#7 Sri Lanka, Feb. 23, 2008

Dear Everybody,

Well move over, Tiger Woods—yes I did, I played golf at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. The beautiful course is right in town—I walked past it each day, so I inquired, and yes, outsiders could play. So I appeared there on Sunday but didn’t pass the dress code, said the caddy master who was missing several of his front teeth. I was wearing jeans and a collarless tee shirt. So for an alternative activity I hopped on a bus to see the Hakgala Gardens, which are 10 km out of town. The gardens formerly were a cinchona plantation from which they got quinine to treat malaria. Now it’s just a beautiful public garden.

As I came back into town, I decided to give the golfing another try so I hopped off the bus right at my guesthouse, and changed into my khaki Bermuda shorts and black turtleneck tee shirt. I again presented myself to the caddy master and voila! I passed muster. About $50 covered the green fee, caddy (plus a tip, of course), rented clubs, three balls, and the use of a glove. I played alone (a one-some?) and my caddy even carried my camera (it’s kind of big) in addition to the clubs. I hadn’t played in 10 years and only a few of my shots were good, but the day was sunshiny, the temp, perfect, and the course was fun although I was in the water twice and in the sand traps twice. Actually I was doing better than the tourist playing ahead of me.  And his girlfriend, who wasn’t playing but just walking along, was wearing a collarless tee shirt!

Nuwara Eliya is at an elevation of over 6000 feet so is quite cool at night. It’s more British than Britain. My guesthouse was just off Race Course Road, which, of course, passed a turf track. Cows roamed in the middle of the course, but not exotic Asian breeds—these were Holstein and Guernsey, and they roamed in amongst about three pick-me-up games of cricket, with all players mostly dressed in white, of course. I understand in April they have a big ‘racing season’ which draws people from Colombo and Kandy, all dressed up, wearing hats.

On Monday I took the train (all day!) to Colombo. I had instructions from my friend, Ira—once I got to the Colombo Fort Station I should get another train to Dehiwela, the Colombo surburb where she lives. When I was inquiring about procedures to go to Dehiwela of another passenger on the train, a young woman spoke up—she was going to Dehiwela and I could come with her. So we got off one station early and got a bus to Dehiwela. She put me off at the right spot and I got a tuk tuk to Ira’s house. The young woman even insisted on paying my bus fare.

 

Ira and her daughter, Ruani, live in a lovely home with a gorgeous terrace and a terrific garden. Ira is a Class A gardener. She’s also a good cook and I ate (too) well.

 

 

 

 

 

For breakfast she made pittu, which is a special whole grain, steamed and served with coconut milk, curry sauce and some hot chilles. I sometimes drank ginger tea (plain Ceylon tea with a little grated ginger). Since I had pretty well ‘done’ Colombo previously, we spent most of the three days chatting and eating.

Except for the perahera—what I came to Colmbo to see.

 

 

The Navam Perahera was the most colossal parade extravaganza that I’ve ever seen. They parade Buddhist religious relics, which are carried by the biggest, fanciest elephant, who had five-foot long tusks and was all dressed in white. The relics rode in a covered howdah on top, which was extravagantly lit—this was a night event. This elephant was accompanied by two other huge elephants decked out in crimson and silver that ‘marched’ on either side of the one in white. But before these elephants appeared there were 37 others, all with spangly ‘dresses’ on and in between each elephant or pair of them were marching units of drummers, dancers, stilt walkers, plate spinners, dancers with masks, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was hotter than Hades and most of the dancers and drummers wore elaborate heavy costumes and danced/marched barefoot for over an hour. It’s a wonder they didn’t die of heatstroke or end up with bleeding feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ira and I, on the other hand, had arrived early and had the best seats—near the beginning of the parade, curbside, in small armchairs with backs. We were sitting in front of a little lake, which gave a cool breeze and also was the scene of fireworks preceding the parade. Of course we had a full moon, too, as it was a poya day.

 

 

 

The police were out in force with sniffer dogs and some body searches (Ira, not me) but were kindly and sort of a comfort as I’m sure the LTTE would very much have liked to have set off a bomb at this important event. It was over about 9:00 PM; we walked a few blocks to get a bus to Dehiwela and then a tuk tuk to the house.

What an event! Elephants are very big in Sri Lanka, both in size and importance. I have seen more elephants here on this trip than I have seen in my whole life! Did you know that elephants grow until they die? They can get really BIG.

In Ira’s garden are a clove tree, curry leaf tree, a pepper bush (black pepper), starfruit, yams, saparilla, wood apple, King coconuts, hot green chilles, banana, mango, and a bunch more that I didn’t know and can’t remember. Sri Lanka is one big garden! When you take the train across the island you really get a feel for the garden-ness of it—it’s really beautiful! One of the curry dishes Ira made had seven kinds of leaves from her garden, chopped up fine and cooked a bit with a little coconut oil. Each lunch or dinner we had rice with about five curry dishes, mostly vegetables but one chicken or fish. How healthy! We ate with our fingers in the Sri Lankan tradition. It was good!

Thursday I took the train back to Kandy and stayed two nights in the 165-year-old Queen’s Hotel. First on the agenda were a couple of gin and tonics in their bar (sans ice cubes—they just don’t have/know ice cubes here) with its polished wooden floor and lots of tropical overhead fans. The trouble was the first night I had mosquitoes all night. For seven weeks I’ve been sleeping under mosquito nets but I guess this upscale hotel couldn’t have anything so old fashioned. The next morning when I complained, the desk clerk said I should have used this little electrical device in the corner which, if you put in some ‘stuff,’ gives out a smoke that makes mosquitoes stay away. Of course there was no ‘stuff’ there, but I got some and things went much better the next night. Just to make sure I applied mosquito repellant to my arms and legs and I slept most comfortably.

I had a nice swim in the big pool here at the hotel—what a treat. The Lonely Planet didn’t mention a pool so I was pleased and surprised to find one here.

I’ll get this off to you this morning before I check out and get a bus to Matale, my next stop, heading north to the ancient cities.

Carol

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