orchard hotel blossoms in Sri
Turning green: fanned by the
trees and the soft breeze (inset) Tanuj
Goonewardene and Jeff Goonewardene: Making dreams come
By Ranee Mohamed
Sri Lankan-born US based entrepreneur
Jeff Goonewardene has helped tourism in this country to branch
out and blossom to newer heights with the recent opening of
his first Tourist Board registered Orchard Hotel — the
Thilanka Resort and Spa in Dambulla.
After the four hour long ride from
the city of Colombo, one is heralded by greenery and innocent
village folk in whose eyes curiosity now makes way for
immediate hospitality at the recognition of visitors and
guests to the Thilanka Resort and Spa in Dambulla.
It is seldom that one gets an
opportunity to enjoy nature, comfort and serenity in such an
exclusive surrounding such as Thilanka Resort and Spa,
Dambulla. Jeff Goonewardene, whose family has already made a
name in the leisure industry with their Thilanka Hotel in
Kandy and the Thilanka Guest House in Matale, has indeed made
a smooth and refreshing fruit cocktail for the independent
traveller, be he local or foreign. For the Dambulla Resort and
Spa is nestled among approximately 491 mango trees, three and
a half acres of paddy field, 150 teak trees and a herb garden.
And adding to this fruit salad-tinged environment is a quarter
acre banana plantation.
The Thilanka Hotel in Kandy is a much
sought after hotel by both local and foreign travellers. It is
known for its hospitality and good food. The Thilanka Hotel in
Kandy has had a very warm beginning when the parents of Jeff
Goonewardene, Lionel and Iona Goonewardene decided to open the
doors of their home to guests and tourists — making it a
hotel. This is the root cause of the hospitality, togetherness
and family feeling that are dished out in no mean measure at
the Thilanka Hotels.
Speaking about his much-acclaimed
Thilanka Resort and Spa, Jeff Goonewardene who was in Sri
Lanka recently said said ‘Well, I want to be naturally
honest with you. When I saw the mango trees in Dambulla, I
thought, this is it. But I was not sure whether I could afford
to buy the property. But when my brother told me that this is
the price at which we can get the property, I thought that it
is a possibility. I take this opportunity to thank my brothers
Gamini and Tanuj Goonewardene and Tissa Dayananda who is the
Manager of the Thilanka Resthouse in Matale. Their hard work
and dedicated service has made it easy for me to make my
dreams come true," said Chairman, Jeff Goonewardene.
A resort hotel
He went on to say that from the first
day that he saw this property, he had a vision and a plan but
did not speak of it to anyone. "My goal was to open a
When I was a child I was dreaming of
a house with the access path lined with palm trees. It was my
dream to do so in the United States of America and to realise
that dream in the USA would cost me about 20 million U S
dollars to merely purchase the land; the palm trees also would
have to be brought from elsewhere. But here in Dambulla, I was
able to make that dream come true and now that dream has come
true, the access path has been replaced with mango
trees," said Goonewardene.
The Thilanka Resort and Spa has a
language of its own. Walking into its lush green surroundings,
the architecture of the hotel is overtaken with nature’s own
surroundings, colours and sounds. King coconut (thambilli)
and coconut and lemon treees fan one’s very being. And in a
refreshingly new gesture one is able to see vegetables being
picked from its gardens for the salads.
"In fact, we use our own ‘home-grown’
produce for our guests," explained the hotel’s Resident
Manager Ranjit Cooray Bulathsinghala. Bulathsinghala who has
been in Quality Assurance for thirty five years in Germany
insists on quality assurance in every field of activity in the
Thilanka Resort and Spa. In a simple down to earth explanation
about their vegetables, Bulathsinghala said that only lettuce
is bought from the market.
The 25 acre property stretches one
kilometre from the road and the soft gurgling sounds that one
hears in the vicinity is from the Dambulla river which lulls
the hotel and its guests to a sleepy laziness. As one looks
around and sees the birds, one also cannot help but notice
that the mango trees are heavy with mangoes, so are the
coconut, the king coconut and lemon trees. The splashes of
yellow in the banana acreage adds a fruity fragrance all
around and is a bird’s paradise too.
This is truly a resort — peace
begins to set in at the reception and the pressure begins to
drop right here, where one is welcomed by Resident Manager
Bulathsinghala. Chef Indunil takes us over and shows us why he
won those culinary awards. The buffet lunch is one good reason
to be here at the Thilanka Resort and Spa in Dambulla. But
then Thilanka Hotels have created a name for themselves when
it comes to good food.
The rooms have all the modern day
conveniences and more — large de luxe double beds, DVD
players, mini bars, rain showers and indulgent plunge pools
have taken over the archaic bath tubs. Lockers for guests are
another safety measure taken by the management who seem to
have done a very clever job in blending modern conveniences
into an orchard.
Chairman Jeff Goonewardene is also
the Counsel General for Colombia and Venezeula and his office
is situated in the Thilanka building in Colombia where there
flag of Thilanka flies in the luxury apartments in South
America. As President of the World Relief Organisation and
Chairman, Thilanka Resort and Spa; Jeff Goonewardene has
managed to take time off for social service despite his busy
Goonewardene’s recent project was
the linking of Sri Lanka with I AM books of California, USA
— books for children which are printed in English with an
accompanying translation in the language of the countries to
which it is brought.The book promotes harmony and peace and
sunny thinking in little minds and its author and founder is
Steve Vigilione. In November last year Goonewardene was
instrumental in bringing this famed author Steve Vigilione and
his wife Dr. Marilyn Powers to Sri Lanka. Together they have
distributed approximately 70,000 books in Sri Lanka.
"These books are being endorsed
by the first ladies of the countries to which we will take
them. And our plan is to take them to 30 countries. I AM books
have been endorsed in Sri Lanka by our first lady Shiranthi
Rajapakse who helped to take the book to 81 schools and also
differently abled children," said social worker
"At the moment I am working with
Karen P. Hughes, Under Secretary of State, Public Diplomacy
and Public Affairs, Washington on taking the goodwill of US
the world over," said Goonewardene.
A genuine rest
Getting back to Thilanka Resort and
Spa in Dambulla, Goonewardene said that he is proud that he
was able to realise his dream — but prouder that he is able
to give a genuine resting place for the tired traveller.
"This is an unusual location, the famed Sigiriya rock is
in the vicinity and so is the Dambulla Rock Temple.
Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, the Dambulla Cricket Stadium and
the Ilukumbura Knuckes are all within easy reach from the
hotel. A half an hour drive will open one to a gigantic treat
— in the form of elephants,"said an excited
Goonewardene. In short, all the corners of the Cultural
Triangle are but a breath away from the Thilanka Resort.
"This resort has changed the
lives of the people of Dambulla. Our Director Tanuj
Goonewardene who trained our employees has given first place
to the people of Dambulla. Also, when the Thilanka Resort and
Spa opened in Dambulla I went from house to house — I went
to the vegetable sellers, the village mudalali and to the
homes of the village people and welcomed them to the hotel.
I prepared a letter to them
introducing ourselves. We told them that we had come to their
village and to accept us as a part of the village. We invited
them to celebrate the occasions of their loved ones — and we
invited them as guests. Some of the ladies had tears in their
eyes, yet others did not believe me, for this was a first
timer for them — the Chairman of a hotel coming to their
home to introduce himself and invite them," smiled
The Thilanka Resort and Spa offers
horse riding, cycling and also a drive in a 1922 Austin Martin
Convertible which will help transport tourists to the Dambulla
Rock Temple. A mini spa is in full swing till the main Spa is
completed by September. A volleyball court, tennnis court and
a custom made cricket pitch are all part of the hotel’s
With an 85 per cent occupancy, today
this exclusive resort offers not only a special lunch but also
a special rate to Sri Lankans. While tourists from Germany and
the United Kingdom speak of the ‘difference’ here among
the trees, the birds and the luxurious pampering, there were
many guests from NGOs too at this hotel.
"Some of the staff members of
the Red Cross have chosen our hotel and our guests make us
feel special,’ said Chairman Goonewardene.
Health care facility
"I have another dream and that
is to give a healthcare facility and a playground to children
in every part of the country by tbe year 2009. Already
children in Weligama and Kilinochchi have received playgrounds
and emergency healthcare facilities have been given to
children in Walasmulla and Moratuwa.
"I am essentially a people
person. To me the people in this world – and the people
around me are my whole world. Their social standing, their
financial position and other factors are of no importance to
me" said Goonewardene."
Jeff Goonewardene is at his happiest
in Dambulla. He says he owes special thanks and gratitude to a
few people and topmost among them is President Mahinda
Rajapakse. "I also wish to thank the Senators,
Congressmen and the Generals in the United States of America
for their inspiration and unstinted support. My special thanks
are also due to Jim Wood, the Mayor of Oceanside California
for his friendship, support and inspiration," said Jeff
"I take this opportunity to
express my appreciation of the excellent customer care service
that the Malaysian Airlines and the Sri Lankan Airlines have
given our customers," said Goonewardene.
Goonewardene says that he will be
bringing 44 millionaires to Sri Lanka in November. "This
is my country and I am so proud of it, besides there are many
beautiful things here in Sri Lanka that we can ‘show off’
," he said with a smile.
aren’t there tourists in the beautiful beaches of Hikkaduwa
It’s yet another sunny day on the
beaches of Hikkaduwa with clear skies above, sparkling ocean
ahead and blazing hot sand under the feet, and yet something
seems terribly wrong.
Where have all the beach boys gone?
There aren’t many tourists to begin with for them to be
loitering around the beaches these days, waiting to solicit an
It may be the tourist off season, but
this is probably an all time low for the coastal town of
Hikkaduwa, which has long been known as party central on the
coastal belt, even the locals haven’t arrived for their
usual long weekend escapades.
Two days on the beach, and there was
only a smattering of people, few of whom were actually there
on holiday, the rest were from the area itself.
A few yards from where we stayed was
a restaurant called The Harbor, where my friends and I were
regular visitors for the entire duration of our long
Is this a one off case or is this a
dire time for Hikkaduwa, which has always been the life and
party of the south.
The beach felt deserted, and so did
the restaurant, all because of the demise of tourism in Sri
Lanka. The town at night seemed like a ghost town from an old
western movie, partying was certainly not on the cards, even
on a long weekend.
From smalltime hotel owners and
cabana owners to the restaurants scattered along on the beach,
everyone had pretty much the same to say. Roy, general manager
of a smalltime hotel said, "It’s off season no? But
still even during off-season we’d have more customers than
this. At least the locals would come but even this long
weekend the occupancy has been very low, maybe it will pick up
Sunil, who owns a pancake restaurant
(which, by the way serves some pretty neat combinations) says
that he’ll just have to sit tight and "wait and
But the wait could be a long one,
with the war intensifying and the promise of more violence to
come it’s highly doubtful if Sri Lanka will be on the
recommended list of destinations at foreign travel
The economy may be taking a knock by
this, and no doubt the hotels and resorts, both big and small
as well as the restaurants and beach boys, and the pancake
sellers. But a strange change it is indeed, to have one of the
most beautiful beaches in the world before you without a
single foreigner in sight for miles.
Wong, King of Kung Fu
is a hero of the film world and his kung fu and style make him
a king of the real world. Billy Wong, is so fast that age
cannot catch up with him, so fast that even evil cannot keep
pace with him. Leading a good life, sans all evil, Wong
attributes his well being to clean living. His world is sans
alcohol and cigarette smoke. His life is about training,
working out, discipline and food that will only benefit his
Yet he goes on
to admit that he can be traced any evening at any of the
Chinese restaurants in the city. "Chinese food is the
best food. It is my favourite food," reveals Wong. It is
Wong’s treat after his workout.
But Wong says
that Kung Fu is not about fighting and strength. "It is a
great mind that makes a strong body. Thus when your mind is
not strong, your body weakens too resulting in a dull nervous
system which also results in poor circulation," points
is an art, it is also a way of life," he says and kung fu
is certainly the way of life of Wong. Billy Wong is an
international star who is able to stand and halt speeding cars
and jump from building to building. He is the real life
Superman, the real life king of kung fu, whose work is not a
King of kung fu
Wong is the
king of kung fu, who trains and prepares those who follow him.
He is the kung fu star in many films and he is the kung fu
star in real life. Fitting into Sri Lankan society, Billy
Wong, says he enjoys his stay here and that his kung fu can
keep him comfortable anywhere in the world. "Kung fu is
the way," he says. "The only way for me," he
says. For Wong, eats, drinks and breathes kung fu. His life is
about this art which he has made, his way of life.
"We all do
have physical limitations and to overcome these limitations
one must recognise them. One must develop one’s capabilities
and this will help to overweigh the weaknesses," said
Kung fu, which
he describes as the ancestor of all other martial arts is the
way of life, he says – a way to a good, clean and
disciplined existence, it will help one fit into any age —
be it 16, 17, 18 or 20. Such is the power of kung fu on the
mind and body, insists Wong.
business, you do not talk, you let your body do the talking
for you. I would rather be over-trained than to be
under-trained. This is why I undergo vigorous training
everyday, I let my body do the talking,." said Wong.
power is immense, the strength in his trim body is
unimaginable, the strength in his mind goes even beyond.
is for all. There is no barrier as age, sex, build and size.
It calls for a perfect schedule of training and a good diet
system. It calls for a training not only of the mind, but also
of the body. It helps one to think positive," said Wong
of kung fu.
trauma as the breaking up of a relationship – a broken love
affair for example can kill a person. It drains energy and
leads to negative thinking and stress, but kung fu will rise
above the tears and the heartache," insists the King of
have to be rich to enjoy life," says Wong who has found
contentment in his art. "Kung fu stresses that one must
plan one’s day. In my day there is a three hour workout.
This workout is divided into strength training, cardiovascular
workout and a flexibility workout. This workout is the perfect
way of life…" says Billy Wong.
And it is this
workout that enables Wong to enjoy Chinese food everyday.
Contrary to common belief that Chinese food is rich and full
of calories, Wong says that it is the best for the body.
"Chinese food is wholesome and it allows one to enjoy a
little bit of everything and it is not monotonous at
all," said Wong of his food which he enjoys.
Going back to
kung fu, Wong says that it is "half physical and half
spiritual. I practice a physical culture – for the
cultivation of the mind in the form of self-defence. It is
more than a form of entertainment. For the Chinese it is a way
one idea. Make that one idea your life. Think of it; dream of
it, live on that idea. Let the brain muscles, nerves and every
part of your body be full of that idea and just leave every
other idea alone…" says Wong.
A citizen of
the world, Billy Wong is open to other lives and ways of
living, but it is kung fu, he says that has made him the man
that he is.
cover pages of foreign magazines and newspapers in the company
of Jackie Chan and allies of Bruce Lee, Billy Wong appears the
younger hero of martial arts on screen in these modern times.
fu, man cannot go in search of sensual pleasures and meal
planning is not a picnic for him," says Wong. "If
one overeats without exercise, then the problems begin.
Speaking of the wonders of water, Wong says, one does not have
to be thirsty to drink water…"
a responsible citizen
is not bliss. I guess it is very easy to have your blinkers on
when you live in a country like Sri Lanka and haven’t really
had the opportunity or chance to experience what life is like
outside the island. But in this day and age of globalisation
when people are bombarded with cultural references from
countries where most of the general population would be hard
pressed to locate Sri Lanka on a map, is that a viable excuse?
I am harping on about this for a reason and it is a purely
I am aware that
when I am next in the presence of family friends and relatives
that I will go mad and burst a few blood vessels. It’s been
my experience that whenever something occurs that is
unacceptable in politics in our country, there are generally
comes from the older generation — those of my parents’ age
and so forth. These people sit back and discuss the myriad
reasons behind what has occurred and dissect the gossip but
they do so with an air of cynicism. They are jaded. The end
result is a conversation that does not go anywhere, does not
have any positive effect except to possibly irk me even more
should I happen to overhear it.
reaction is what you get from the younger lot — people
around my age and younger. Their reactions seem to mainly
consist of complete and utter ignorance, disillusionment or
disinterest as to what is going on.
If they do know
what is happening, unfortunately they consider the gossip
about the latest pop star to be more relevant to their lives
than any policy or government decision. If they do know what
is happening and realise that they are expected to comment on
it, their reaction is usually a mindnumbed repetition of what
their parents’ views are.
Why is this a
problem? Because you cannot go around placing all the blame
for political instability solely on a nation’s government or
politicians or even on the decisions made in past history. You
cannot go around electing people and exercising your right to
vote while complaining that it doesn’t matter who you elect
— nothing is going to change.
Part of the
reason the current system of government does not work is
because it is a system. It is a system that requires the
general public (i.e. you who hold the right to vote) to
participate in it in order to ensure it functions properly.
And those functions require you to do more than just vote.
As a citizen,
you can criticise the government or any official you elected
who has reneged on his election promises. You can write
letters, petition your ministers, issue complaints not just to
the government but international bodies such as the UN, you
can protest (peacefully please — no need to riot), you can
sit in parliament and watch proceedings, you can gain access
to all papers and policies currently debated or archived.
What makes me
angry is the fact that so many people I meet at home, give up
so easily. They don’t fight for what they want. They might
riot in the streets and use brute force — but that isn’t
going to solve anything because it immediately puts them in
the wrong and takes away any power and credibility they might
The point I am
trying to make here is that if you aren’t making up your
mind right now to fight for a better life-style, an end to
political instability and problems, an end to corruption, if
you aren’t using all the legal options you have available as
a citizen of a country, then perhaps you do not deserve to be
If you do not
take an active interest in what your country is shaping out to
be, if all you do is sit and debate everything only to come to
the conclusion that there is no point in doing anything, then
perhaps you have no right to be a citizen.
should take away your right to vote, your right to start a
political party, your right to all the freedoms you currently
have that at least the UN and other countries recognise even
if your current government does not.
should take away all that and leave you without a right to
anything. Think about it. No matter what you might think of
the country, from the moment you were born, you were given all
these rights as a human being. You uphold them, you think they
are important, they are recognised internationally but you
have done nothing to deserve them.
They have been
handed to you in the hope that you will use them to prove that
you are worthy of being a citizen. It is a responsibility that
I don’t see a lot of people adhering to — but you as a
citizen are expected to do your best to make life better for
those around you. I don’t see any proof of that happening
and ask yourself truthfully why that is. Is it not partly to
do with the fact that you aren’t doing anything that you
aren’t voicing your disapproval at the way things work?
You are a
citizen with rights and responsibilities. You already have
that much. Stop being so hypocritical and get up and use what
you do have to fight for what you do want. It may be hard but
it is the only way this system of government is going to work.
Ignorance is not bliss. If it was, we would not have the
political, social and economic problems we do today. Think
the best medicine
people are actually paying to go for laughter therapy. Certain
substances are released which are good for our bodies.
We are fortunate to have comic films and television programmes
to keep us amused.
whenever we feel the need, at the click of a button, we laugh!
And in a country like ours, plenty of jackasses to keep us
rolling and rocking, until our sides split with laughter. I
must say, as a race, we laugh a lot. As the song goes, Smile,
though your heart is breaking…
One has to be
very careful to smile in the correct place and at the correct
time, sometimes you burst into a fit of giggles that can’t
be controlled in the most unsuitable of places. Like today at
Mass, the priest went striding around, dispensing holy water
far and wide, and some of it made a big splash in Dancing Doll’s
eye. She shuddered and flinched and fidgeted, and I started
giggling and couldn’t stop. "Can you kindly shut
up?" she hissed at me. That made me giggle even more.
Dreamer is a huge giggler; in fact she made an enemy in her
last year of school because she couldn’t control her
giggles. A certain master’s use of the English language left
much to be desired, and she would go red in the face and erupt
A tonne of
The others who
either couldn’t understand why she laughed, or those who had
more control of themselves escaped, but he would descend on
her like a tonne of bricks.
failing her in the subjects he took, and even gave the Brain
box a zero for one unit! We told her to ignore it and just
work towards her main examination that was in two month’s
time. What do you think, she got full marks in that unit, and
‘A’ grades in the others, and it was an international
examination! It just goes to show, you must be careful not to
laugh at people but with people.
But that can be
a difficult task. I can remember I was seated at the head
table at this very formal dinner. This table was placed on a
stage, and faced the rest of the people. I was seated in
between two priests.
Caveman was the
main Speaker at this event. With each speech, a course was
served together with wine. One of the priests next to me was
liberally pouring out the wine. First he removed his
spectacles. Then he started to nod.
Right in front
of me, there was a row of my friends and I could see them
grinning at me. I struggled to keep a straight face. Suddenly
he started to snore, and the next thing was, his head rested
on the table and he was out for the count.
It was Caveman’s
main speech, so I simply could not even allow a flicker of a
smile, since it was not meant to be amusing. That was
the hardest time I ever had, since gentle snores were
emanating from my neighbour. I had to bite my cheeks when this
lady who loves her alcohol, started exclaiming at every turn,
"You’re quite right! Hear! Hear! You can say that
again!" And so on… at every sentence. By this time, all
the ladies in front of me had given up all pretences and were
giggling openly. I thought I’d burst with the effort of
keeping a straight face!
In my last year
at school, all of us responsible office bearers were entrusted
with the task of making a visit to the funeral house of a
respected teacher. We were unaccompanied by any of our
teachers, since it was during school hours. On the way, we
discussed what prayers and hymns we would sing once we got
there. When we arrived, we were ushered in and left alone with
the corpse. One of us started singing in a quavery voice,
quite off-key. Of course, that set us off giggling helplessly.
So we knelt
there, shaking with laughter, some of us covering our faces
with our hands, and we heard someone come in and say,
"Don’t be sad, girls, she lived her life to the
fullest." She thought we were crying!
Then one of the
more sober of us sternly said, "Here, that’s enough!
Say a prayer!" So we quickly composed ourselves, recited
our prayers and sang like angels, and left, with the words,
"Soooo sweet, they really must have loved her!"
ringing in our ears.
- Honky Tonk Woman