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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Maniumpathy

It’s a rather gloomy and rainy Wednesday. I’d thoughts about canceling my scheduled visit, but on a whim, decided against it and stepped out of the house anyways. I’ve a fascination with old houses – properties that have been home to generations of families, and that are over 100 years of age. There’s something about houses that have history attached to it; there’s an inclination of charm and character unlike any other and there’s plenty of stories behind every crevice and brick.  

I explored Maniumpathy that day. The name alone intrigued me. I’m told it is derived from the city that the current owners’ family of this house came from – Manipay (Manipai), Jaffna. It was known to have been the Colombo 7 of the North, although the area had plenty of greenery and fields of paddy. The people were known to have been a dedicated and hard-working lot, which says a lot to be honest as many of them were health practitioners and doctors who came to Colombo on work.  

  


Dr. Savaranamuttu Hallock was one of them. He passed out as a doctor from the University of Aberdeen, after which he joined the Ceylon Medical Service. Since he had to move to Colombo to practice medicine, the property was bought over from its original owner and renovated to suit his family. The house was said to have been built in the year 1868. Technically therefore, the house is over 150 years of age. The front edifice has the year 1906 stamped across it and I’m guessing that was year the Dr. Hallock took over and it became the beautiful homey abode to him and his wife Annapuranie, and their nine children.

It was a stately house, as were plenty of others along the same street, originally known as Harley Street (currently Kynsey Road) and home to many health practitioners much like Dr. Hallock. Colonial attributes were a common feature – the well balanced structure and design of the house, the lush garden around it along with a back terrace, the wide and open front porch leading to the central living space, dining area and of course the personal living areas. Open ventilation and space was a prominent feature, as were minimalistic decorative motifs around the home; pillars that supported the back veranda area, antique furniture with fleur de lis motifs, and the beautifully carved eaves on the edges of the roof.

The house has turned over five generations and has been passed over to the next generation through the hands of the females. I’m quite surprised that this is so but in the most pleasant way possible. Currently, Adrian and Chrysanthie Basnayake are the home owners and eventually it will be passed over to their daughter, Annapuranie Anithra Basnayake.

Today, the home and has once again been painstakingly renovated to its original form with the aid of Architect Chamika de Alwis. It took over five years to complete, as attention to detail was key and it was important to retain much of its original charm and features. It has humbly since been open to visitors and guests alike as a boutique hotel in the heart of the city; Maniumpathy – the name paying homage to Manipay and the word ‘pathy’ means ‘home’ in Tamil.

The rooms at Maniumpathy pays homage to the strong and beautiful women of the family. The grand Master Suite has been named after Annapuranie, the first lady of the house. The other seven rooms are named after Soundhari, Poornam, Cynthia, Ranee, Vasanthi, Chrysanthie and Anithra. The room named after Chrysanthie was in fact originally Dr. Hallock’s clinic at one time.

Apart from the name concocting a connection to the family’s northern origins, there are strong resemblances and other characteristic features throughout Maniumpathy. Open space and ventilation is still a common feature and adds to the cosy and homey aspect of this colonial home. The garden has obviously been narrowed down as the left section gave rise to a new wing with an upper level to house more rooms.

The terrace opens out to a smaller garden space, flanked by the right and left wings, furnished with chairs and table suitable for enjoying a warm cup of coffee and perhaps even breakfast or an evening snack. Dusk, I’m told, brings about a soft and relaxed ambience. Lamps are lit in keeping with the calm and peaceful atmosphere. This area also overlooks a pool and a statue of the deity Nandi. The name stems from the Tamil word that means ‘ to grow’ or ‘to flourish’ and in Sanskrit means joy or happiness. His statue, I believe, therefore has been strategically placed, overlooking the entire edifice in the hopes of bringing about growth and happiness in the best way.

Decorative motifs are very much a prominent and common feature; apart from the additional northern trinkets that have been placed around the house – there’s also the grand ebony dining table that sits magnificently on the right wing, vintage lamps and Bakelite telephones, the bookshelves are well stocked with an array of best reads, and the classic furnishing combined with the white and grey washed walls add much character to this stately home. The Chrysanthie room includes an old stairway which has been restored finely, the two deluxe rooms named after Soundhari and Poornam include Jaffna style open courtyard bathrooms, and there are plenty of old photographs of the entire family placed in antique frames and scattered about Maniumpathy that give it a very homey effect.

I find Maniumpathy to be an oasis in the heart of Colombo; as although it is located on one of the most congested streets of the city, it somehow manages to retain an air of softness and charm. There’s something about it, from the moment you walk in; there’s that telltale aura of simplicity although there’s plenty of history and heritage. There’s comfort in sinking into one of the large couches or even sitting outside overlooking the grass and the pool. Nandi silently watches over.

I’m told that many European painters have stayed at the boutique hotel and chosen to find inspiration in its peaceful atmosphere. Older guests have been known to relate tales of how they used to play in this very house as children.

And the charm of generations that have lived before and Manipay lives on.
–Pictures courtesy Manor House Concepts– 

 

My Saturday :)

I woke as usual this morning; groggy and a little angry that it was 8am. I forced myself back to sleep and was back up by 10am. Still too early I thought in my head but then one of my besties buzzed me about my plans for the day. Of course I had no solid plans so I jumped the gun and said let’s do something. We got another one of my besties up as well and here’s a look at our day at t Lounge, Upali’s by Nawaloka, Flamingo House and the Viharamaha Devi Park!

Cheese and mushroom waffle

 

Spicy chicken crepe

 

Blueberry and pomegranate iced tea

 

Outdoor look of Flamingo House

 

You are asked to leave little love notes on the tables outside; I couldn’t think of anything fancy to write so I wrote an inspiring quote instead 😀

 

The interior

 

The famous flamingo!

 

Apple and raspberry juice, and apple and cucumber juice
The view of the Colombo Municipal Council from the Viharamaha Devi Park

 

Xoxo

 

A day in Galle Fort

Spent a day in Galle Fort a few days ago and here are a couple of snaps I managed to capture…. 

Gotta be the best fresh gelato!

 

The fort court
 
 
The refurbished Dutch hospital; now a dining complex
 
 
A little boutique store that caught my eye
 
 
Retail therapy!
 
 
Beach loving
 
 
My lunch – seafood curry rice at Peddlar’s Inn
 
Xoxo! 

Fatehpur Sikri – The City of Victory

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As once the capital of the Mughal empire, the city of victory, also known as Fatehpur Sikri bears exceptional testimony to the once grand and highly influential era of reigning kings and queens.

Located approximately a two-hour drive away from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, this Indian city was founded in the year 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It remained as the capital city from the year 1571 to 1585 during which it was regarded as one of the most influential eras of all time.

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Back when…
Emperor Akbar began work on this capital in the year 1571 and it was said to have been completed in a matter of two years. The architect who worked on the main palace was Tuhir Das. Apart from being influenced by Persian architecture, Indian principles (including Hindu, Jain and Islamic elements of architectural design) can also be seen. Carved beams and posts, decorated pillars, ornamental arches, detailed brackets and balconies are a constant feature. Domes on the other hand have been built very sparingly. An efficient and well organized system of drainage and water supply was also adopted suggesting an intelligent and far-thinking planning strategy by the emperor.

All in all, the then city comprised of a series of palaces, public buildings, harems, places of worship (mosques), as well as living areas for the emperor’s entire court, army and servants as well as the entire population of commoners. Although it is probable from the ruins of mud huts on the plain surroundings that the people of Fatehpur Sikri were not well-off, the area was rich in sandstone which was primarily used to build the entire city and its main buildings.

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The royal palace of Fatehpur Sikri stands tall (even to this day) on a rocky plateau, bound on three sides by a 6km wall and fortified by towers and gates. A man-made lake was said to have planked the fourth side but this does not exist today. Regardless of how many years this palace had been abandoned, visitors throng to this part of the city just to get a glimpse of the architectural grandeur and splendour of its yesteryears. Each section of the palace was constructed, keeping in mind of how best each section could be used and also in keeping with its natural surrounding – including a hall for the public audience, a jewel house, a pavilion, an entertainment hall, stables and also a grand mosque.

Standing at 54 metres at the entrance of the palace complex is the Buland Darwaza – a wall-like fortification entrance gate gradually making a transition to human scale on the inside. The emperor was known to have been a very pious man and many places of worship and religious monuments were constructed during his reign, including the grand mosque – Jama Masjid – which lies beyond the Buland Darwaza. It can accommodate over 10,000 worshippers and was said to have been built sometime during the completion of the main palace. High red sandstone walls flank this mosque and at the centre of the court lies the tomb (made of white marble) of Sheik Salim Chisti (a devout follower and Sufi saint of Islam). The tomb is elaborately decorated with carvings and floral patterns and the sarcophagus itself is surrounded by detailed work and excellent craftsmanship only known to the Mughal era. Jodha Bai (Emperor Akbar’s wife) was gifted a palace of her own which lies in close proximity to the mosque and main royal palace. This too consists of a large main courtyard at its centre which is surrounded by a continuous gallery.

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Above this gallery rise rows of buildings on the north and south end of the palace. Made of the famous red sandstone, the courtyard opens up to the Panch Mahal also known as the five-storey building and the private audience chamber (also known as the Diwan-i-Khas). Whilst the Panch Mahal is of five galleries, one above the other and adorned with carved motifs, the private audience chamber consists of an enormous octagonal pillar, a circular centre and four separate galleries that run to the corners of the chamber. This is where the Emperor Akbar met with the general public and adhered to their grievances and requests. It is known that he also gathered his many representatives of different religions here and discussed their faiths.

At the centre of the second large courtyard lies the Anup Talao – an ornamental pool with a central platform and four small bridges leading up to it. The other buildings of the royal enclave are situated around this, including the drum house, another public court and the house of Emperor Akbar’s favourite minister, Birbal.

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World heritage site
Fatehpur Sikri is in fact well kept and fortified even centuries later. One description of a visitor’s personal account goes on to say “the palace was deserted, not ruined, and its lord was not dead but abandoned… everything is carved in a sandstone so fine and compact, that, except where injured by man, it appears nearly as sharp as when first chiselled. The amount of labour bestowed on this city throws the filigrees of the Alhambra quite into the shade and it is unlike anything that I have ever seen.”

Although the Taj Mahal is the most known monument in the region of Agra, the grandeur of Fatehpur Sikri should not be underestimated. There truly is no other facade of this kind, be in form of structure or architectural brilliance. There is a sense of simplicity that welcomes you even amongst the grand decorated pillars and endless rows of galleries. A mere hour or two would not suffice here; its best to take time and spend at least half a day walking through the rooms, stopping to take in the view of the land beyond the palace, sit by the ornamental pool whilst a light breeze fills the air and image a group of men singing khawalis at dusk.

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