in the Bosom of the Hills
by Dimitri Fernando (Sri Lanka/1997)
Travelling a distance of 193 kilo- metres from Colombo on the Colombo-Badulla road, one arrives at the sleepy little town of Haputale. Clinging precipitously to both sides of a razor sharp ridge, the town sits at an elevation of 1431 metres. It is a nondescript town with the main road descending into it from such a height that the arrival into the Main Street is startling, especially from the front seat of a bus the street is there, but at the far end a steep drop into nothingness. It appears to the ignorant visitor, that the bus will become airborne, at the end of the road.
The Main Street has several trading shops, one from each occupation. The railway station sits above the road, and Dambatenne Road leads into the hills. The town is dotted with little Hindu temples, reminding us of the large population of Indian Tamils who are employed in the tea estates that cover the surrounding hillsides.
The town is considered a place that must be seen by any hill country traveller because of the Haputale Gap. This is without doubt, one of the most spectacular sights in the country. The great amphitheatre of the upper Uva spreads out to the north and east. It is bounded by the mountains of Idalgashinna, Ohiya and the Horton Plains, the peaks of Hakgala, the purple cone of Namunukula, and Poonagala and Bandara Eliya. On the other side is an equally breathtaking view the foothills of the lower Uva, the southern Sabaragamuwa and the Southern Province right down to the sea. On a bright and cloudless day, one could see the ocean as a bright blue line in the distance, but usually the horizon is obscured by clouds and mist. A cloudless night discloses the stabbing rays of the little lighthouse of Hambantota, far south.
Though one can experience this spectacular view from anywhere in the town the ideal place where one could see five provinces at the same time, is near the one kilometre marker on the Dambatenne Road. I had to walk up the lonely hillside, where after about 300 metres one gets a bird´s-eye view of the whole town. By the one kilometre marker, I stood facing south-east, and at my right hand stretched the Sabaragamuwa Province, while at my left the indistinct features of the Eastern Province could be seen. Right in front of me, I could see the lakes and reservoirs of the Southern Province, as well as the verdant green paddy-fields, nestling among thick jungle areas. Behind me was the Central Province and the mountains of the Pidurutalagala range and the Uva mountains. "
History of Haputale
1. Abraham & Cebu Company
Thought I should be easy to find out about the history of such a little town like Haputale it was much more difficult than exspected - and still there are lot of questions!
Haputale was just a junction from somewhere to somewhere when first estates of coffee came around Haputale in early 19th century and tea estates end of 1860´s.
It was reported to me by Abdul Salam that two businessmen Mr. Abraham and Mr. Cebu have started that time a simple shad to supply all kind of goods from fishing hooks to heavy machines for the estates. Also safe transport of salaries against a 1% charge have been done for the estates. Abraham and Cebu came from India, became partners and started business with cattles around Anuradhapura before they came to Haputale.
The sad shad of Abraham & Cebu has been built at the main junction in Haputale by wood and mud but became later a big stone building with lot of teak panel-work. The same building you can find even now at the the main junction of Colombo Road and Station Road. In the early period Abraham&Cebu made all transports to Haputale by horse and cattle carts and later also by train.
1968 this building has been overtaken by the family of Abdul Salam when all indian foreighners where asked to leave the country. Salams family keeped the old shop name and went on to offer the same good services as Abraham&Cebu did within past century.
1980-87 Salam´s family had a guesthouse in the top floor with 7 rooms each 50 Rs. It was mostly visited by foreighners and got his name "Friendly Place" by a german guest. Here a photo of uncle Hameed and Abdul Salam in the old rooms of the former "Friendly Place" Guesthouse.
Since 1988, when the tourist business went down, all rooms where in use by the family only. Meanwhile all 3 sons of Salam are working in South Africa, Kuwait and Saudi-Arabia while his daughters are still in Haputale.
2. St. Andrews Church and Cemetary
The poor information I found till now recording a beginning before 1875/1879 when James Andrews from Sherwood Estate and Richard James Wylie from Pita Ratmalie Estate found last places at St. Andrews cemetary in Haputale.
I visited the mess and spoke with Vicar Santiyago Anton Cyril Roche from Bandarawela but so far he had no more historical information about this church than a historical photo.
1920 A group photo in the St. Andrews church seems to be around 1920.
1921 St. Andrews Church Altar Window
"Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not. In loving memory of BRYCE J WYLIE OF HALDUMULLA WHO DIED 8th. November 1921 errected by his family."
2006 While building a bigger road through Haputale some graves of the cemetary have been cut down and damaged. Their historical worth and places of mourning and memory are lost forever! To visit graves close to break-off edge is extremely dangerous!
The worth seeing Hospital 1 km north of Haputale has some old tiles from 1865. DMO I. E. Meier 1928-1931 is mentioned in the entrance hall.
3. More Dates
1893 came the first train to Haputale. (http://www.imagesofceylon.com/)
1925 Tamil School Kanista Vidyalaya Thotulagala, 4 km east from Haputale on the Dabetenna Road (near Lotus Pond) has started under estate management and taken over by government in 1977. First Head Master in 1925 was Mr. S. Ramasamy who established this school with 20 students in a small building include the teacher´s quarter.
1928 Police Station Haputale, Welimada (Temple) Road.
1929 Tamil/Singhalese School Haputale, Welimada (Temple) Road.
1930´s Adisham Bungalow of Sir Henry Villiers.
1941 Mosque, Colombo main Road.
1945 Urban Council opening has been garzetted. Opening by minister Sir Henry Monk Mason Moore. Station Road. At that time a city area of just 3.5 km² has been under the urban council.
1970 Cooperative Union started in the colonial rooms of the Buona Vista Hotel.
1992 Assembly of God, Pantycostal Church, Welimada Road.
2001 A new town hall took place at the old Rest House in the Station Road.
2006 The new fair with stalls and huts has been built on a ground opposite the New Bus Stand.
In May 2006 this privat homepage has been started by E. Oliver from Germany to offer more needful information for all people who like to visit the amazing and beautiful landscape of Haputale tea mountains.
Also in 2006/7 the roadworks of the A4/A16 highway from Colombo to Badulla have reached the are of Haputale.
4. Meeting with a Historican A. Rajendran from Bandarawela
Born 1949 A. Rajendran worked in 10 Estates and came finally up in high position as chief clark handling assistance accounts, administration, assistance management and correspondence. His wife is the vice principal at the Tamil College Haputale. They have four children. Two of his sons are working as brand manager of tamil "Veerakesary" newspaper and marketing manager of Trans Lanka Granite.
A. Rajendran visited me at 27. February 2007 in Thotulagala to give me some needful information, old photos and an antic hand written book of late 19th. century.
A page from the hand-written book reporting of the situations of the estates around Haputale.
A. Rajendran and Father Gerom from Italy end of 1960s in the garden of Adisham Monastery.
Former Monamaya guesthouse near Haputale Welimada Road which runs from 1936 - 1990 as guesthouse. Since 1990 circuit Bungalow of Comercial Bank.
Rajendran gave me some more of his photos from middle 1960s.
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