I wanted to write a proper post with tons of pretentious cultural and literary remarks but it is already day 11 of our arrival here and we are headed to the internetless land of the Maldives tomorrow (because we will be on a boat). So instead here is a bunch of pictures and some hopefully not too pedestrian, or provincial, comments.
After Negombo the first place we visited was the ancient capital, and sacred city of Anuradhapura, today a high and holy place of Sri Lankan Buddhism. The oldest tree planted by human hands still grows there, it was cultivated from a shoot of the tree Gautama sat under while he reached Buddhahood and is 2300 years old. All around it there are stupas, some containing relics, that pilgrims approach barefoot (as did we) to leave offerings.
So we walked barefoot on ancient stones, amid ruins choked by jungles and statues of the Buddha looking at us serenely across time.
The next day we went to the rock temples of Dambulla…
We also stopped at a lesser known temple Gedige (I’m writing from memory so I can get the name wrong), that combines Hindu architecture with a statue of Buddha inside. We passed a group of school girls that semi-discreetly pointed and giggled at us. We are still quite a curiosity here even though they see more tourists. People are full of smiles the minute you wave or smile at them. Gedige is at the exact geographical center of the island, quite the feat for antiquity…
Next we headed to the central city of Kandy, the island’s second largest town. The shock after the quiet serene feel of ancient places was severe. The pollution literally eye watering and the gin and tonic weak.
Kandy is also (especially) home to a temple that holds a tooth said to have belonged to the Buddha. It has a man made lake close to its center, legend has it that people who protested the king’s plan to dig the lake were impaled at its bottom. Around the lake you will make all sorts of unexpected encounters.
Out of 12 days here I have eaten rice and curry eleven times. It’s the national dish. The only day I did not was in Kandy, were we went to eat “kottu” at the Muslim Hostel, a place renowned for it.
There’s a weird relationship with alcohol in Sri Lanka. It feels very post-prohibitionish. It is not sold on holidays, anywhere, many restaurants don’t carry it at all, or hide it if they serve it.
One supermarket that had booze forced customers to use a hidden side entrance to gain access to the beer. Even the rather fancy restaurant the Sanctuary in Anuradhapura, (the British governor’s ex residence) did not serve any because “we are on temple grounds”. Granted the places where they do sell booze “the wine stores”, are crowded with bleary eyed men drinking arack, the local hooch.
Kandy also has a very nice botanical garden (grass collection anyone?) that includes, surprisingly, a coca (as in cocaine) bush.
We got caught in a massive rainstorm, hid under a “coco-fesse” palm tree and took a city bus back into town.
After Kandy we headed to Ella, for the most over hyped experience since Star Wars 1.
Google “things to do in Sri Lanka”, and the train ride from Ella to Kandy will surely be in the top three of most sites you will come across. It is however, IMHO completely over hyped. Sure the views are nice, but so are the ones from the roads. Also the train is jam packed almost exclusively with gringos and your odds of sitting by a window, or standing in a doorway are exceedingly slim. Most likely you will stand for several hours, as we did, between two wagons, to great peril of our toes and with minimum view on the outside. Really don’t go out of your way or make any special effort to see this. There are plenty of opportunities for beautiful sights.
Granted we boarded the train about half way, for it was impossible to get any sort of ticket in Kandy, but I stand by my opinion, especially after having seen the first half of the way from the road.
OK, time to motor, sorry for not rereading and any mistakes. I’ll leave you with the following… See you after the Maldives!