8th March 1998
Nuwara Eliya is not a town without landmarks of a historical nature. The Grand Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in the country, can certainly be classed among these. With its distinctive colonial architecture and well tended gardens, the Nuwara Eliya Grand is one of the most sought after hotels during the April season, when all of Colombo travel to the cool hills to beat the heat.
For the season's revellers, the Grand plans to have several new attractions ready. A pub/ night club, with plush furnishing and wooden floors is taking shape in the new wing ( Golf Wing) of the hotel. So is the modern gym and fitness centre. "One has to offer activity for visitors on a rainy day," Resident Manager Raju Veerasingham said.
Located centrally in Nuwara Eliya town, a little distance away from the lake and next door to the Golf Course, it's perfect for those seeking to holiday in the misty hills of Sri Lanka's highest located town.
You enter into old fashioned grandeur. Long corridors are, interspersed with stools holding large vases of exotic carnations and colourful gerberas. A huge lounge, with delicate plaster work on the ceiling, fireplaces and generous use of wood, speak of the antiquity of the building. Reproduction furniture has been carefully chosen to enhance the opulent aura of the hotel.
With the addition of the new wing, the Grand claims 60 deluxe rooms, 85 standard rooms, three suites and two presidential suites with golf course view. The exterior of the new three-storied building has been created to look no different from the original facade. Rooms are decorated tastefully in understated elegance- thick carpets, floral bed covers, arm chairs and floor length curtaining. Equipped with TV, mini bar, the rooms have built in heaters disguised as fake fireplaces with revolving logs that light up when the heat is on.
All furniture items crafted for the new rooms bear an insignia that was found in some pieces of the original furniture.
In the older part of the hotel one finds interesting corners like the Bar where a genuine log fire adds warmth to a room hung with old pictures of Sri Lanka -Nanu Oya Pass, Nuwara Eliya town etc.
The billiards rooms with its antiquated, championship billiard tables and score boards with seals of old British companies is another part of the hotel worth the visit.
The hotel has a long history. During the years 1824- 1831 Sir Edward Barnes built "Barnes Hall" as his private residence in the cool climes of Nuwara Eliya. This building makes up the core of the Grand Hotel. It was later run as a small time guest house cum hotel by a family called Downalls. In 1891 it was taken over by the Nuwara Eliya Hotels Company, which today is owned by George Ondaatjee. In the hotel bar a framed picture of an old single storied Grand Hotel with the comment and signature of a guest scrawled underneath, dates 1903. It was nearly a century later that the hotel went through complete refurbishment and was upgraded to a hotel worthy of its name.
Lord Mountbatten is said to have stayed at the Grand Hotel when in Ceylon and thus has that suite named after him. It is a rambling room, with high ceiling and old furniture.
The Grand Hotel's antiquity is not merely preserved for external looks. The management still operates an outdated laundry house with ancient washing machines and dryers.
Rooms for the season ( April 4 to 15 ) are priced at Rs. 4860 for a regular room, Rs. 5360 for a deluxe and Rs. 5860 for new wing deluxe. ( all rates are for double half board, nett )
Suites are sold at Rs. 7610 (old wing) and Rs. 13, 460 (Golf Wing).
The Grand promises a swinging time for holiday makers. April 10-18, the Ballroom will come alive with disco beats and theme nights at the main dining hall with live music.
For all you gourmet lovers there will be a Garden Food Fiesta including chinese cuisine by Chef Song of Shanghai. For the sporty there will be lightening Snooker championships. There will be lots of entertainment for kiddies and fashion shows for the ladies. The season's festivities will wind up on April 21, with the Teen Queen Contest.
MAMOUDZOU, COMOROS: "Why", a passenger from the cruise ship asked, "are the women wearing dried custard on their faces?"
The ship had anchored between the islands of Petite Terre and Grand Terre which constitute the country of Mayotte. The Mahorese women standing on the deck of the ferry shuttling between the two islands were not really wearing dollops of custard on their faces but a yellow paste.
The paste, we learned later, is a mixture of herbs and sandalwood ground on coral and mixed with water. It is worn to tone up the skin and enhance youthful complexions. It is also a protection from the sun, and from mosquitoes.
Seeing the yellow-faced women, swaddled in the colourful kanga cloth of Africa, as they stalked proudly off the ferry when it reached the harbour, made us curious about the people living in this unknown island in the Indian Ocean.
A replica in miniature of the Eiffel Tower of Paris next to the harbour gives an eye-catching clue to Mayotte's statues. Add the hunky French gendarmes in shorts on careful watch and the visitor is firmly reminded that Mayotte is more than an island in the Comoros group; it is part of France. Since 1976 it has been a French Territorial Community administered by a French government representative with the rank of Prefect.
This curious state of affairs for an island just 400 km off the east coast of Africa, is the result of European squabbles in the Indian Ocean. The Comoros group of islands has been populated, first by Malay-Polynesian mariners and then settlers from Africa, for about 2,000 years.
Europeans arrived in the 16th century on voyages from France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain and vied for territory. Mayotte became a popular place for plunder by pirates based in Madagascar and the island was ruled by a succession of Sultans until 1841.
The other three main islands in the group also became part of the French colony of the Comoros until they declared independence in 1975. Mayotte, however, chose to remain with the French Republic which explains the strange Gallic presence in this tiny (145 square miles) tropical country.
The capital, Mamoudzou, is a small, modernised town embracing the harbour. The market place is close to the landing stage and one of the few cool spots.
The long crusty loaves of bread typical of France are sold by boys on bicycles at the periphery of the market. Its interior is a warren of vegetable and textile stalls. Tropical fruits are sold alongside cans of imported ones while plastic shopping bags are preferred to the locally woven reed variety. It is symbolic of the contrasts in Mayotte, with the modern and imported ousting the old and indigenous.
There are few stylish and very expensive restaurants in Mamoudzou which are patronised by expatriate residents from France. The Mahorese prefer to eat in the wooden cabins around the market square, where a plate of fried fish and boiled green bananas at the equivalent of US$ 2.00 makes a satisfying lunch.
The disparity in the lifestyle of the Mahorese and the residents from Metropolitan France is to be seen within a short walk of the harbour. A boulevard overlooking the waterfront is lined with pretty wooden cottages. These have been taken over by expatriates and turned into bistro-style bars and restaurants that are regarded as chic by visitors but unaffordable by locals.
In keeping with status, the currency of Mayotte is the French franc and the sole bank is a branch of a major French one. French is the main language, supported by Chimaora, the language of the Comoros.
Mayotte likes to be known as the Perfumed Isle because of the ylang-ylang plants that yield essence used for perfumes. The flora is rich. Giant baobab trees that look as though they are growing upside down sprout in the south of the main island. Chattering parakeets and cooing doves testify to a vibrant bird life.
Travel Notes: While Mayotte has become a popular destination for cruise ships sailing from Dar Es Salaam and Mombassa, getting there by air is complicated. Emirates flies from Dubai to Moroni the capital of independent Comoros from where small planes fly to Mayotte's airport at Petite Terre. There are direct flights from Reunion but to get to that island you have to fly via Paris.
More Plus * Kala Korner-By DeeCee