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– 

 

Weekends

View of the private garden from the veranda
Spend the weekend away from the city and for once, I actually feel rejuvenated. My friend and I picked a secluded and private property that housed 12 personal villas. We had not just a room to ourselves, but also our own private garden, terrace and veranda as well. 

Our little veranda – my reading nook

Our stay at Calamansi Cove by Jetwing was of two nights, and on a full board basis. I’d recommend this to anyone who wishes to stay at their property simply because ofthe excellent  service and wonderful meals available via their set menus. Taking to account that everything was inclusive of service charges and taxes, it was well worth the money spent. 

Breakfast spread

The food was simply amazing. Breakfast choices included a continental spread inclusive of a separate plate of freshly baked breads, fruit, and pancakes apart from what you can see in the above image, and a fresh juice of our choice, plus coffee or tea. 

Poolside view

I made it a point to take a dip in the pool on both the days we stayed. The ocean was just a few metres away but the waves were pretty rough so a sea bath was certainly not an option. 

The beautiful Indian Ocean
Fried rice with devilled chicken for lunch
 

Lunch and dinner options on both days were quite extensive as well. My friend and I decided to pick different selections off the menu just so we could try everything. Again, the courses were so good – inclusive of a salad/appetizer, soup, main dish and dessert. 

I spent most of the two days just reading, mindful meditating and with my phone far away as possible. Sometimes, all we need is a getaway to be thankful for the life we have. 

xoxo

Life in Pittsburgh 


It’s been a week since I arrived. 

It’s been a slow but utterly relaxing week. I can’t really understand why it took me so long to come back here, but I’m happy I finally did. 


I’m happy here. Happier than I’ve been in a very, very long time. 

I love the peace and quiet. I love looking outside and seeing the blue skies and endless fields of green. 

I can feel it in my bones; the quiet relaxation… No inhibitions, no care for what anyone has to say. 


I think I’ve been waiting for this… And I’m finally here and I love it. 

I’m not going to think about when I have to leave. That’s for another time. 

For now, I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy every moment. 

Alhamdulillah 

Long weekend in Kandy 

Sharing some images I captured during my stay in Kandy:

Partial view of the Kandy Lake

Random tree that caught my eye

Poolside view – I could look at the scenery forever

Had to have a book at hand – by none other than my favourite author, Nora Roberts

Sri Lanka’s oldest railway station – 1867

Capture during the two and a half scenic train ride to the upcountry

Paddy fields along the eay

Xoxo