Bandarawela – Sixty Years in Retrospect


by L.H.R. Wijetunga

Bandarawela, about two hundred kilometres from Colombo is cradled in the Uva valley and is shielded from the cold winds that pervade the area. About four thousand feet above sea level, its beginnings go back to the early tea-growing days as a market town for the produce. Even to this day the estates in the area produce some of the finest teas of the hill country.

Bandarawela has a mild temperature and a low humidity very different from Nuwara Eliya so much so, that the Tourist Board used to advertise it in their French and German brochures with the slogan "Bandarawela has a climate much like a summer’s day in Switzerland.’ In the days gone by, Bandarawela used to be recommended as an ideal centre for the recuperation of patients with lung disorders.

Over the years, like other parts of the country Bandarawela has undergone change in many ways. Population has grown and buildings have come up and some say that even the climate had changed; but this writer thinks that there are still some things that have not changed.

Driving from Colombo by road one enters the town with its clock tower built during the late Mr. Premadasa’s era. From this point radiate roads to Badulla and Ella, Welimada and Etampitiya. One of the roads very popular years back was the ‘three mile walk’, which curls round the ‘patnas’ in the outskirts of the town and reappears again a little distance away from where it begins. Today this same road is so different – very badly maintained with tall trees growing along it, destroying the beautiful view of those far-away hills.

In the heart of the town there are three well-known buildings which still remain the same with little change. Of these, the Bandarawela Hotel takes pride of place. The hotel had begun as a meeting place for the planters in the area about 150 years ago. Today, it has some thirty old rooms with all modern conveniences of a five-star hotel and is an attraction for the discerning tourists. Very close to the hotel is another old building – ‘Millers’. which used to supply most of the planters their requirements and even those of the hotel itself. Millers today is yet another "Food City’ branch for the city.

Almost opposite Millers buildings is the Post Office still occupying the same building and apparently with the same staff. With the Post Master’s quarters upstairs, the building looked quite clean and well-maintained.

The old telephone exchange (housed in the post office building) with its two operators are gone and so are the long hours for a trunk call. Today, at a short distance away there is a fully fledged digital telephone exchange catering automatic dialing facilities to any part of the world for about ten thousand subscribers living in a very much wider area as against less than a hundred of about fifty years ago with very limited facilities!

The Bandarawela Tennis Club is another establishment worthy of mention. Established a little over a hundred years ago, it has held regular championship meets, usually in the month of April, soon after a similar meet held in Nuwara Eliya.

One of the most noticeable changes near the park is the absence of the small artificial lake that used to adorn the town in those days. The lake which was well maintained by the local authorities then, has been completeiy obliterated giving way to the bus stand along with a large number of small tea boutiques all of which have made this area an eye-sore.

The Railway Station is perhaps the only building that has changed the least of all it is all there lying at the foot of the climb on the road to Poonagala. There was there a short cut underground which enabled passengers move to and from the main road to the railway station. This convenience still exists.

Bandarawela is still an attraction for holiday makers – especially to those who wish quiet and peace in a mild, temperature climate and at reasonable expense. There are many guest houses to cater for such visitors. Some of these are ones that were owned b y well to do families in the low country for their private use. Most of these are now converted into paying guest houses.

The writer who has made regular visits to Bandarawela since his boyhood feels that inspite of the ups and downs that Bandarawela has gone through the years, it is still a place, where you could sing with Irving Berlin.

‘Blue skies smiling at me

Nothing but blue skies

All day long!’

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