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Houseboat in Sri Lanka

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

ROYSTON REPORTS

Tropical Topics, Number 213, Sunday 20 July 2014.

River cruising and beautiful railway stations are some of this week’s topics.

Houseboat in Sri Lanka

The waterways of Kerala and Kashmir have houseboats so, thought Hiran Cooray at the innovative Jetwing group of hotels, why not have houseboats in Sri Lanka too, where there are hundreds of rivers, including 16 that are more than 100km long?

View from the afterdeck

View from the afterdeck

The Bentota River, however, which is where Sri Lanka’s first houseboat is moored at Dedduwa, 4km inland from Bentota’s beach, is not one of them. In fact the houseboat barely cruises anywhere and, anyway, always moors at its Dedduwa base at night.

Yathra by Jetwing moored at Dedduwa

Yathra by Jetwing moored at Dedduwa

Called Yathra, at first sight it looks, at 23m long and 7m wide, like a squat intrusion on the river. But its fibre glass body (built in Sri Lanka) is clad in teak timber, its railings are varnished bamboo, its wooden roof is thatched with palm fronds, its decks are of worn teak and its wall panels processed screwpine.

All's shipshape in the cabin

All’s shipshape in the cabin

The interior belies the exterior; it is exquisite, a landlubber’s fantasy of what a modern houseboat should be. Yathra has two identical compact but not cramped cabins with AC, a narrow balcony and a bathroom with both rain shower and mini bath tub. Furniture is of wood bound in canvas.

A tub in the "head"

A tub in the “head”

A mariner's chest of drawers

A mariner’s chest of drawers

There is a sundeck above the cabins; a dining deck & galley aft; crew quarters are below deck. Captain Koralage, retired after 22 years in the Sri Lanka Navy, stands proudly at the helm, and is a charmer. Yathra by Jetwing seems fun for an exclusive waterborne sojourn, even if it doesn’t go far. (www.jetwinghotels.com)

Captain Koragale at the helm

Captain Koragale at the helm

Beautiful Station Award

When I travelled a lot by train in Sri Lanka in the early 1990s (researching for my book Sri Lanka By Rail as well as exploring the country) I noted how pretty were some of the stations. Not only clean and well cared for, but also with aquariums full of fish and gardens bright with flowers.

In the book I drew attention to the Kudawewa station on the Puttalam Line which was wreathed in colourful bougainvillaea, and to Senarathgama station festooned with “temple trees” (frangipani) on the Northern Line. At Mirigama on the Main Line, the station master kept rabbits in a cage at the foot of a venerable  shade tree.

Stationary blooms

Stationary blooms

To my delight I have discovered another beautiful station: Kamburugamuwa, the last stop (at 153km from Colombo) on the coastal line before Matara. Not only are there lots of flowers in pots, there is also a well-tended hedge, an orchard of papaya trees and an allotment of cassava (manioc) plants.

Fruit, flowers, veggies & hedges

Fruit, flowers, veggies & hedges

Any nominations from recent rail travellers in Sri Lanka for a Beautiful Station Award?

Organic Oil

There are about 50 coconut trees in my garden and every few weeks along comes a nimble man who shins up the tall trunks with incredible dexterity and chucks down the ripe coconuts. These are then collected by a middle man and sold up the market chain to consumers.  Grated coconut is an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan cooking and the village family that provides our local meals, uses a lot of nuts.

Letting the sun make copra

Letting the sun make copra

After the last coconut plucking, we retained some of the coconuts for our own use. Kumara deftly peeled them by jabbing the fibre husks on an upturned spike. The hard-shelled coconut that was thus revealed was cracked open, broken into half and set out in the sun to dry. As the flesh dried it was prized from the shells and laboriously chopped into slices. The slices were then dried for a few more days in the sun.

Slicing the sun dried flesh

Slicing the sun dried flesh

The next I knew about the process was when Kumara came from the village grinding mill with three bottles of cloudy oil that our coconuts had yielded. Since we never fertilise the trees, this is true organic coconut oil. It smells delicious, like a hot cake fresh from the oven. We’re planning to use it for cooking, and even as a hair oil.

Pure home made organic coconut oil

Pure home made organic coconut oil

 

Pavlova palaver 

In the last newsletter, I enthused about a Pavlova I enjoyed with a rousing espresso at the Whight & Co coffee establishment in Colombo. Last week I encountered an even better Pavlova in the deep south, at Lantern, a boutique hotel on the beach between Mirissa and Matara.

Prima-donna Pavlova

Prima-donna Pavlova

This Pavolva took me by surprise. Home made in the hotel’s open-sided kitchen, the meringue was the size of four crumpets, deliciously crisp and perfectly formed. It was stuffed with cream and presented in a sea of fresh fruit (papaya, mangoes, apple) smothered in butterscotch sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream. I confess I liked it so much I had it again for lunch the next day. (It was priced at US $ 4.00 [Rs512; £ 2.32])

More on Lantern in a subsequent issue.

Books by post

Latest books

Latest books

I have a few copies of my Kicks Books paperbacks including the Kenya epic Sweet Ebony and the Swinging London novel Rush At The End available for readers in Sri Lanka at Rs1,750 each, registered postage free. Send an email to [email protected].  If you’re in Europe or the USA, all my books can be found by searching for Royston Ellis on amazon.co.uk or amazon.com.

Beat regards

Royston