New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Venerable Island... Sri Lanka

Well, as all names go when chosen by the local people... invariably they are quite simple and reflect the "we are the center of the world" perspective that all humans seem to have...  so when the people of Ceylon, upon unbecoming Ceylon and transitioning to self rule from the British, the place had always been Lanka-- or island... and so to elevate that to nationhood, they added the Sri-- diffusing light and radiance, venerable.  And it is in fact a pretty special place.  Though the arrival at port in Colombo was not particularly auspicious or culturally significant... Just another container port with big rigs...

The first day out for half the group (otherwise you signed up for a simple city tour and free time in afternoon (i.e. shopping) was an all day tour up into the central part of the island to see the botanical gardens and temple complex said to that house a relict of the Buddha himself.

In theory it was a great outing, get to see some countryside apart from the port and coastal areas... especially as it was almost a four hour drive one way... but it was full on traffic the whole time, horns blaring and everything.  The main artery into the highland was a two lane road (flexible lanes of course, depending on how many and what type of vehicles wanted to pass each other at the same time...) with shops houses developed spaces filling every niche.  It's the classic problem that every place with vehicles sees or will increasingly see across the world, as more people are able to afford vehicles of whatever size/make/model... the roads that carry them will get ever fuller and more congested... the arms race of creating infrastructure to house and circulate our necessary items will never keep up.

Be that as it may, it was still an interesting exercise in "away from shore" excursions and there was country to see, rice paddies and cattle egrets and buffalo and forest and granite looking rock outcrops and even a tunnel carved through a boulder that the Brits did way back and is now a wee shortcut for local vehicles since big ol tour busses can't make either the sharp switchback not fit into the hobbit-scale hole.

  Sadly we didn't really have much time at the botanical garden (an affiliate of Kew in England!), and that's not just the botanist in me talking!  But there were some nice sights including a lovely stand of giant bamboo

several trees full with hundreds of roosting fruit bats

and some cool tropical flowers including one from a cannonball tree 

And one of many Bauhinia species

The lunch stop was at an historic hotel

Featuring old b/w photos of days gone by... quite the spectacle then and even now despite regulations on maximum working hours and conditions for elephants-- revered in the country and better treated now than when used previously for working labor animals as well as for religious purposes 

Then we set off for the temple of the Tooth, where Buddhas tooth, or a replica, or the replica was burned (sneakily substituted by temple guardians for the real one in the nick of time) by some colonial power in effort to banish silly idolatry, or the real one was actually burned, the ashes dumped the the lake, but then magically reconstituted and remaining as proof of the Buddhas everlastingness... pick one and feel good about it :). In any case the temple was pretty awesome and it rained a pretty good shower on us just as we removed our shoes and got inside... which was tricky on the slippery marble steps and floors but added a special ambiance since within the temple it was open to the sky in parts so there was water gushing down gutters and dripping off roofs and making lovely noise all around us yet we were dry.  Magical.

Next up the old Dutch trading town of Galle.  Well it wasn't just the Dutch who utilized this port, archaeological remains date back to BC times.  Beautiful old church especially the gravestones, and great displays and artifacts at the maritime museum, then we took a walk around the fort ramparts.

They liked the ol skull and cross bones they did

And then we had a free afternoon which was awesome.  Tour ended at noon and the final shuttle back to the ship was at 4:30... blessed free exploring time!  I answered the old town a bit, stopped in at some shops... pretty schwank affairs, clearly catering to a higher set that come to visit (but such amazing textures and patterns I wanted to take it all home... hard to choose so I took photos instead!)

Of course I did but a few things mostly at a women's coop... enough so that I've got two people nice enough to offer a bit of free space in their luggage to load up some purchased paraphernalia of mine and mail it to me once they're in the states, thanks Dave and Chris!!!

I was content to have an afternoon of wandering but an enterprising tuktuk driver approached me at one point saying that all the shops in this particular location wee overpriced and for the tourists... but he could take me to the real market.  I dickered a bit not totally ready to give up my unplanned time... but decided to hop in, for a tuktuk experience, and to take a trip to see what the green hills on the far side of the bay had to offer... so we were off.

Neat drive thru the market area... all sorts of spices fruits clothes electronics fish you name it.  tempted to end there and wander but I was getting in the lets see what we can see mode so we kept on... 

I am inspired to make a study of tuktuks, most of them are tricked out in some way with slogans on the back, sort of a DIY bumper sticker scene...

This was the only good pic I caught of one, not so easy shooting from out the side of a wee rattle mobile!  Another one I saw said "politic is a mad dog, it will bite you"


And then we headed cross the bay on a busy road, then took a quick turn and suddenly were on what seemed like a single lane tuktuk size road, starting to climb.  The road wound around and ended at a Japanese donated shrine to Buddha

Then we were back on the lane and heading further into the forest jungle, part paved part dirt, mostly bumps, winding through real people's lives and places...

It really felt like I was riding on a toy-sized beetle bug on an amusement park ride it was all so small scale and intimate.  Then we started passing fancier homes and got on to a wider concrete paved road and were summarily dumped out into a full on upscale hippy touristy beach scene.  Stopped for a moment to appreciate the beach, and then it was time to head back to the other side of the bay and the shuttle to the ship.  But with a last stop along the bay at the side of the bust road to check out some fish stalls and yet more picturesque boats...

You can see the white stupa shrine I visited in the background, on horozon at right of this photo

Next day I went with half the group inland to an orphan elephant care center to watch a feeding, and then go on safari in Udawalawe National Park.  The baby elephants were pretty cute, and so were the other babies in attendance!

For lunches on these tours we stop at nice hotels for buffet style meal, and the food was excellent, the best things usually found under the lids of various clay bowls like these... local curries and such, there was one beer curry that was out of this world!

The afternoon safari was great, elephants everywhere, they are a subspecies of Indian elephant, smaller in body and ears than the African version, but still commanding attention even as a juvenile, when bluff charging a landrover!

Then our last day on the island was out of Trincomalee, a dual temple event... one Hindu and one Tamil Buddhist.  The approach to the Hindu temple with shops selling sweets and devotee/religious souvenirs

Palm thatching over an awning spanning the arrival area to keep visitors and attendants alike more comfortable in the strong sun

Statue of Ganesh

Various shrines all under one roof with trees and doves, very organic feeling

Cradle icons by women pilgrims praying to Krishna for help conceiving

And of course the holy cow

The Tamil Buddhist site was interesting, the monks stayed during the unrest of the Tamil Tigers time despite the area being very affected by the violence.  And the site is old old, ruins really but there are more modern buildings as well for the current residents.  This site was so peaceful, had a special feel to it.

And like that, our time in SL was over.  A lovely sunset exit of the Trincomalee port, one of the most important for the British empire in WW II, it is said the port could hold, hide, and protect from any weather 200 warships, undetected.  Thankful our visit was under more peaceful auspices.

The ship arrived in Chennai after a day at sea and the passengers disembarked to the discordant energetic music of a welcoming troupe wielding drums and long squeaking horns... maybe not what everyone wants to trance out to at 8am, but I found I really enjoyed it the more it went on... and I discovered in it an excellent metaphor for life... just as I was getting into a groove and thinking I knew what the rhythm was and could really start to tap it out and sway with it... the rhythm changed, or I lost it, and had bounce around tentatively for awhile before recognizing something to grab hold of, picking it up again, and then getting the groove back, getting into it... and then losing it again... but then eventually instead of getting frustrated or embarrassed with repeatedly losing it, it turned into more of an exploration and discovery of what was being played, what I was hearing, how I was moving, the birds flying by, the movements of the musicians, the colors and textures of what was around us... a great note to end on.

This was the end of the contract for me, and disembarked later that afternoon, and spent the afternoon binge watching movies laid out on a super comfy bed after an excellent shower.  Another day of recovery and napping at the hotel, eating amazing lamb biryani, and watching the sunset from the roof of my hotel, while what seemed to be a never ending exodus of fruit bats went by, paddling the air, heading off for a night of foraging   

E, W, and N from the roof

And then I was off for my holiday break... to the Philippines!

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