#5 Sri Lanka, Feb. 8, 2008

Dear Everybody,

Not all bus rides are fun and the 4 1/2 hour ride from Ratnapura to Kandy was hot, crowded, and tedious. The hotel I selected from the Lonely Planet guidebook that was high above the town was full—first time on this trip. The taxi driver suggested I might like to be more central, and I agreed so I’m at a very clean, charmless hotel right downtown—a hundred yards from where I got the taxi after getting off the bus. The hotel bellman told me not to leave my balcony door open when I’m not here “because sometimes the monkeys come.”

I discovered I’m half a block from the very good Lyon’s Restaurant that I had starred in the LP book and I heartily revived upon having a large beer and a good lunch. Then an Internet is half a block the other way, and it’s just a 10 minute walk to Kandy Lake for my morning walks so I think this was one taxi driver worth hearing out.

Speaking of my morning walks, one day I slipped on some loose gravel and fell, not really hurting myself except for a skinned knee as I was wearing Bermudas. Come to think of it, better a skinned knee than a hole in my jeans! That certainly shook my confidence though—can’t I remain upright, for heaven’s sake? Another morning I noticed that two trees that I walked under were plumb full of big hanging bats.

Breakfast at the Lyon’s Restaurant varies—one day I had string hoppers (like angel hair pasta) with egg curry, potato curry and Polsambal (very hot coconut chutney) with tea, which is pretty much the routine breakfast for Sri Lankans. Other times I had samosas of various types and sometimes, an American breakfast.

I went to see the Kandy dancers at the Kandy Cultural Center—a great show, especially the drumming. One number was a mask dance from Ambalangoda with masks very similar to the ones I bought. And yes, I think if you were sick, that dance would scare the devil out of you!






I bussed a few km to the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens—what a beautiful spot. Kandy wasn’t ever conquered by the Portuguese or the Dutch; the British did the job in 1815 and converted these Kandy Royal Gardens to the public Botanical Gardens. I saw many, many exotic trees and plants—like cannon ball trees with their trunks covered with hanging fruit looking just like cannon balls; like double coconut palms with coconuts weighing from 20 to 40 pounds each; like a giant java fig tree spreading out over a whole hill and covering ? square feet. But it was so beautiful with all the colorful flowers and blooming trees and quite a few pairs of young lovers sitting alone in the many little pagodas must have thought so, too.

Monday was Sri Lanka’s Independence Day (1948) so most stores were closed. A suicide bomber took the opportunity to celebrate by blowing herself and 10 others up in the Colombo Main Train Station. So it goes.

I have been seeing brass oil lamps everywhere here that are typically about 5 to 6 feet high with a rooster on top; they are lit for all special occasions. I had seen one at a craft shop downtown but they didn’t handle shipping. On my way to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, I noticed a couple of nice looking craft stores from the bus. The next day I got the same bus and jumped off when I spotted one of the shops. At the second shop I found a beautiful old oil lamp which I bought and which they will ship. I also bought a rosewood Nataraj to replace one that I left in India 10 years ago because of shipping hassles and always regretted leaving behind.


I had lunch at the Queen’s Hotel—a very queenly experience. Here I really got the feel of colonial times with polished wooden floorboards and table service with a British crest.





Actually I ate Sri Lankan curry cooked in a banana leaf though, which I bet they never did!

Then the big deal in Kandy—the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. There is a tooth from the Buddha snatched from his funeral pyre in 543 BC that supposedly now resides in an ornate golden cask in this temple. Most Buddhist Sri Lankans take this very seriously and try to make a pilgrimage to this temple at least once in their lifetime. I attended the 9:30 AM poya with lots of wonderful drumming and some oboe-ing. Eventually I, and a long line of worshipers, filed past the open door of the room with the very ornate golden cask that is said to hold the tooth. The building is quite interesting as it was part of the Royal Palace Complex in the time of Sinhala kings.


After viewing a couple of small museums I ducked into the Pub of the Queen’s Hotel. Two young men that are staying in my hotel happened by so we had a nice chat over a beer. They’re from Holland.

One morning I visited the Geragama Tea Factory by tuk tuk in a rural area. It turned out to be a more interesting stop that I anticipated. I was surprised to learn that tea is ‘done’ in two days after having been partially dried, crushed with a roller, fermented, and sorted.






I was served a cuppa in a lovely porcelain cup. Following this I made three stops at 14th Century Buddhist temples, augmented by glimpses of rural life and mountainous views, which were equally enjoyable.





You know that admonition to keep the balcony door closed because “sometimes the monkeys come”? WELL THEY CAME! I was resting on my bed with the balcony door open when I glanced up and saw four monkeys sitting on my balcony railing, staring at me! Were they planning on coming in? I think so. I hurriedly closed my balcony door but they just sat there, looking at me. Then they left, doing tight rope walking on the electrical wires strung across the street. A strange feeling to have monkeys spying on you!


This morning I got the train from Kandy to go to Ella, where I am now. It was a most beautiful ride for the first four hours, but then it started to rain, although it was still beautiful. Tea plantations everywhere, waterfalls, quaint villages, blooming trees and flowers—it was very enjoyable. When the train stopped in Ella it rained pitchforks, but then let up.





This is tea country and hopefully it won’t rain all the time so I can do some hiking and photographing.







All the Sri Lankans that I meet ask me about the election campaign—and three have said that I look like Hillary! They certainly seem to be following it closely.


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