Sri Lanka Days 5 & 6 – An Aston Martin, Climbs & Sour Milk

Despite the beautiful setting the breakfast cereal milk was sour and the coffee the waiter fetched me was 70% milky water. I consumed neither. However, consumption hasn’t been a problem generally with copious amounts, usually at buffets, both lunchtime and evening. Without little irony the food here is better suited to vegetarian Anna than in France and definitely Germany.

After a leisurely start we climbed on the bus we each were each given a flower. This gives the giver ‘good karma’. By the same token we’ve received cups of tea and biscuits as part of this karma on parts of the tour. This is part of the Buddhist tradition and seems (and is) kind and peaceful but up until 2009 the country had a 25 year old civil war with the Tamils (Hindus). The UN calculate that over 100,000 died with several high profile assassinations and atrocities. Under the British we placed a number of Tamils in high positions because of their education and quality of English. The Buddhist majority (Sinhalese) resented this favour. After the British left there were ethnic tensions and by 1978 legislation was being passed for affirmative action for the majority. Actively the Tamils were being replaced.

War erupted with Tamils seeking a separate state and later an autonomous region. The war was bloody and the Tamil Tigers were not religious but highly political, organised and internationally well funded and armed. Even agreed Indian armed intervention (where 69 million Tamils live) was unsuccessful with India eventually becoming their foes. There were numerous peace attempts and eventually the Tamil cause internationally was proscribed as terrorist. In 2009 the Sri Lankan army prevailed with horrific bloodshed and the war was over. Despite our history lesson from the guide about all sorts then this era is assiduously avoided. Maybe the Sinhalese and Tamils aren’t at war but a toxic legacy must remain?

We were on the road to Habarana. This has place has a preserved traditional village. Here we’d see the plants, the farming, go for a boat ride on their lake, ride in a cart pulled by bulls and then have a traditionally prepared lunch in a hut. All very unique and interesting. On the road Prabash gave an introduction explaining how a farmer first found the land and prepared it for living and farming. He said the land needed clearing but they always left one big tree. Why? It was left in case there was a rampaging elephant or elephants. When this happened you could climb the tree to escape the trampling. Mind you, it had to be a strong tree!

We walked the village and our guide explained some of the medicinal properties of the fauna. Anna knew quite a few of these from her Mungo Deli shop days. More than a couple of the party thought the village was idyllic and self sufficient. With electric fences the elephants were more controlled nowadays! A woman prepared lunch (that we ate with our fingers) and even demonstrated breaking the husks off rice with a very large mortar and pestle.

Again more food, quite delicious and lots of it. Buffets are always fatal in that you can have seconds. I say fatal because a piece of grilled fish stuck in Anna’s throat and it took a bit of thumping on the back from Karl to displace the offending animal. Next we drove to Dambulla and a visit to the Golden Temple. The terrain is now becoming a bit more hilly and this temple (a historic rather than active place) is reached by a long walk uphill. A feature are the caves where there are many Buddha statues and paintings. In the scheme of things then most of these monuments were built by kings all the way back to the beginning of the first millennium. They seem to have had long periods of disuse, probably during the British colonial rule.

All our guides, demonstrators, canoeists, hotel porters etc. have to be tipped. Usually it is a couple pounds equivalent in Sri Lankan Rupees. To alleviate all this we were asked and gave Prabash 10,000 Rupees (c£40) along with the rest of the party to cover all this activity. In fairness when off the bus and at the sights there are a number of hawkers but little harassment. It is quite a relaxed and comfortable place.

After the visit the drive was short to a smart hotel. After we all checked in and showered and convened for a beer. This hotel is a tourist hub and lots of French people were about. Dining was at the hotel and whilst only £10 per head was at least double of what we usually paid and probably eight times what we’d pay out on the street.

It was an early start and we were headed for the Sigiriya ancient rock fortress. This was built in the 5th Century by King Kasyapa. He had expected an attack by a prince he had usurped for the throne and who’d been banished to India. The fort is atop a 200 metre rock outcrop.

Climbing it before the heat set in was the plan. Later in the morning the high heat would arrive with throngs of school children, German, French, Russian, Chinese tourists. There are some English voices but not many.

Mrs Ives (avec chapeau) ascending)

The fort complex starts at ground level but the ultimate safe haven is at the top. Our ascent was steep via stairways and steps. I enjoyed the workout. The views at the top were spectacular but a little hazy due to the heat. The king had a wife but, in addition, around 200 concubines. The view is that he was kept busy. Around 17 years after taking residence in this very defendable location he ventured out when the rightful prince returned. He descended from his safe haven and lost the battle, country and life.

From here we returned to the hotel via a supermarket stop to buy some lunch. It was a relief to not have the usual curry buffet and buy some simple bread based items. In the afternoon I stayed at the hotel whilst Anna ventured out for a massage with a couple of the others. She came back smelling like vegetable biryani. Lord knows what they rubbed into her hair and body but a shower was in order.

In the bar and the sticker says Aston Martin?

In the evening, when actually hungry this time, we slipped across road from the hotel to a roadside cafe. It was a vet ‘local’ haunt with a corrugated metal roof, trestle tables with plastic table cloths and plastic patio chairs. This is where the chef cooks in his open air kitchen beside the tables creating his dishes to the sound of chopping, scraping and frying. All of this smelt divine. Sat here loads of food arrived including dahls, hoppers (like a pancake), kottus and fried rice. We washed it down with some soft drinks and yoghurt to finish. Needless to say the costs was really negligible – a quarter of last night.

To pack this down we strolled the hotel grounds for a constitutional in the balmy evening beside a field literally throbbing with the sound of crickets. We returned to the room to listen to Talksport 2 on our iPhone app. The cricket commentary from the West Indies was ball by ball. Sadly England are limbering up for a battering.

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