Tale of the bullock cart

Seated on a shady side of an open top bullock cart, my entire body sways side to side. The weather isn’t too warm but the occasional breeze makes up for the heaty afternoon. The bull in front has a calm and easy-going rhythm to the way he moves, pulling the cart along with him, munching on a bit of grass. The cart owner bites on a chunk of puwak as he hums a slow song to himself. It’s a bumpy, yet quiet experience, riding the bullock cart; a dying form of transportation unfortunately.

It’s hard to trace back as to when exactly they came into existence. Some argue that it was along the time the wheel was invented. Our people of the island walked everywhere; to fill their baskets with food, water, collect hay or lumber or they simply rode an animal and tied their belongings to it. However, it was apparent that the chosen farm animal, be it a horse or donkey, could not carry heavy loads by itself, and a more sustainable and feasible mode of transporting goods was required.

Structure and use of the cart

And so, the bullock cart was invented. Made of light wood, sometimes even bamboo, and tied together with strong rope, the cart was the sole mode of transportation for many years and was later used to transport items such as wood blocks, hay, barrels of kerosene and laundry over long distances that could not be made on foot. Gradually, large quantities of agrarian goods and even lumber were transported on certain occasions.

The bull became the most ideal animal to use to harness onto the cart and pull it along, as it was much stronger and agile than a horse or donkey, and was able to travel longer distances with larger loads. The bullock cart was typically two-wheeled and led by one or two bulls. The cart was sometimes hooded and sometimes not. I’m told that usually depended on the area the cart was made and what it carried. The style of the cart also differed depending on the area and culture of the people who rode it. However, the structure always remained the same.

The body of the cart was about 9ft long and 3ft wide. It had a flat frame and bottom, made of light and airy wood that wasn’t too heavy. The handles and hooded parts were made of bamboo which is also light wood. The wheels were made of wood too. At the front, the one or two bulls were harnessed to the cart with the use of wooden planks and thick rope. The space between the two wheels was for passengers to sit comfortably. In time to come, cushions and seat covers were also added.

Apart from being used to transport goods, when it came to the islanders using it as a mode of transportation, it was a symbol of social status; those of the higher echelons and status in society rode carts that were different to those ridden by the commoners.

They were a common sight in the city of Galle; this was because it was a trading hub and many goods needed to be transported to other parts of the island. The easiest and cheapest way to get them across was to hire a bullock cart although they tended to take a few days on the road.
A laid-back lifestyle

We stop by a small lake so that the bull can take a break and hydrate itself. I’d forgotten to bring along a bottle of water, so the cart owner walks towards a small shack and buys me one. He hands it over and then goes to sit by a shady tree, still munching on his puwak. There’s a paddy field just beside the lake so I hop off the cart and decide to take a walk around. The air feels fresh and clean here. There’s only the sound of the leaves being brushed by the wind and a far-off call of a bird. Apart from that, it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s clear that the life of those in the village and other rural areas has a way of calming you; unlike the busy, bustling city life filled with noise and congestion.

We spend a good half an hour this way; the bull lapping water and munching on grass, the cart owner humming to himself and I, just breathing in the fresh air. Back on the cart, there’s still plenty of ventilation and a good view of the surrounding as we ride past more paddy fields. The sky thankfully remains blue and dotted with a few fluffy white clouds. There’s the occasional shout from the cart owner to ensure the bull stays on course and does not deviate from the route. I may have nodded off a few times along the way.

Although it was a mode of transportation that barely cost much, and one that caused absolutely no pollution to the environment, the life of the cart owner was certainly not a fancy one. Caring for the bulls was also relatively quite easy, however the cart owners had to travel long distances by themselves and endure plenty of discomfort and hardship along the way. Problems that arose had to be dealt with singlehandedly. Loneliness was a common friend. To pass the time and lament their sorrows and worries, the men used to create kavi.

Source – Beyond Escape

Laments and a rare sight

Karaththa kavi were sung by the cart owner, transporting goods along rough and long distances, and empathised with the plights and difficulties faced. Some argue that the folk songs, a big part of Sri Lankan life for centuries, also empathised with the plight of the bull because those who were Buddhist were against animal cruelty. In one, the lyricist seems to regret his unkind and unjust treatment of the animal, as he had prodded it with the sharp end of a stick and smacked it. In another, there’s empathy towards both the bull and the man, as both are seen as victims of karma. There was certainly a great deal of depth in the composition of these kavi, and truth as well.

The slow and unsteady speed and ride of the bullock cart, and of course the rise of other modes of transportation gradually led to its rarity of use. As a dying mode in today’s day and age, it is a rare, yet exotic sight in the eyes of plenty. Unfortunately, it is hard to see bullock carts in use even to date in the rural parts of the island, although it is commonly used as an attraction amongst tourists in some hotels and during weddings when the couple leave the ceremony hall.

These bullock carts are sometimes decorated gaily and the bulls are also decked in the most colourful attire. I’m not keen on this idea although some don’t seem to mind. The one I’m just about to get off is as simple as it gets and I believe, that’s exactly how it should be. As I thank and bid adieu to the cart owner, I can see the underlying sadness in his eyes. This trade, or rather mode of earning a living, will probably die with him. There’s no saying it will continue to exist in the near future.

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Of you 

I’m making my way towards home

I like walking if the weather is good

I avoid the puddles from last night’s rainfall

And the cracked bits of pavement

And I think of you….

I reach home and I head straight to my room

I undress and get under the sheets

Gathering all the pillows and the cushions

Making myself comfortable

And I think of you….

It’s late and night and my mind is wandering

And I think of the day’s events

I make lists for the next day

And as I drift off into slumber

I think of you… 

Lime & Co. 


I wake up to the sound of a train passing by. I’d forgotten how close I was to the rail track in my doped out sleepy state. No complaints though; I’m also able to hear the sound of the waves crashing in the near distance. It’s all good. 
The room I’m in is pretty sparse; there’s another twin bed, a cupboard, a small side table, a rack and me. It’s simplicity down to the tee but in the most appealing way. Lime and Co. is an eco chic accommodation property to say the least. I like describing it that way. Short and sweet but pretty much sums up what it stands for – budget accommodation on the southern coast of the island, just 30 minutes away from the Galle Fort, in an area known as Kabalana. 
I like it; I really do. It’s different to any other place I’ve stayed at (not been experimental with my choices of accommodation before but here’s a start) and I like that its simple, comfortable and very relaxing. There aren’t any fancy soaps or amenities in the bedroom, nor is there housekeeping. But, it works. The beds are neatly made and comfortable, the shower is amazing and the cement floor, open space and verandah along the entire property gives a very minimalistic chill vibe that is infectious and very likeable. 


It’s the little touches that get me; the worn out repurposed metal bowl converted into a sink, the wicker baskets used as lamp shades, the turquoise paint on the doors, the cushion covers made out of saris and shalwar fabric.  
There’s an open verandah concept throughout the entire property and there’s a total of six rooms – two double and four twin rooms. Guests can cool off in the plunge pool that’s in a secluded spot at the back. But then again, there’s also a large hammock at the front which is ideal to relax on, and I fully intend on reading a book in the evening on it. It’s a bit too warm right now though so I’ve picked a good spot right under a fan, opposite lush greenery and here I am, laying out my thoughts. 


I’ve been asked to head down for breakfast at 9am. For someone who loves her sleep, that sounds a bit torturous but who am I to complain. Reminder – NOT here on vacation; here on work. 9am it is. It isn’t part of the accommodation, as the Kanteen acts as a separate entity just so you know. My morning meal starts with a simple plate of fresh cut fruit; mango, papaw, banana, watermelon and pineapple, and a glass of fresh mixed fruit juice. You can also pick between having a cup of tea or coffee. You get to pick how you want your egg, so I decide to have mine scrambled, and it arrived atop a slice of toast, along with a basket of more toast, marmalade and butter. Lastly, a serving of banana maple pancakes. This is some breakfast. A good way to start the day. 


The weather doesn’t look too good to head down to the beach, which is just a mere metres away so I’ve decided to explore the Galle Fort instead. Like most locals, I’ve visited the fort plenty of times but there’s always something new to see and restaurant or café to try out. Poonie’s Kitchen seems to be a big hit as a hidden oasis that opens up to a large courtyard, bright colours and quirky décor. Their limited menu includes sandwiches, salads, a tea menu as well as yummy desserts. Other must visit places in the area include Calorie Counter on Lighthouse Street, Bubblement on Parawa Street, Kats Coffee and Bedspace Unawatuna. 
There’s no walking in the fort for me either as the weather continues to look drag, so its back to base. The gloom continues but I’m adamant to at least spend half an hour in the pool and get some reading done beside it afterwards. Like I’ve said before, it’s easy to feel relaxed. There are no disturbances by the staff nor by the other guests staying at the sam accommodation and this works for someone who likes their peace and quiet. Evening falls and the silence continues. It’s all good, except for the damn mosquitos that holler and hover inches from my ear and my legs. I’m bitten in seconds. This definitely needs to be fixed, and let the management know. I’ve been advised to shut my room windows tight and firm, use a mosquito coil at night and also the bed net. Aye aye! 


Have I forgotten to mention the meals? Apart from the continental breakfast, the menu is quite simple but all that is about to change with the newly hired chef who hails from Sydney, Australia. Not that the current menu has any qualms attached to it, but it’s a bit outdated I believe and needs some sprucing up. I’m served a mean plate of devilled prawns along with diced veggies and a good cup of rice that has been cooked and soaked in milk for my late lunch. I love the flavours mixed together and the fact that there’s plenty of prawns on my plate. They certainly aren’t stingy when it comes to quantity and that’s a huge plus point in my books. 
If you’re a surfer, or interested in getting in a couple of lessons, this is certainly the place to be. Kabalana is known for many break points and does attract surfers of all levels, from different parts of the world. Apart from immersing yourself in the waters atop a surfboard, there’s also yoga to try out, and boat safaris in the nearby areas. Stilt fishermen are a famous sight but don’t bother asking them to strike a pose for you, as they’d charge a hefty fee just to pretend to be fishing. 


I’ve picked hot butter cuttlefish for dinner and it arrives with a side salad. The two don’t necessarily go together, but I’m a bit too hungry to bother. The cuttlefish is done well and the salad adds a good crunchy mustard flavour to my palette. I down my meal with a chilled glass of fresh watermelon juice and retire a bit early so I can get back to my book. I’m currently reading ‘A Brief History of The Amazons’. For the most part, the net and col does keep the mosquitos at bay but I am disturbed once or twice at night. I make a mental note to mention this to the management in the morning. 
Overall, my stay at Lime & Co. was a worthy experience of opening up my mind to eco chic accommodation and their fresh take on value living. As I’ve never stayed in such a property before, this encounter was definitely a good one. I’d love revisit; go on a few excursions the area has to offer and also try out the new menu when it does become available. Definitely something to look forward to. 
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