On the road to Kandy
Katugasthota bridge. File photo
Itís the A1 Highway. The Kandy Road, or the road to Kandy and nothing
can or could ever surpass this ebon highway with its centuries old
patched-up macadamized surface now replaced by an elegant carpet of
bitumen. The 72-mile stretch to the hill capital weaves its way through
hills and dales bends and curves and where to a greater extent passes
through the Gampaha and Sabaragamuwa districts to finally merge with the
Kandy district at the Kadugannawa rock tunnel.
I have traversed this road a thousand times to reach the green grass
of home. I have travelled by bus in those far off times when the fare
from Colombo to Kandy was only Rupees two. The ride was rough and tiring
and would take over four hours to complete. There were frequent stops to
cool the engine and pour in buckets and buckets of water down the
simmering radiator and one would stand around loosening cramped legs,
chaffing at the delay. Yet it was imperative that the engine cooled off.
We all knew it and patience was seemingly a virtue thrust on bus
travellers of those times. For the record the buses that plied in those
far off times were those old time favourite workhorses. The Chevrolets
or Chevvies as they were known, the Fords and the Bedfords.
The road to Kandy is studded with charming and scenic stopovers some
of which have disappeared with road widening. The towns, bazaars and
villages, they all have their little secrets and bits and pieces of
history tucked away in niches.
They also have their industries and sale points. The Radawadunna
village and its industrious people have been engaged in the manufacture
and sale of cane furniture for ages. Their sales points have a full
range of cane crafted furniture though recent reports indicate a sales
drop more due to the abundance of plastic and wooden craft.
A momentís stopover would unfold a rare variety of crafted cane
products hitherto unknown.
The Horagolla village, home to the Bandaranaike dynasty, for who
could ever miss Horagolla Walauwa and its sprawling estate and the
sanctity it provides with its mausoleum where two of Sri Lankaís most
loved leaders rest undisturbed. Stop a while at Bataleeya and be
overwhelmed by those brightly clad seductive cadju belles. The
uninitiated like so many others before simply go overboard taken in by
their blandishments. I have always thought it to be a kind of unique
sales enticement put across with a lot of panache and passed down from
one generation to another to be practised in all its finesse for
generations to come - on the road to Kandy.
In days of yore the stop for refreshments was Warakapola. Not any
more. Ambepussa has displaced Warakapola.
The Tourist Board eatery and the Rest House perched on a small knoll
are two favourite stops.
I have always preferred the quiet of the rest house and its quaint
colonial facade with its large girthed columns, and old time doors and
windows which holds much history within its hoary portals.
It was built to house the engineers when the road to Kandy was being
built and engineers of the calibre of Major Skinner and Captain Dawson
once lived here. Today it oozes typical Sri Lankan hospitality and also
serves a finely brewed pot of tea.
To bypass Kegalle and its muddled main street of irksome traffic
snarls could be excused only to stop at the village of Molagoda and rave
over the pottery crafted with precision and where one could browse the
shops for hours if given the time, and even wonder how a lump of clay
could ever be fashioned into such delightful objects. Wasnít it John
Keyts in his ode to a Grecian Urn who sang that a ĎThing of beauty is a
Molagoda village has all those beautiful objects to make oneís home a
joy forever. Uthuwankanda brings vivid memories of our own highway
robber, the legendry Sardiel. A stop at a side of the highway to pay a
silent tribute to the first Policeman to have died in the cause of duty,
shot dead by Saradiel.
Driving to reach Ganetenne on a flat track from the Hingula bridge
oneís complacency could turn to dismay when taking the sharp left turn
heralding the stiff gradient with a stiffer climb ahead - the
Kadugannawa Pass on the road to Kandy.
With excellent road conditions in place today even three-wheelers
take the climb with great ease yet in the years gone by buses and trucks
would crawl painfully with radiators steaming and engines whining on
The climb remains and the highway improved and modernized to make
driving comfortable. The lush greenery and the scenery below remain
unchanged. Yet not so long ago temporary structures doubling as sales
outlets marred the exquisite beauty that was the Kadugannawa valley. The
litter and destruction was set in motion by local politicians who had no
compunction in assisting to destroy natureís gifts. Today the remnants
of this indiscretion still remain confusingly ugly.
The rock tunnel was an exciting experience to drive through in those
times. The present extension has spoilt it all. Nevertheless the climb
remains and further on one could recall in a moment of silence the
untimely death of young Ismail who was buried under an avalanche
following heavy rain. He was a scion of the much respected Ismail family
of Katukelle, Kandy and his distraught parents gifted what is known as
the Ismail clock tower situated at the Kandy market square in
remembrance of their beloved son.
Captain Dawson the intrepid engineer who completed the Kandy road is
gratefully remembered. The Dawson tower standing on a cliff at the
entrance to the Kadugannawa town is a lasting monument to this great
Englishman. It was no easy task in those Victorian times to trace and
construct roads and cut through thick jungle, rocks and other
obstructions. This great achievement was accomplished sans heavy
machinery and built on the blood and sweat of those great pioneers, the
engineers and the labour, who gifted to prosperity, - The Road to Kandy.