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Ayubowan

Ayubowan

We were on a short spell – just 2 days visit en-route to our home in Kerala. We had already arranged pick up through Navoda Tours and Neil Rohan, the owner was waiting for us at the airport. We bought a Dialog SIM card and hopped in his old but well maintained Nissan. The Paradise Road Villa Bentota where we had chosen to stay was far down south. We had chosen The Villa Bentota since it was built by Geoffrey Bawa who had developed a style of his own called tropical modernism – an enchanting mix of spacious and open buildings set in verdant tropical landscape.

For breakfast we stopped over at a typical SriLankan restaurant and gorged on string hopper, Kiri Malu (fish curry) and coconut sambal – a dry coconut chutney which figured in almost every meal we had in SriLanka. Instead of the freeway we chose to drive to Bentota via Colombo which was going to take much longer but hopefully more fun. The weather was cloudy and sweaty which was to be expected in May. To keep awake I kept plumbing Neil with questions and got to know that people were disenchanted with the current incumbent and were eagerly awaiting the return of Mahinda Rajapaksa. My wife slept through most of the journey and hardly saw Colombo.

The Villa Bentota

Bentota was a good five hours drive through the route we had chosen, with quite a lot of morning traffic to contend with. Once we left Colombo city and its outer industrial area, the traffic thinned. Rain came and went in short spells. The road followed a heaving sea with the railroad sandwiched in between. The roads were surprisingly good and well maintained. Traffic rules were strictly enforced with heavy fines. The only exception to the rule were the rashly driven buses.

We arrived at The Villa just before noon and were escorted to a room with a terrace overlooking a coconut grove and the railway line. The decor of the Villa followed the black and white motif typical of Bawa down to the bed sheets. The room was airy and high ceiling-ed. The roar of the  sea could be heard from beyond the wall of gnarled mangroves. After freshening up we went to the restaurant for lunch. Squirrels scampered over adjacent tables and Frangipani trees that stood around the open dining area where we sat. The waiters too wore black and white livery which by now was getting a bit tedious. The lunch was sumptuous and expensive – SriLankan Rice and Black Pork for me and Rice and Cashew Nut curry for my wife accompanied by generous amount of coconut sambal.  The pork meat was soft and literally melted in my mouth.

The Villa 2

Afternoon we went to LunagangaBawa’s private estate which he had created out of a derelict rubber plantation modifying it over a span of 50 years into a masterpiece of tropical modernism he advocated. The buildings were set widely apart surrounded by meadows and valleys. The Bentota river encircled it on three sides. Ancient trees with python sized roots stooped over the entrance gate. Here and there were secluded spots to spent pensive moments gazing over the fields and lily decked pools and bamboo groves. There were bells with different tones to summon staff. Chimes and huge urns adorned the estate. Monitor lizards crawled over the estate in their awkward gait, forked tongues flickering, gently submerging into the murky water ways among the mangroves. Bawa had installed windmills of his own design to pump water to the main building set on top of the hill. He permitted no electricity during his time. The estate stood immersed in a friendly gloom pierced by emerald and golden light seeping through the overhanging foliage. It was maintained by a trust which charged a fee for entrance and provided a guide who took you around in an unhurried pace, explaining its salient features and the life Bawa led there. We got to know that he had a distinguished brother and that both were unmarried and possibly homosexuals. Bawa was a large man, more than six feet tall and his mysterious presence was strongly felt as we moved from one location to another in the estate – a gentle phantom who cast a brilliant light long after his death. I’m certain that the legacy of Bawa, the touch of his great mind and personality, will linger beyond generations touching other minds and sparking off creativity and inquiry and a love of nature. As we depart, a crowd on Japanese tourists burst upon the scene in frocks and colourful umbrellas and Lunuganga is suddenly transformed into yet another tourist attraction.

Lunuganga

On our way back we stopped over at an antique shop and bought some souvenirs. The shop had a substantial collection with mind-boggling prices. We forked out a thousand dollar plus for an antique (hopefully) flute player, a crane and a few other knickknacks. Later at the airport we had a fretful time as the customs officials opened the wraps and began examining each item, conferring among themselves and questioning if we were Buddhists etc. I lost all appetite for antiques with that encounter.

Day 2. Visit to Galle. Started early morning for the drive down south to Galle along a beautiful, azure, surf sprinkled coast line. En route visited one of the turtle hatcheries at Kosgoda where we got to see them, pet them and understand their travails. Our guide was a SriLankan doctor studying in Russia. He was taking care of the hatchery during his vacation and he intended to return and devote his life to turtle conservation. There were many different species of turtles kept in tanks (notably Hawksbill, Olive Ridley and Green), newly hatched to ones ready for release to the ocean – only a few of them survive the number of predators that prey on them. They were fascinating creatures, doe eyed with powerful jaws which could easily snip off your fingers.

Turtles

It was hot and sultry and the walk around Galle fort was not particularly comfortable. We found refuge in a private museum inside the fort with endless collections of bone china and clocks and other paraphernalia. The museum was the frontage for a gemstone business and we were gently cajoled into the shop where we ended up buying some. The proprietors were generous and gentle and answered our myriad questions about various stones on display.

Apart from the fort there wasn’t much to see in Galle (so we were told) and by afternoon we were on our way back to Bentota. I stopped to pay homage at the Tsunami victims memorial on the way. The devastation wrecked by the Tsunami is meticulously portrayed in the memorial wall. That was 11 years ago and most of the scars are healed, but it must have been terrible then. A quick SriLankan meal of rice, fried fish and vegetables by the wayside beside the sea breakers, surrounded by cats and gazing at the crabs and we were back on the wheels.

Galle and Beach

SriLanka has a theatrical tradition with a liberal use of masks. At Ambalangoda we visited the mask museum maintained by Ariyapala & Sons, the grand guru of this cultural tradition. There are several ancient masks on display covering the various characters in the act and the masks used by them. The museum care taker was a lady with a monotonous tape recorder voice without expression. Perhaps it was her mask. There was a section where one could witness the artisans at work carving lizards and gnomes out of balsa wood. Inevitably we wandered into the  museum shop and ended up buying  a Garuda mask with a snake twisted around its beak – this mask was bound to guard our home from evil. It is now ensconced in our drawing-room diligently engaged in protecting our home (I hope).

Masks

After a few hours rest we went out in the evening to the Buddist temple in Bentota. A gargantuan Buddha statue with an enigmatic smile greeted us from afar as we approach the temple. As we climbed the myriad steps with carved figurines adorning the balustrades the statue revealed itself gradually in magnificent splendor. The temple beside it was crowded with people dressed in white chanting and presenting offerings of lotus flower to the saffron clad Buddhas within the sanctum sanctorum.

It was fascinating to watch the ritual and the worship. I doubt if Buddha ever wanted to be worshiped the way I was witnessing it. I do not think he ever professed to be a God. As human tendencies go, he was transformed into a deity and was now subjected to worship and adoration with little or no thought for his principles and teachings. Human mind is fascinated by pomp and ritual and a frail Buddha sitting inconspicuously under a tree with no glitter would hardly have a fan following.

The Buddha statue however wore a bemused smile which accepted it all, enjoyed it all, understood it all and serenely presided over it all – not vindictive and not complaining -unlike me. So who am I to judge…

Miscellaneous

It was dark by the time we left the temple. Neil presented us with some traditional SriLankan sweets to take home which was so nice of him. I wanted to have Pol Roti and Lunu Miris for dinner but had to be content with Pittu which is SriLankan for Puttu of Kerala fame.

The next day after breakfast we went out to have a quick look at the beach near the Villa which turned out to be exquisite. We had missed it entirely. But then in 2 days, you can’t have it all. Sri Lanka has so much to offer that we resolved to return – some day. Any way, it is close by.

We took the expressway from Bentota to the airport this time and reached in 2 hours flat. Saying good-bye to Neil was sad. We had shared many good moments and he had been generous and accommodating.

We had flown Mihin Lanka from Sharjah to Colombo. Now it was SriLankan airlines to Kochi. The Keralites on board were having a field time getting drunk; we sat comparing notes and regurgitating memories in those 2 hours before we landed and were sent away with the same warm – Ayubowan.


 

The Paradise Road Villa Bentota

Mohotti Walauwa, 138/ 18 Galle Road, Bentota, SriLanka

www.villabentota.com

Navoda Tours

No.72/1, St Joseph Street,
Eththukala, Negombo, SriLanka

navodatours@gmail.com/ w.neil_rohan@yahoo.com

+94-779862192/ +94-779796358

www.navodatours.com

Ariyapala & Sons Traditional Masks

426 Main Street, Patabendhimulla, Ambalangoda, SriLanka

+94-91-2258373

info@masksariyapalasl.com

www.masksariyapalasl.com

Victor Hasselblad Sea Turtle Sanctuary & Research Center

Nape-Kosgoda

+94-773262553

NOTE:

The Villa Bentota does not provide accommodation to drivers or tour operators unlike many other establishments.

Lunuganga offers accommodation to travelers. Has to be booked in advance due to limited availability: http://www.geoffreybawa.com/contacts

 

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