Archive for February, 2014


Friday, February 28th, 2014

ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 201, Sunday 2 March 2014.

Welcome to this week’s tropical topics newsletter featuring nuts, wild camping and historic photos.


Not a misspelling but a pithy pun on the habit of people in the Indian Subcontinent of chewing “betel.” In India the stains of scarlet expectoration colour darkened corners of buildings. In Sri Lanka, perhaps because betel chewing is more a rural habit, traces of the practice are more commonly seen on the vermilion lips of its addicts than on walls.

Areca nut trees in the garden (Photo B Kumarasiri)

Areca nut trees in the garden (Photo B Kumarasiri)

Betel is the name for several ingredients combined as a betel quid (synonymous with pan or paan) to give a consoling chew. The betel quid contains betel leaf, areca nut (Areca catechu) and mineral slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), sometimes with the addition of tobacco leaf.

Areca nut for a jolly good chew.

Areca nut in its shell

In Sri Lanka, the ingredients are wrapped in a betel leaf to form a tiny parcel which is popped into the mouth and lovingly chewed. The areca nut is often inaccurately called betel nut; it isn’t: betel is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family and thus is a relative of pepper.

Betel leaf

A betel leaf

Chewing betel is an ancient practice and from the amateur researcher’s resource (aka: the Internet) I learn that “the lime acts to keep the active ingredient in its freebase or alkaline form, thus enabling it to enter the bloodstream via sublingual absorption. The areca nut contains the alkaloid arecoline, which promotes salivation and is itself a stimulant.”

Betel seller 3

Betel seller at Haputale

Betel sellers, like this one in Haputale, are proud of their profession and will happily help the novice to split the nut and package it in a leaf, before offering it for a jolly good chew.


Mystery Photo from 1943

Thanks to that keen British era enthusiast and editor of the Lanka Railway Digest ( Vinodh Wickremeratne for this detailed description of last week’s 1943 photograph.

A familiar Colombo sight_

A familiar Colombo sight identified

“This is Slave Island roundabout…the building is the Salvation Army on Union Place, now called Colvin R de Silva Mawatha. To its right is General’s Lake Road, (some believe as General Lake’s Road), now Sir James Peiris Mawatha….Beira Lake is visible in the background. The beginning of Rifle Street and Bridge Street is visible, now combined as Justice Akbar Mawatha. On the left is the beginning of Shorts Road, now called Kumaran Rutnam Mawatha. The end of Vauxhall Street is also visible.”

Mystery solved

Mystery solved

The reader who sent that photo also sent me this one from his father who was based in Ceylon in 1943 that he wanted to identify. I guessed from the teapot sign in the background with the letter “T” that it was somewhere connected with the hill country, but hadn’t a clue as to where.


Then the reader found out for himself. He wrote: “Thanks to you for putting me in touch with Dominic. He suggested that if I scanned the bullock & cart shot at a higher resolution then I might be able to pick out a few more clues and he was quite right. On the side of the cart is a board that says “DIYATALAWA”, which I have now located as a village in the hill country. It seems there has always been a military barracks there so maybe that’s why Dad was in the area?”


Splendid Ellerton

The fifth edition of my guide to Sri Lanka, published by Bradt ( has drawn the following comment from Richard Goode, whose father I recall meeting when we both lived in Dominica.


“I have looked with interest at your latest Bradt guide on Sri Lanka, and it’s obvious that, unlike other guides, that you really do know the country well. However, I was disappointed to see absolutely no mention of Ellerton! Things have moved on quite a lot since your visit a few years ago – we now have eight rooms, or ten if you count the two that are triple rooms; we have the highest rating on TripAdvisor of any hotel in the Kandy area – 96% approval rating, which can’t be bad! Also, we have been over 90% full for December/ January/February, and I suspect there are very few hotels in Sri Lanka at that level, so clearly we must be doing something right – so I would have thought we merited a mention!”

Featuring Ellerton

Featuring Ellerton

I don’t know how such a splendid place as Ellerton escaped being described in the guide although I did feature it in an article in the Sunday Times  ( in January 2010 when I commented that the bungalow resort is: “half an hour’s drive from Peradeniya off the old road to Gampola…the original bungalow was built 100 years ago…has its own library, a huge veranda and a swimming pool with a view for 20 miles down the forested valley…it’s cleverly designed so guests who don’t know each other can keep to themselves or join in the polite house party atmosphere.” (


Wild Camping

Wild Lanka

Wild Lanka

The Department of Wildlife Conservation ( has launched a service that will be a boon to both locals and tourists wanting to rent one of the department’s 38 bungalows and 40 camping sites in Sri Lanka’s wildlife sanctuaries. Skip the wordy worthy introduction on the home page and go to eservices for the reservation form. A warning says the process must be completed in five minutes. I didn’t try, so I don’t know what happens if you take longer. Cost seems to be about US$ 15 per head per night.


Kicks Kindles

Kicks Books of the USA, the publishers of my collected beat poems, Gone Man Squared, are about to launch a series of novels by me as Kicks Kindles. The first is due out on 16 March, the day of the Full Moon, with a new novel every subsequent Full Moon day for a year. More details later.

Rave, the scent of Gone Man Squared

Gone Man Squared and the perfume the poems inspired

In the meantime, the 128-page hip pocket paperback book (also available as a Kindle) of Gone Man Squared  is available from together with a perfume called Rave, a stimulating fragrance inspired by the poems.


Next project? I’m hoping for a CD of me reading those poems.


Beat (or Betel) regards