Meenawatte is the estate where Sally lived from the age of ten to thirteen (and also as a baby, but of course she has no memory of that). Her father didn’t plant on the estate; by then he was a Visiting Agent (tea estate inspector) based in Colombo and the family had the lease of the house as an up-country retreat as Sally’s Mum had got tired of the Colombo life. Meenawatte provided a place for him to spend weekends with his family.
We’ve been back to Meenawatte, which sits on the slopes of Hunasgiriya mountain, the pointy peak visible from Jungle Tide, a few times from 1998 onwards, watching it change from a semi-occupied house for temporary workers through to an empty shell awaiting its fate, to a refurbished but still empty place awaiting a suitable buyer and, now, to part of an up-market hotel – Simpson’s Forest. Having spotted this latest incarnation by chance on the internet we just had to pull together our pennies and go and stay a night there, which we did in February. And here’s Sally in front of her old home.
The bungalow is small by tea estate standards with only three bedrooms. The new hotel with about twenty rooms stands where the old ‘lines houses’ (tea estate workers’ homes) used to be. But we stayed in the ‘colonial bungalow’ – and found ourselves in Sally’s old bedroom! The other two bedrooms used to be her parents’ room and the nursery – when her brothers returned from boarding school in England for the holidays it was quite a crush!
The house has been brilliantly renovated with all the old styling of doors, windows and ceilings preserved. But outside, where the upper lawn once stood, there is an amazing infinity pool with what must be one of the best views in the island. Nearby there’s even a helipad on the walk Sally used to take with her dogs up to the jungle pool – though the manager admitted that as yet no guests have arrived by helicopter.
Sally was treated like royalty and they gave us a free dinner and wine. Next morning, on our way home, with Martin’s help we found Aslin, whose husband Kalu Banda used to work for Sally’s family in the 1960s. Kalu Banda, who is about Jerry’s age, was away in Wattegama town but we hope to see him soon. The photos below show, in order:The bungalow as it appears today; Sally in her old bedroom; the lovely ceiling restored, and some of the staff getting excited about the old photos we brought.
And, in the next set: Sally in the pool; sunset view, Sally with Aslin, and an old photo of Sally aged twelve or thirteen at Meenawatte around 1970, with her dogs Jill and Puffin.