Mark Hodson, in The Daily ,News, 13 June 2014, where the original title reads “Sri Lanka: Lush jungle, paddy fields and gastronomical delights”
“Sorry about the weather, we were hoping for rain,” said Suzy Ratwatte as she looked out from the verandah across her dusty parched lawn. I wiped the sweat from my forehead. Suzy was pouring tea into china cups, served with custard creams. “Even we are feeling the heat, it’s impossible,” she said. Suzy and her husband Bhathiya run a homestay in a small village on the outskirts of Kandy. Their large colonial bungalow, which has been in the family for four generations, is tastefully decorated with antique wooden furniture and knick-knacks collected over the years.
Idyllic rural setting: It was towards the end of the tourist season and I was the only guest. “When the children grew up and left home, we thought why not have people to stay,” said Suzy. “We have four guest rooms, we both like to meet people and I love to cook.” That was two years ago and reviews from past guests have been so positive that the couple have added three further rooms in the grounds.
With its idyllic rural setting – surrounded by lush jungle and paddy fields – and homely welcome, the Kandyan Manor, as the couple call it, is a perfect place to spend a couple of days unwinding after a tour of Sri Lanka.
The sights were wonderful, but I was knackered. I found Suzy’s home through Rickshaw Travel, a tour operator that targets a generation of grown-up ex-backpackers, who want authentic cultural experiences – meeting local people, for example – yet don’t want to cut corners on comfort, and typically don’t have more than two or three weeks off work.
According to Suzy, more than a dozen homestays have opened in and around Kandy in the past couple of years. She and Bhathiya were lucky: an agent in the capital, Colombo, paid a visit and loved the place. He now sends regular guests, including some from the UK.
What guests find is not luxury, but home comfort. My huge room had twin beds, high ceiling, wooden writing desk, ceiling fan, day bed and basic ensuite bathroom. Three-course meals were served on the verandah, and Suzy’s cooking was top notch.
I had just spent the best part of a week on the tourist merry-go-round, visiting Buddhist caves, climbing sacred rocks, exploring national parks and ancient abandoned cities.
Early in the morning, Bhathiya took me for a walk around the village. He pointed out the nutmeg and coffee trees and introduced me to his odd-job man, who showed me around his simple clay-built home: a spotlessly clean front room with armchairs and music system, and a back room with a wood-fired stove that served as both kitchen and marital bedroom.
Local food market: We watched villagers plant rice in the paddy fields while water buffalo chewed the cud and smartly-dressed children were ferried to school in colourful tuk-tuks. Most of the men in the village work as tuk-tuk drivers, according to Bhathiya: they rent the vehicles for Rs. 400 (less than Sterling Pounds 2) per day and use them for the school run as well as touting for business in and around the city.
After a breakfast of banana and avocado coated with honey, Suzy and I squeezed into the back seat of a tuk-tuk for her twice-weekly trip to the local food market, where we bought sardines, curry leaves and – for me – a herbal cold remedy that appeared to be made up of eight different types of tree bark.
Back at the house, I snatched some well-earned verandah time, then Suzy fetched me for a cookery demonstration. We passed through the family kitchen – equipped with all mod cons – to the original kitchen that had barely been updated in 200 years. I was shown how village women slice vegetables with an upturned knife gripped between their toes (‘It is a bit dangerous,’ admitted Suzy) and, once they’ve squeezed all the juice from the fresh coconuts, use the shavings to scrub the stone floor.
Suzy and her home help quietly rustled up a meal which as good as any I’d eaten all week, including a particularly fine mango curry. I polished off the meal followed by the tree bark cold remedy. I can’t begin to tell you how bad that tasted.
After dark, Bhathiya took me to visit the village temple, which dates back to the 18th Century. We were welcomed by the head priest, a friendly ex-policeman who spoke little English but grinned and nodded enthusiastically and ushered me into the inner sanctum to admire the painted walls and the Buddha statues, one of which was said to be 450 years old.
Early next morning I left for my flight home. As sunlight started to appear above the peaks of the Hanthana mountains, I realised my cold was clearing up. Perhaps the tree bark had worked its magic.
Courtesy: MailOnline and in