Fled the city heading south aboard SO‘s chariot. The destination: the other Bawa’s hideaway.
One of those frequently talked about things of “must do some day” that was acted on the last moment when the weekend was upon us. The seemingly vague directions at the end of an ancient infolanka article (hastily printed the night before) is our only guide. Sceptical about directions (written in 1991), we (perhaps I should say “I”) don’t follow it too closely.
Naturally, we get lost.
After the turning off from the Galle road at the Alutgama police station (the road mentioned in the article is closed for the weekend market), we bounce through Dhagra town and happily shoot off the wrong way up the B157 road and no, I will not trim this sentence.
After each curve of the rural road it seems to get narrower. We go past a mosque, a church, and a Buddhist temple within a few minutes. I try to keep track of our path by drawing a map in the jolting car. We pull into someone’s driveway to let a bus pass and have a delicate time getting the chariot on the road without falling into the deep gutter lining the path. Meanwhile a heavily loaded truck nonchalantly inches past the bus. Then its back to the sinking feeling that we are going the wrong way, yet being hopeful that we’ll get there if we don’t turn back.
Eventually we cave in and asked the locals for directions to what they referred to as “Bawa Mahathaya gey mal watha”. The infolanka article is spot on about asking the locals. There is an unusually joyful feeling in the way they give directions. Something in the way Bawa Mahathaya is referred to, indicates that years after his passing, he is very fondly remembered. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things. I am clearly not reading much into where we are going.
Apparently we are badly off course by this point. But help is at hand when an enthusiastic character leans in and scrawls additions to my badly scrawled map.
More narrow roads. Then past bemused stares from shop fronts at “Ka-la Vay-la” (must figure out how to use Sinhala on WordPress) junction with its abandoned telephone booth, and finally pass the Rajapaksa kade to reach The Sign. A faded ornate Gothic – almost medieval – lettering carved deeply and precisely into a slab of wood. Its yellow paint bleached to a pale beige.
Another narrow road. This time raised across a marsh. Half way in we confront a van coming the other way. There is no room at all for either to pass. One of the guys in the van gets down and gestures that we should give way. Which absurd enough to make both groups laugh. When we capitulate and reverse, he is kind enough to walk along and direct us all the way back to the start of the causeway.
The second time we get through. There is no second red and yellow sign. Just a black and blue one that points the way to the gardens. The lettering is in white chalk. Up a bone crunching hairpin bend that leads to a red clay road walled by foliage. It ends at a circular drive way with those iconic gate posts (the gates themselves are dismantled). We park the chariot and wonder up the red earthed road though a tunnel of green. The crew repaving the road with more red clay off a blue truck smile us a welcome. A smell of fresh earth and the usual non-annoyance of getting soil trapped between foot and slipper.
Three tourists (the guy had an NGO T-shirt) unload themselves from a tuk tuk and overtake us on foot. Their guide is saying something about the Bawas that is not exactly accurate but I don’t have the heart to contradict him. I am already clicking the camera.
Finally at the door of the fabled garden and it is past a civilised lunch hour. Its hot and humid and at the ringing of the bell over the garden door, there are footsteps coming to let us in.
The garden and the house are another post waiting its turn. I suppose it will be eventually written.
The joy of getting there is with me as I write this: two entry tickets (Numbers 20942 and 20943) that survived the laundry and an A4 printout (folded and unfolded repeatedly into quarters) scrawled with directions guaranteed to get us lost on the next visit to Brief.
Perhaps I’m sentimental already