Daisy has trouble with her table manners – she can’t seem to resist putting her feet into her food. Scolding her affectionately, Ayesha Perera urges the pregnant cow to step out of her feeding trough. Luckily, we’ve all been introduced already – Daisy, Molly, Elsa, Goldie and Preeti have just celebrated their second birthday at [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

You want to ‘live like the locals’? Come to Tamarind Gardens

Ayesha and Nalin Perera hope not just to give guests a different kind of experience on their farm off Pallekele but also to uplift the lives of the villagers in the area . Here Smriti Daniel makes a visit

Daisy has trouble with her table manners – she can’t seem to resist putting her feet into her food. Scolding her affectionately, Ayesha Perera urges the pregnant cow to step out of her feeding trough. Luckily, we’ve all been introduced already – Daisy, Molly, Elsa, Goldie and Preeti have just celebrated their second birthday at Tamarind Gardens, the farm that Ayesha and husband Nalin Perera run.

Daisy, Molly, Elsa and Goldie. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Though the animals are feasting on bales of lush green grass, Tamarind Gardens itself is in the throes of a drought. The day we visited marked the end of a seven-day stretch with no water for the Pereras and the little village outside their property – ironic considering that just a few feet from the cowshed lie the deep blue waters of the Victoria Reservoir.

“You wouldn’t think that you’re coming four km down the road from Pallekele, where they have the sprinklers on and everything is green and lush,” Ayesha says, explaining that until the rains come next month, Digana will stay dry and hot. According to Nalin, the Mahaweli Authority only permits water to be siphoned from the reservoir if it’s for the benefit of a lot more people. Currently that translates into access only the upmarket establishments in the area owned by those who are able to obtain permission from the Mahaweli Authority.

Still, even if they can’t draw from it, the reservoir is at least an integral part of the stunning view from the four chalets of Tamarind Gardens. Next month Ayesha and Nalin hope to welcome guests who would like to ‘live like locals’ and give back to the community that hosts them.

From the men working on the construction site to the women who will come in to cook for their guests, everyone is from around here. Much of the food will be grown on the organic farm itself and will be supplemented by produce from the village. Local craftsmen will have a chance to introduce foreigners to their art. For many, this will be a new and hopefully steady source of income.

Nalin and Ayesha

When Ayesha and Nalin purchased the property over 10 years ago, there wasn’t running water or electricity and the mobile signal was faint. “When we first came here, all we saw was the view,” Nalin says. At 10 acres, the land was much bigger than they had expected to be able to afford.

They were only able to maintain it because they had found a “most loyal” Estate Manager in Jayantha Ratnayake. “Jayantha has not only endured all the hardships of living here, but also almost single-handedly supervised all our operations here while we were overseas,” says Ayesha.

At that time, the two were living and working in Britain where after 10 years with the Civil Service, Nalin operated his own refrigeration business. Ayesha had gone from the Deaf and Blind School in Ratmalana to the Benefits Agency in London.

Now back in Sri Lanka, they are managing Tamarind Gardens. While they have also been successful in experiments with growing coffee, vegetables and herbs and think the chalky soil will support a fine harvest of grapes someday, their farm also has a small 24-egg incubator and their most recent batch of hatchlings has been the most successful so far – 19 out of 24 hatched.
These successes are heartening, but there’s no escaping how tough life is here.

This isn’t something they’re trying to hide from their guests. As far as Nalin is concerned “engagement with the community is the principal thing. It’s not just to come to Sri Lanka and think of it as a beach holiday or a cultural holiday – there’s more to culture than that. It’s how people live, and this will give them an insight into reality. Nothing is put on here, it is how it is. It’s a hard life for many of the villagers here.”

A view of the Victoria Reservoir from the farm

This month, they had running water for only five days and have had to pay an additional fee to the Water Board so that a bowser could deliver some water to the farm. Not everyone can afford this, and some 500 local families are in need of tanks to store their water. Arpico has offered its support with a special discount and so far Ayesha and Nalin have managed to raise enough funds to purchase 50 tanks. We visit Asoka Padmakanthi, who is the happy owner of a new tank. Standing outside her house, her children clutching her leg, she says that they used to rely on tar barrels.

Ayesha and Nalin are hoping as well that the local authority will get around to repairing the Aluthwatte Road, with around 10,000 people living in the area relying on it. The bad roads also contribute to the water problem as the pipes are constantly in need of repair.

Ayesha explains that many of the villagers feel that earning a living in this barren place seems almost impossible. “They all feel that they need to go abroad and that there are greener pastures, which may not always be the case,” she says. “They come back with very sad stories.” Now, Tamarind Gardens might give a few of them a reason to stay home.

Come November, Tamarind Gardens will be included as one of a selection of alternative holiday options from Walkers Tours. “The partnership with Ayesha and Nalin is very much in line with our sustainability ethos. We are excited that our project will provide sustainable economic development to a community which is battling very harsh conditions while also providing an extremely enriching experience to our clients,” Walkers Tours/Nature Odyssey Manager Suren Basnayake said.
Guests will be able to pick from several options which include a simple walk through the area with a villager as a guide as well as the chance to look in on and learn something of the local crafts such as Kandyan jewellery making.

Ananda Jayatillaka who has been working with the couple as their basunnehe believes the project is a good thing for the people in the village. No one has ever done something like this here before, he tells the Sunday Times, and the villagers are willing to help because they know it would benefit them in the long run.

“For us, it’s about bringing Digana to the forefront and really allowing it to develop,” says Ayesha. “We are determined to turn it around.”

For more info email ayesha@tamarindgardens.com or visit www.tamarindgardens.com

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.