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The Plantation Home
"Come in, sit down, relax. Our house doesn't always look like this. Sometimes it's worse."
That's what the sign hanging in the hall of the Concordia Estate bungalow says. It is a sentiment bought ready-made in a souvenir shop, but it sums up the welcome extended, even to strangers, at every planter's bungalow. Ever ready for visitors, it seems, from the orderly way rooms are laid out, the flowers freshly arranged and floors highly polished.
The Concordia bungalow, close to Kandapola, is unusual in that it was for many years, the estate guest house rather than a planter's residence. By the 1970s it had reverted to its role as a house for the estate superintendent. When it served as a guest house it was a popular retreat for government ministers and plantation company directors. What is now the morning rooms used to be the centre of hospitality: the billiard room.
The billiard table has gone, but is not forgotten. The appu at the bungalow, who was there in the 1970s, remembers when planters used to play late into the night in front of blazing log fire. The table itself has been found a new home at the Park Estate Staff Sports Club.
The Concordia bungalow is not one you discover by chance. Instead of being approached by driving uphill, as most plantation bungalows are, you drive downhill from Kandapola, along roads winding through dells and dales of tea. It nestles on a secluded bluff, at 5,800 feet above sea level , with views of Ragala and line rooms deep down in the valley distance.
The bungalow's design has been governed by its location; not much level land, so it is built in an "L" shape, with the body of the bungalow in the lower leg of the "L". Its entrance driveway is compact with the garage at the top of the "L". A magnificent tree of bougainvillea "not a creeper," the planter proudly claimed towers over the bungalow and greets visitors with a bright blaze of rich purple leaves.
The entrance is set between two rooms, dining room on the right and what is known as the creeper's bedroom on the left. The hall has a broad scalloped ceiling and there is no loft beneath the bungalow's green painted galvanise roof. A priceless piece of antique furniture, a compact escritoire festooned with knobs and hidden drawers, serves as the telephone table. Like the rest of the bungalow's furniture, it is included in the inventory, part of the nation's plantation heritage.
An unusual tribute to tea and a novel corner ornament, is the dried tea bush, roots and branches, starkly elegant in the hall. It adds a rustic touch to the cosy formality of the Concordia bungalow.
The billiard room of former days is opposite the entrance and overlooks a small semi-circle of lawn that constitutes the bungalow's garden. The corridor linking the rooms has a false window of mottled glass at each end, a design refinement that would be considered superfluous in today's modern buildings. Behind them are the bathrooms attached to bedrooms.
There is a corner bedroom in the front of the bungalow, next to the creeper's bedroom, with a corner lounge opposite. The lounge has an ornate wooden fireplace and highly polished teak floor. An individual touch is created by the romantic paintings done in oils that belong to the bungalow and were painted by Dawn Waring, wife of the last British superintendent of Concordia Mike Waring. The paintings are of local scenes as well as portraits of someone in a sou'wester buttoned up against a storm, and of a bearded plantation character.
The long leg of the "L" shape leads from the dining room to the staff quarters. The plantation office used to be there but now it is abandoned. The kitchen garden is rich in carrots and, a delightful surprise, strawberries. They grow in beds alongside the house and yield a luscious crops for the planter and his family. Steps lead from the half-room of lawn down through narrow terraces of vegetables. A stone marks the spot where a former occupant's dog, Soroo, was buried in July 1992.
The bungalow seems to date from the 1920s; it has the familiar features of the period, with a lavish use of teak although composition floors have also been utilised. There is a fireplace in every room, lit sometimes to warm and cheer up visitors unaccustomed to the hillside chill.
Boot scrapers are strategically placed by the entrance doors and are essential during the monsoon season when rain turns the dust-dry paths to mud. Then Concordia is a cosy castle, showing how it must have been a happy home from home for the expatriate planter of former years.
Has Sri Lanka's "Little England" become another Pettah? The question is being increasingly asked by residents and visitors to the scenic mountain resort of Nuwara Eliya who find it a pitifully unkempt sight these days. Accumulated garbage, broken drains, rotting vegetables and damaged roads are common in this town and its compact, little England look is now marred by unplanned urbanization. The streams flowing down from the crystal waterfalls that were once part of the town's attraction are now littered with plastic bags and discarded vegetables.
When the town is over crowded with visitors, the situation is a lot worse. During the April season when the hill country is in full bloom, Nuwara Eliya overflows with visitors. The holiday ends and they leave, but the waste remains, and it seems the town never quite regains its glory. Through the years, the town has gradually deteriorated from a misty, sleepy, picturesque little hillside town with Victorian-style buildings earning it the name- "Little England" to the unplanned urban monstrosity it is today . Looking at the town from any vantage point one would see all types of new buildings, shanties, shops and workshops of every description cluttering a view that was once so beautifully serene. Even the shores of Lake Gregory are littered at certain points with garbage from households and industries. Little lanes and by- lanes winding up the hillside from the town are not spared . Those unfortunate enough to go holidaying during monsoon season, would be further disgusted. The town's ancient drainage system is totally inadequate and has not been modernised to keep up with the development that has taken place in the recent years. Roads are awash with mud and slush . A walk in the town ? No, thank you.
What went wrong with Nuwara Eliya ? The town, despite its development, is small and manageable, having a very low population (an estimated 33000- 35000 within municipal limits). Of course during tourist season - April in particular- the population swells to twice or three times that amount. The main problem, it appears, is one that plagues not only this town but the entire country-the infrastructure has not kept up with the pace of development. But given Nuwara Eliya's size, the fact that there is uncleared garbage in the town denotes mainly a lack of institutional efficiency.
The Mayoress of Nuwara Eliya, Ms. Nalini Herat defended the town . "There is no garbage at all in the city," she said . "Everyday in the night we clean up the garbage. There is no such problem." Ms. Herat accused her political rivals of spreading rumours of a dirty city to discredit her. "These are all stories that they make up," she said, inviting The Sunday Times to come up and have a look at the city .
This we have done and unfortunately we did not find a clean city.
Ms. Herat who is in her seventh year as mayoress said that maintenance of the road network is done by the RDA and Pradeshiya Sabha. "There are few roads taken care of by the municipality and we do our level best to keep these in good condition. The bus stand is also partly maintained by us."
But residents too have complaints. "During the last ten years the town has gone from bad to worse," Gemunu Karunanayake, Manager of St. Andrews Hotel said. "Especially the entrance to our hotel is cluttered with little wholesale vegetable shops and lorries loading these to be taken to Pettah. Tourists who come to the hotel and walk to the town in the evenings, often complain of this. They see people washing vegetables in the muddy waters of a little stream and all the shouting , shoving and chaos there. It is a pity that the beauty of this hotel is marred by the condition of the town."
He said more shops and more vehicles are coming into the city, without the support of properly maintained roadways and efficient garbage disposal methods. Municipal sources said they have two lorries and two tractors for garbage disposal and the waste is simply taken and dumped at a small forest area some 6 km from the town.
"It is not only the garbage, but the town lacks basic facilities like proper drainage, street lighting and water supply," said the General Manager of the Grand Hotel, Harin de Costa. "New buildings are coming up with no proper plan and these are not in keeping with the environs of Nuwara Eliya." He said the hotel transports its own garbage for the lack of proper disposal. "For years we have been complaining, but nothing has been done."
"There is a UDA plan to re organise the city and remove the vegetable shops from the middle of the town," Karunanayake said . "We hope this plan is implemented quickly."
Nuwara Eliya thrives on its visitors. It is a destination much sought after by Colombo's holiday makers and a stopover for tourists on countrywide tours. If this level of neglect continues it would be difficult for the town to attract visitors on the scale it did earlier. Tourists would fail to see why this town, by the looks of it, a muddy vegetable dump in the hill country, was ever called "Little England."
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