesale price) he was doubtful when the manufacturer offered to have them delivered to our nearest railway station by train, instead of posting them.

I had no idea that goods could still be delivered by train. Sure enough, the package wrapped in a used fertiliser bag, with Neel’s name and address in Sinhala, was put on at Narahenpita station in a suburb of Colombo, unloaded in Colombo and put in the guard’s van of a passenger train that stopped at Induruwa. The fee for that “same day” service was just Rs 56 (32 p ; 50 cents). I’m glad that, in some cases, the “good old days” are still here.

 

Just Dessert

I had this wonderful confection at Mas Villa, Kotmale, in the hill country during a visit there last week (more about that in a subsequent newsletter). It has a base of jaggery (that’s a kind of fudge) made from treacle tapped from a kitul tree that grows alongside the villa.

It’s actually pure, home made ice cream, not a packet mix nor cheese cake, thick at the base and even creamier at the top. It’s a creation of Udesh, the chef at Mas Villa, whose food is worth the visit; but you’ll have to stay at the villa as – to conserve the privacy of guests – the restaurant is only for residents.

 

Bar Quest

When I saw this sign with its convoluted English on the wall beside Cargills supermarket in Kandy, I decided to check it out, even if I had to go round the bend.

The next sign was a little confusing since I was in search of a drink for, in Sinhala and Tamil, it warns against opening a bottle and drinking on the premises. But what a lovely (1930s?) caricature of a bar fly.

The horror of the bar was revealed inside: queues to buy bottles of local spirits to be drunk off the premises.

But the memory of the “good old days” was restored when we dropped into what is now known as the Pub Royale, the former drinking den of planters and Kandy grandees behind the Queen’s Hotel. The hotel is the oldest still operating in Sri Lanka, having opened in 1844. A photo of the bar taken in 1938 hanging inside the hotel shows it hasn’t changed much since then, with its chunky carved wooden façade, marble topped counter, brass foot rail, and mirror backed shelves. It even has wooden blinds to roll down and close it up at night. (The setting perfect for getting blind, I suppose.)

 

Cheese on Thursday

If you want a handmade Worthington Cheese Ball (see Newsletter Number 65) made in the hill country, and can get to Colombo on Thursday 1 September to collect it, contact Chris Worthington immediately: [email protected].

He writes: “At the moment I have two peppers, one chilli and one caraway which are not committed to anyone.” (I recommend the caraway.)

 

Architectural Marvel

It’s called the Tangalla Bay and was built in the deep south of Sri Lanka before the revered Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa exerted his long lasting influence on hotel design. To critics, Bawa’s buildings have all the style of an underground car park. What then would they make of architect Valentine Gunasekera’s hotel that opened in 1972 to the astonishment of the neighbourhood and delight of trendsetting tourists?

Alas, as tourism thrived in Bawa’s buildings on the west coast, Gunasekera’s landmark hotel gradually sank into obscurity over four decades, until restored with vigour by new management, the Jetwing Group, earlier this year.

Gunasekera was an admirer of Le Corbusier’s work and created a hotel incorporating many of his ideas: a central corridor from the entrance to bedrooms that soars over a ground floor dining room while stairs lead down concrete flues to lower levels. The building’s layout resembles a lobster spread-eagled on the rocks although legend likens it to a ship. Whatever it resembles some see it as an exciting monument to the start of Sri Lanka’s tourist industry. (Others think it should be pulled down.)

The rooms have been tarted up and a spectacular infinity swimming pool has been added, but the bar still remains informal with bottles stacked on the top of a fridge (see number 71).

Brought back to life, it is a thrilling place the stay with 34 rooms perched on a breezy outcrop of rock with the sea on three sides. Walk-in rates until 31 October 2011 begin at US $ 75  for a double, with breakfast. (www.jetwinghotels.com)

 

More

There’s more about this extraordinary hotel, and scores of others well worth a visit, adding to Sri Lanka’s irresistible appeal, in “Guide To Sri Lanka” available from Vijitha Yapa bookshops in Colombo at Rs2 , 950 , and bookshops in the UK (£ 15 . 99) and USA ($ 23 . 99) or from the publisher www.bradtguides.com

Happy reading!

Royston