Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Heaven on earth

I got into the habit on my initial exploratory visits to the Polonnaruwa area to take local village lads( lasses are not allowed to join as is village custom) who had time on their hands to visit obscure village tanks. They as neighbors did not know of the existenec of many of these tanks as they had no recourse to go there. Life in a village is all about doing only what was required. So if they had no reason to go to the next village they just did not.

I was lucky, I had a vehicle and time and desire to see as much of the district and its tanks as I could. So my quest was to always stop at a wayside cafe and ask if there is a nearby tank for me to just see and observe.

Many of my friends and relatives in Colombo began pestering me, when they knew of my periodic visits to this area, to look for land for them to buy and build a holiday home. None of them in my opinion would really enjoy living here if their purpose is only to come once or twice a year with their friends. The whole purpose of living and enjoying what is real about the place would be lost. One has to live in heaven not just pop in for a drink.

With this task, I asked one of the people I visited frquently if he knew of any property for sale. He then took me to this neglected property in July of 2006 which was overgrown and which had a reputation locally of a place where moonshine was brewed, where locals streamed in the evening to buy their requirements. In that respect the land had a bad reputation and had lost its lustre with potential buyers. There were also local superstitions about the property as the last owner's wife had taken poison in the form of a weedicide or pesticide and killed herself, due to her husband's womanizing habits. Just to digress, suicide by way of drinking poison is a problem for people living in these parts. The suicide rate is unacceptably high.

It did not take me five minutes once I walked in the property and saw the extent of land, as well as over 1000 ft of river frontage, to decide I wanted it for myself. It just seemed perfect, a gem and too good to be true. It looked such an inspirational place. Walking on a peninsula(thuduwa) by the river reminded me of the Backs of Oxford and Cambridge imagining a punt coming my way, while I lay on the grass, picknicking on smoked salmon sandwiches and quails' eggs with a glass of champagne in my hand. It could not look more English if that is so improbable. I would say that it would be more humid in England than this place that day I saw this land. A hot but dry day.

It sounds incredible when I look back, but I also pin-pointed the place I would build my cabin overlooking the river. That is where it is today. I had sewn up the ownership of the property within 3 weeks of seeing the land and the first thing I did was to fence the whole place with barbed wire to take control of the land and have a set of gates and gate posts built so I could lock it up and prevent intrusion. The lawyer told me I must take physical ownership of the land (bukthi vindinawa) and that was nine tenths of ownership. The moonshine activity stopped immediately.

The tree that overhung the spot I wanted to build the room was cut to provide the timber required for the roof of the cabin, an incredible event in itself as I always look at the timber and marvel how good it looks, supporting the roof.

I bought the land for Rs 650,000 which in US dollars is $6,000 , yes thats right, six thousand. On the title it is just under 5 acres. However with the river reservation added, which is effectively under my control, it adds another two and a half acres to the extent. At the moment it is an incredible optimum size land for all that I intend doing with it. For someone who returned to Sri Lanka just short of being penniless, this was sweet justice as properly marketed it could be worth over ten times that.

I did not delay a moment after I took control. The first order of the day was to build a place so I could live on the property. I therefore designed a small room and engaged a man to lay the concrete foundation and build the house. The reason for the concrete foundation was that it could both be done quickly without having to transport rocks. A house built on a concrete foundation is more stable if there is a shift in the ground due to the adjoining river rising. A normal foundation may result in cracks of the brick walls.

It took all of 6 days to build this house, a record, anywhere in the world for one built of a concrete foundation, and brick walls and sheet roof. Admittedly the one set of doors and one set of windows was added later. I had a roof over my head in 6 days. I moved in on September 1st 2006. I stayed that night by myself for the first time, not knowing the neighbors and with openings as there were no doors or windows. I was also warned about the ghosts that roam the land, none of which turned out to be true, the usual village superstitions taking a tumble.

I subsequently made additions to the cabin by extending a front verandah in two levels for over 20 ft and an additional back room for my staff. From the side the place looks enormous due to the design, but it leaves no further room for expansion on any side as the boundary is on one and the Jack tree is on the other with the steep inclines on the two sides for rainwater runoff.

The land is blessed with over 3 acres of paddy fields, with an acre of coconut trees much of which needs to be carefully tendered and fertilized to get coconuts from. There are many mango trees and a lot of other fruit trees. Along the river reservation are more than 15 Kumbuk Trees some of which can be carefully pruned to harvest some wood without cutting the main tree. There is other timber that can be cut for use in building additional huts when necessary.

The land is not flat, it is relatively easy to get canal water to the highest spot from where it can be gravity fed to irrigate the whole property. This is clearly a great advantage when a series of irrigation drains are cut and water directed to agriculture as necessary.

The river called Minneriya Oya that forms one of he boundaries, has water every day of the year. Remember the irrigation canals only have water on designated days of the month and months of the year to enable Rice paddy cultivation only. Heavy rains can increase the water level 10ft on the river bringing it almost up to the verandah of the cabin. This occurs at most twice a year and is an event that is nice to see. Water can be pumped up from thei river at anytime to irrigate, and therefore there is not the same water issues that neighboring farmers have without the access to water.

It is now less than one year since I bought the property, but I have already harvested two varieties of rice paddies and have currently planted the next rice crop for harvesting at the end of July 2007. Considering the state of the property last July, the progress has been astounding with over 400 papaya trees that have been planted along with over 200 banana trees by the end of May 2007.

A well has been dug and attractively finished, a water tank has been set up and we have water on tap as well as to irrigate from there. I have plans to build a toilet complex, which when built will also be unique with an enclosed walled garden, so that one can lie in the bath watching the incredibly bright stars at night. With no artificial lighting around, the stars are very bright.

There are future plans for a specially high water tank that is large enough to support a gravity pressured drip irrigation system. This will be possible if the water can be lifted from the river using a windmill, which will not incurr energy costs. All these require funds and I am in the process of arranging a bank loan to do it.

I can catch fish on the river including incredibly tasty freshwater prawns. In truth I can live off the land without ever having to leave it. To that extent it is a little island where one can be self sufficient in a world and community that is increasingly become very dependant.

I have named the land Kumbuk Thuduwa.

1 comment:

Bassa said...

Just came across your blog while roaming around. Recession is keeping me at the apartment and nothing to do other than searching for a job, most of the time not getting any return call.

The first thought came to my mind - well there are some others also having the same dream as me, and some who making it true.

I admired with your work and needed to know everything from the scratch. So started to read from the beginning. One thing I can't believe that the moonshine workers just leave their work without any trouble. I know our people...

Anyway I'm still at the beginning.. Lets see whats rolling...