Siva Sivalingam (2014)

During my time on Laxapana, I climbed Adam's Peak 14 times. During the season my house was full of guests, mainly tourists whom I had picked up at Dalhousie. No, not the hippies and they did not smoke joints! They were young and attractive. There were some local starlets too. They were wined and dined and treated with respect. I remember one lot arranged my clothes and the cupboard, mended the tears and sewed on the buttons too! Of course, all these happened before I married! I married when I was still at St. Andrews and my eldest daughter had her early years at Laxapana. She enjoyed watching the pilgrims' buses and would refer to them in her baby language as "DUNDA BUS" because of the beating of the drums.

The appu whom I had lasted only one season. He couldn't take it anymore. He went back to Balangoda. But I still managed. My rotti making skills improved. The gardener made a good pol sambol. When I think of it my mouth still waters!

I do not want to say more in case I incriminate myself. I had my share of ups and downs. My bank balance soon dwindled. Now with a wife and baby, to supplement my income we grew chillies and cabbage and other vegetables too. It was good fun. Soon we raked in the shekels!  Of course, the bonuses on Laxapana were very good compared to what I received before. So we lived with hope and great expectations.

In case you are not aware, plumbago was mined on Valamalai Division of Laxapana Group in the late 19th & early 20th C, or was it only in the 20th C?  I am not sure. But certainly, plumbago was mined. About 2 to 3 acres of tea was abandoned very close to the bungalow as the land was sinking into the old mine. When the new road to Adam's Peak was opened with the Maskeliya Oya Project (MOP) the main entrance was exposed. This was blocked off and concreted. This was close to Banda’s Kaddai on the new road. There was a shaft (probably for air) to the mine in the Valamalai bungalow garden. I told the gardener and the cook to obtain a long length of rope and a torch etc., as I wanted to explore this shaft. They advised me against it. But I insisted. The word got around. I became the workers' hero for the moment. Of course, I had no such stupid intentions. I was more scared of the porcupine that was hiding there than them!

When I was SD on St. Andrews division of Laxapana group, in 1968/70 I used to walk with Nihara, my wife, or other visitors, frequently to Dalhousie bungalow which was not far away. The bungalow remained unoccupied. I did not know the owners. However, there was a Superintendent who lived in a house close to the tea factory by the river. The elderly caretaker knew me as MULLUGAMAM SINNA DORAI as the Tamil name for St. Andrews was “Mullugamam”.

So we were able to wander quite freely through the gardens. The gardens were exquisitely laid out in steps with little streamlets, miniature waterfalls and tiny ponds ringed by reeds of various types and sizes. Gotu kola (Centella asistica) was growing everywhere and thriving, I must say, because of the plentiful supply of water. There were a variety of ferns from Maiden Hair to the Common Tree Fern. English Wild Flowers adorned the garden which I recognized from books kept in the bungalow.

The bungalow itself was set amongst trees such as loquat, Chinese guava, Tamarillo (Tree tomato), Spathodea, Jacaranda and Fur trees beside the Eucalyptus to mention some. I think there were a few coffee plants too. The lawns grew amongst the trees.

The house was quaint and had a character of its own. As I remember it, the floor was of dark-stained timber. The walls were panelled. There were fireplaces everywhere. Seemed very cosy. There were many ornaments and beautiful furniture in every nook and corner. The whole set up appeared to me like the 'olde English country cottage and its romantic garden' described in books then. Opulence was quite evident. There was no doubt the Planters lived well. They deserve that and more for the sacrifices they made and for their hard work, planning, forethought, foresight and dedication. They endured the conditions and started up a world-renowned industry.

I was trying to find some reference to Mr. Bentley Buckle (BB), the European gentleman who was supposedly the owner/Superintendent of Dalhousie, before and during the 2nd World War. From the material available to me, I must say there has been no clear connection. However, the caretaker with whom I had many conversations was sure of the name and said he (BB) was experimenting with a brew of tea and gotu kola, which was then carbonated and bottled and sealed with crown cork.

The name of the product was G-Kola according to the labels shown to me. BB was not only responsible for the idyllic house and surroundings, which already had the verdant green foothills and sylvan forest of the Peak Wilderness for its backdrop. In addition, I think he must have been a romantic at heart, a man of vision and above all, a pioneer. He had been making a brew with tea (Thea chinensis) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). There was literature, stacks of labels for bottles, gas cylinders, bottling equipment and other paraphernalia in the backroom of the bungalow. Whether he marketed the stuff or not I do not know, and more than that, I was curious to know as to what happened to the man. I could never find the answer. I did a google search and came up with a Mr. Noel William Bentley-Buckle, a tea planter.  His wife, Mary Josephine died in October 1938 in Colombo. Her address is given as Jambulande Group, Kosgama. Probate was granted to Mr. BB in Sept. 1939 in Ceylon, sealed in London the following year. Effects were worth £2108.15s. I am sure it would have been a princely sum in that era! Mr. BB was a JP & UM. There I assume he was a person of recognition and commanded respect.

According to the caretaker, a stately grey-haired man, the bungalow was haunted by Mr. BB. The caretaker would light an oil lamp in the garden every evening in Mr.BB's memory through reverence or fear is anyone's guess. I do not think the caretaker stayed the nights in the bungalow!

l know Macadamia will grow well at practically all elevations. The trees in the Clarendon bungalow garden produced nuts in abundance. In 1984 I gave Raymond Paranavitane, when he was Chairman of the Board of SLSPC, Nuwara Eliya, a gunny bag full of nuts which he distributed amongst various plantations for propagation.

Raymond informed me that he distributed the nuts to Park  Estate at Kandapola,  Craig Estate  at Bandarawela, Koslande Estate at Koslanda, and Pingarawa Estate at Namunukula where Hema Kotagama was PD. Excepting Park, the other three Plantations reported success. It will indeed be interesting to know the number of trees that are growing, and for how long they have been in production and the rough quantity of nuts harvested if at all. And importantly whether efforts were made to further propagate it. I would like to know the outcome. As a matter of interest, the trees on Clarendon were raised during the time of Mr. Paul Riggenbach, a Swiss, and the profits from that Estate along with that of the other 3 in the same set up went to the Swiss Red Cross. I wonder how the trees on Clarendon are faring? Out of the three one got blown over by severe wind in 1983.

In the Thotulagalla garden, there is a Bayrum tree. VP Cuttings of this will grow, and plants can be established along the bungalow drives or even as boundary markers. The plantation ladies in another twenty-five years will have no excuse to have dandruff or itchy scalp!

There is a large cherry tree in the Radella garden. It bore a good crop, from memory, in 1983. It can be propagated either by seed or vegetatively. They are good eating and are highly recommended for a healthy life.  Kiwifruit also comes to mind.

I came across a camphor tree on Balangoda Group in the cardamom jungle quite close to the village. Very aromatic and luxuriant, it was. The village too rekindles many memories! Breadfruit, jak and young coconut.

Siva Sivalingam


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