23 Nov 2003
The Avondster Project and the Galle Harbour Project have for several years found a home at Nooit Gedacht in Unawatuna. The charm of the Dutch architecture, the mature garden, and the delightful variety of birds and other wildlife, are matched by the good humour of our host, Para Dias Jayasundere. Para cheerfully allows us to scatter equipment all over the premises, run a compressor in the garage, give diving lessons in his swimming pool, and use the fishpond as emergency storage for artefacts.
Nooit Gedacht was built in about 1735. It was the country house of a Dutch governor (probably, Para thinks, de Jong). On retiring from his official position he became a merchant, supplying spices to the VOC, but on the arrival of the British in 1796 the house was sold to Para's great great great uncle, who was an interpreter for the Dutch. He in turn presented it as dowry on the marriage of his daughter - and so it came into the possession of Para's great grandfather.
The house is on the site of the military camp established by the Dutch when they first arrived in the country, as a base from which to lay siege to the Portuguese fort of Galle. The camp was chosen for its proximity to a spring of fresh water (from which Nooit Gedacht still bottles water, the 'Life' brand, today), and for the protection offered by the overlooking mountain, Rumassala. Two watchtowers, similar to those in Galle Fort, used to stand on the boundary of the hotel's land, but sadly they have crumbled to rubble in recent years due to blasting at a quarry on the same mountain.
Rumassala, known to colonialists as Buona Vista, is the subject of many legends. It features in the Ramayana, as the home of the beautiful queen Sita, hidden in the jungle nearby. Hanuman was sent to fetch a medicinal plant for a wounded soldier, but unable to find it brought the Himalayan mountains on which it was said to grow. He dropped a chunk at Unawatuna ('here it fell') to form the present mountain, where many medicinal plants still grow. There is a major magnetic anomaly near Unawatuna, which Arthur C. Clarke attributes to a meteorite strike, and it is said that satellites lose their orbits with unusual frequency overhead. The Portuguese had a dreadful reputation in Sri Lanka as looters and pirates, and are said to have given false light signals from Rumassala to lure unsuspecting Arab trading ships onto the rocks.
Nooit Gedacht means 'never thought', or perhaps 'unexpected'. It is said that the Governor was bound originally for Batavia, but was delayed in Galle by ship problems, and in the end proceeded no further. Similarly, the island of Sri Lanka was known to Moslem traders as Serendib, from which was derived the word 'serendipity' - the chance occurrence or discovery of unexpected delights. Members of the expedition of March 1999 were charmed by delicate sunbirds hovering to gather nectar from hibiscus, by an elephant lunching in the garden, by a tiny mouse in the computer box which energetically evaded its pursuers in a pentathletic comedy scene (the box contents list did say 'mouse'), and by a red-vented bulbul nesting peacefully in a lamp on the verandah, unperturbed by the conversations three feet below.
Nooit Gedacht, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka.
25 rooms: tel/fax +94 91 2223449, firstname.lastname@example.org
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