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20th June 1999

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Only lovers bloom in this historic park

By Chamintha Tillekeratne

Lovers every few yardsOnce a protected forest of the Hantane mountain range, later a summer palace of Kandyan kings, then a military post of the British, today Rajawasala Park or Wace Park as it is popularly known in Kandy has become a lovers' paradise.

'Please observe strict discipline' reads a sign at the entrance to the park . But the couples who seek refuge here pay little heed. So acute is the problem that residents of the area, also known as Castle Hill refuse to visit the park. One young lady of 28 who lives in the vicinity says she is embarrassed to be even seen walking past.

The park has a colourful history which deserves mention. Located next to Hillwood College, Kandy, the site was originally selected by King Dharmasuriya I for his palace. Later Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, the last king of Kandy made it his summer palace. With the fall of the Kandyan kingdom, the British took over the palace, using it as a military post. Its vantage point overlooking the city was no doubt, a factor in this choice. The area became known as Flagstaff Hill due to the barracks being situated there.

In 1887, the then Mayor of Kandy Herbert Wace decided to restore the neglected site and built a park in remembrance.

The Japanese gun presented to Lord MountbattenToday only a Japanese gun placed at the entrance to the park, gives a hint of its old associations. The gun captured in Burma by the British was presented to the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten by the soldiers in appreciation of his kindness. That apart, the only other clues to its past are a few stone tiles and carvings.

"This has been a focal point in our history where kings as well as British commanders took decisions and fought while defending a place of exotic history," says Dr. Nihal Karunaratne, researcher and resident of the area. Dr. Karunaratne is also the author of many publications on Kandy.

So what can be done to maintain the park and highlight its historic links, rather than let it be known as a lovers' haunt? Residents feel that the Municipality staff who run the park should come down hard on couples who misbehave rather than turning a blind eye to their activities.

On the weekday afternoon that The Sunday Times visited the park, there were no less than 25 couples there. Some said they had no place to go and the park with its abundance of foliage offered them some privacy and quiet moments.

Residents only hope that the authorities will heed their appeals and preserve Wace Park for its historic significance.

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