The Travels of a Journalist-ABOUT BOWERS, BOATS AND BUDDIES:Elephant Rides and Randy Monkeys Still Talk of Minnetonka Yankees (PART 7B)
Posted on October 1st, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚©2010
Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Just before I started writing this installment (on 27 Sept. 2010) about the BowersesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ foray into Sri Lanka a decade ago, I had a long telephone conversation with them to make sure that their memories agreed with those of mine. They were still yachting on their Tiara in the Great Lakes on their way to the Apostle Islands from Redwing on the Mississippi.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I think we can dock the boat on Madeline Island by Friday or Saturday,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Bowers told me with confidence.

Bowers said that several things stood out in his memory about his July 2000 visit to Sri Lanka:

Pasyala Cashew-girls

One was the stopover at Iddhamalgada (popularly known as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Cadju-gamaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚) in Pasyala to get a closer look at the colorfully dressed ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-cashew girlsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ who waved at the passing motorists to visit their roadside booths and savor their goodies.

The taxi driver who transported the Bowerses from the Mount Lavinia Hotel to Kurunegala probably earned a few bonus points from the cashew entrepreneur network for hustling a pair of nut-crazy Yankee Doodles to splurge their greenbacks to get aƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ taste of toasted cashew nuts.

Experience has shown that brightly dressed village damsels are better at selling more cashews than menƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a fact that came to light since 1934 when a woman named Johnna Hamee began selling toasted cashew nuts at a roadside stall in the vicinity. HameeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s daughter Mal Nona took over the business in 1946. When Nona recruited brightly dressed beauties to sell the cashew nuts, the sales of the product boomed.

Boy on Train

Bowers also remembers a boy who made friends with him on a solo train trip during his stay at the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Bowers had just wanted to try out traveling on a Sri Lankan train. He had no idea whether the train was heading north or south, He bought a ticket to destination X [that he cannot remember or didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t care to know. I suspect that he was heading northwards to the Fort or Maradana terminal]. When he got into the train, he had sat on a set of vacant seats draped in white probably reserved for priests.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Nobody pulled me out or asked me to leave. Perhaps they werenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t sure whether I was a priest or not because I was a white, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…- Bowers told me.

On this aimless train ride, he had met a schoolboy who, egged on by his mother, approached Bowers and kicked up a conversation. Bowers was impressed. Bowers and the boy exchanged addresses with Bowers promising to send a set of books that the boy wanted to read.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  And Bowers kept his promise after returning to Minnesota.

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Then, the boy started writing to ask for financial assistance. It was obvious that an adult was dictating what the child should write. I ceased to respond,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Bowers explained.

Incense and Sense

Bowers said he could distinctly remember another culturally unfamiliar practice he and Kathleen witnessed on their first night at a local hotel in Kurunegala (possibly Hotel Diya Dahara on North Lake Road).

The BowersesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ had checked into a room on the second floor of the hotel when they heard someone scratching their door from the outside.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When the Bowerses eventually opened the door, they found a burning candlestick stuck on the outside entrance.

The two Yankee Doodles put on their ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-dandyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ thinking caps and surmised that the simmering candlestick portended a fire hazard (in terms of U.S. fire regulations). Their agitation perplexed the hotel management who explained to the Bowerses that the simmering stick served as a mosquito repellant.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Americans are not unfamiliar with products such as mosquito repellant fragrance candles and mosquito blocking Yankee candles sold in specialty shops in shopping malls. Perhaps what upset the Bowerses was the unusual placement of the simmering incense stick. Bowers said, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The hotel itself was OK. It was inexpensive and provided value for money. We spent more money on food than on accommodation!ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Randy Monkeys

Bowers confessed that he has also etched in his memory an act of derring-do performed by a couple of wild monkeys, most likely protected as denizens of the two nearby national parksƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Angammedilla and WasgamuwaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚who were allowed the freedom to occupy the trees surrounding the Kandalama complex.

The Bowerses and the Gunaratnes together enjoyed the amenities of the 162-room Heritance Kandalama Hotel for three nights. The hotel, a work of art designed by the well-known local architect Geoffrey Bawa, has a royal suite, two luxury suites, 11 suites, 30 deluxe rooms, 33 luxury rooms and 53 superior rooms (leaving the balance of 42 rooms for promotional activities) in a seven-storey building by the Kandalama Lake from where one could see the silhouette of the Sigiriya rock fortress to the north. For food-lovers, the hotel offered national and international cuisine in three restaurantsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Kanchana (main restaurant), Kashyapa (a la carte) and Kalu Diya (fine dining).

Located some 170 km northeast of Colombo in the tropical jungle in the Knuckles Hills Range, this hotel provided the ideal ambience we sought for a quiet holidayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚away from the hustle and bustle of urban excesses. The hotel lies smack in the center of Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Cultural Triangle connecting the historical capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy.

On the day we checked into Kandalama, my nephew Niraj introduced us to the hotel manager on duty who joined us for a chat in the lounge. He said that Yoke-Sim and I were eligible for a lower tariff because I was a Sri Lankan expatriate. The manager regretted that he could not extend the same concession to the Bowerses. (Yoke-SimƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s bargaining skills in Batu Ferringhi did not work in Kandalama.)

Yoke-Sim and I left Kandalama after three nights for our planned trip to Happawana (Galle) in the South to visit my older sister. The Bowerses found life at Kandalama so pleasing they decided to extend their stay until they left for the Maldives for a Club Med holiday. Thus, the Bowerses skipped the chance to see my exact natural habitat.

Now, let me get back to the BowersesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ encounter with the Kandalama monkeys:

Bowers had become curious about the behavior of monkeys since his Penang experience three years before. So, he had watched the Kandalama monkeys swinging back and forth from tree to tree from the deck of his room. When Bowers got back into his room with the backdoor partly opened, a male monkey and its mate had followed him in. The monkey intruders kept the Bowerses at bay, grabbed a banana from the table, and dashed back to the outside to show off to their fellow monkeys. (Obviously, the Bowerses had not paid attention to the warning signs not to feed or let in the monkeys.)

At sunrise the next day, as Bowers reminisced at numerous social gatherings for the next decade, the same couple of majestic-looking monkeys crash-landed on the back deck of the BowersesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ room, snarled at the feeble attempts of the two Doodles to shoo them away, grabbed the bunch of bananas from the overturned table, and perched themselves on the back deck to eat the booty they had just plundered. Thereafter, the two monkeys treated the Bowerses and the entire monkey-dom to a randy show, letting the Bowerses record the event on their digital camera. In short, the male hero shared the bananas with its female counterpart, and then mounted on the female to perform the show.

Doodles on Elephants

Bowers said that he could not forget Kandalama for another reason: his (and KathleenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s) first ride on an elephant. (Unfortunately, the BowersesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ schedule did not permit them to watch the elephant-studded Kandy Perahera of August 2000 or visit the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.)

Yoke-Sim and I joined the Bowerses in their try-outs on elephant back trekking. Riding on an elephant required the assistance of its mahout (elephant trainer) whose commands it obeyed. The wrong command of an amateur could end up in disaster. Imagine two Yankee Doodles squirming uneasily on a Sri Lankan elephant! Each step of the elephant caused the howdah on which we sat to bounce and sway. (Was it my revenge for the snowmobile derring-do on New YearƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Day 1986 on Lake Minnetonka, I wondered.)

The hotel provided the facilities for leisure activities such as elephant back trekking, horseback riding, bird watching, butterfly and dragonfly watching, lake safaris, and boat rides.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  After we left, the Bowerses had also joined more hotel-sponsored activities: bird watching plus excursions to the nearby World Heritage historic places of Dambulla and Sigiriya. The Bowerses were also the honored guests of the hotel manager, whom we met on the first day, at a special party at the managerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s private residence.

Nuwara Eliya Stopover

The day after the Bowerses arrived in Kurunegala, Niraj took them and us in his Toyota van for an overnight stay at the quaint colonial-style Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, 103 km southeast of Kurunegala. On the way, we made brief stops at Kandy (for a glimpse of the Temple of the Tooth) and at Peradeniya campus (for a nostalgic look at Jayatilaka Hall, where I was a resident in the late ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”50s and early ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”60s).

As we got closer to Nuwara Eliya on the narrow, winding, and scenic A-5 (somewhere in the vicinity of Ramboda), we saw a couple of women seated on a roadside bench waving at us. They were dressed in tea-pickersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ attireƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚in red jackets with baskets hanging on their backs. They wanted to pose for pictures with us for a fee. We agreed. Bowers later observed, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Going by their appearance, they looked much older than they really were.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Then, we stopped by a roadside cafƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚© to drink some tea.

We checked in at the Grand Hotel, just 8 km south of Pidurutalagala (elevation 8,281 feet), the highest peak in Sri Lanka. The Horton Plains National Park was some 80 km to the southeast along a winding road although much closer geographically. The erstwhile

British civil servants and planters called the place ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Little EnglandƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ because of its temperate weather.

The Bowerses liked the colonial ambience of the Grand Hotel. They listened nostalgically to the old English songs that local singers sang for us at dinner.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  However, Bowers did not feel safe there. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The old wooden staircases and the wood panels in the rooms are a fire hazard.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Bowers observed.

The next morning, we visited the Hakgala Botanic Gardens, 16 km south of Nuwara Eliya on A-5. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Established in 1860, it is a contiguous segment of the Hakgala Strict Nature Reserve. The garden is famous for its species of orchids and roses. It attracts more than one-half million visitors every year.

Kathleen did not like the bumpy ride on the Toyota van at all. Her interest in exploring my habitat in the South dwindled very quickly. The Bowerses decided to end their suffering by skipping the southern leg of the planned tour. However, Kathleen splurged lavishly to buy numerous memorabilia to remember the resplendent island. Among the things she proudly displays at her Minnetonka home are cushions bearing letters of the Sinhala alphabet.
(Next: Exploits in Australia)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Figure 1:ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle linking World Heritage centers of A=Anuradhapura, B=Kandy, and C=Polonnaruwa. Heritance Kandalama by the lake lies between Dambulla (purple arrow) and Sigiriya (red arrow).


ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Picture 1: Yankee Doodles come to town a-riding on an elephant.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Mounted on the elephantƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚rather, seated on the howdah mounted on the elephantƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚are Yoke-Sim (in red) and the Bowerses. The Kandalama Hotel is in the backgroundƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (July 2000).

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Picture 2: The author (in glasses) poses with his childhood playmate Ithali Maama (second from left) at a wedding reception in Kurunegala. Flanking them are Ukkun Maama (left) and Ariyasena Maama, IthaaliƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s two older brothers ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (30 July 2000)


ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Picture 3: The author and his wife Yoke-Sim at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya (July 2000).

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