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Bandarawela Hotel - the 18th century heritage property

by BEVERLEY JANSZ - SO Sep 1 2002

One hundred years ago, Bandarawela was a small village on the verge of prosperity brought by the opening up of tea plantations and the coming of the railway. The extension of the upcountry railway line from its then terminus at Nanu Oya to Bandarawela in 1894, caused speculators and planters to see the potential in this little-known hamlet in the Uva province.


Front view of the hotel flanked by misty mountains.

The foundation stone for what is today known as the Bandarawela Hotel, was laid in 1893 for a tea planter's club.

The hotel's illustrious origins date back to when the railway line was forged through the hills from Nanu Oya to Bandarawela. The hotel appears to have been a modest establishment escaping the notice of the early 20th century travel reporters. Although the hotel is in the town centre, its position on a bluff overlooking the town and its garden and foliage, give it seclusion.

The hotel has thirty four rooms, inclusive of the 'Presidential Suite', and three deluxe rooms, which are all equipped with TV, piped music, hot/cold water, hair dryer, telephone facilities, laundry service and room service. A charming reminder of those days are the beds with metal, adjustable frames and gold plated knobs, providing therapeutic comfort for a good night's rest.

Bandarawela is ideally placed for seeing a lot more of Sri Lanka than expected. The hotel makes the perfect base, not just for one night as you pass through, but for a much longer stay so you can get to know the natural, rural heartland of this unique part of Sri Lanka. The hills around Bandarawela Hotel are delightful to explore. The Dowa Rock Temple, five kilometres away, has murals and a great carving of Buddha on the sheer face of rock. At Ella, there is a magnificent viewpoint and picnic trips or hikes are organised by the hotel to tea estate landmarks like Pilkington Point at Poonegala and Lipton's seat. Within easy reach to the hotel, are impressive waterfalls and nature lovers can go on treks through the forests or even take a river bath. World famous Horton Plains, World's End, the Hakgala Botanical Gardens, and to the south, the Yala animal sanctuary, are a few of the many tourist attraction close proximity to the Hotel.

Hospitality seems to be the keynote at the hotel, from General Manager, S. Jeganathan right to the gardener. With over 20 years in the hospitality industry, and also being an Associate member of the Ceylon Hotel School and full member of the Hotel Catering International Management Association (HCIMA), Jeganathan seems to be the live-wire at the Bandarawela Hotel.

In 1960, a young man of 18, P. Selladurai, joined the staff of the Bandarawela Hotel as a room boy. I was pleased to meet Selladurai, now retired and feeble, living close to the hotel. Selladurai recalled clearly those days when guests were all European, and so were the managers. Lots of guests were in parties and took four or five rooms and stayed for one or two months. He recalled that the rate of a room in 1960, was Rs. 20 for a single and Rs. 40 for a double. Breakfast cost Rs. 3.50 lunch of rice and curry Rs. 6.50 and a full-course Western style dinner was Rs. 12.50. A tot of arrack was Rs. 3 and a bottle of beer Rs. 2.75.

Curiously, while other hotels, even the modern ones, revamp themselves the Bandarawela Hotel prospers because it seems never to have changed reassuringly locked in a time warp somewhere between 1930 and 1950. With its experience of hosting local and foreign guests in blissful contentment over the decades, the Bandarawela Hotel is likely to remain just as unique, as a heritage hotel of character, welcoming old friends and new ones, for generations to come.Bandarawela Hotel is owned by Millers Ltd. and managed by Aitken Spence Hotel Management Services Ltd.