Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sri Lankan Holiday 2

Dinner Companions - Christmas Dinner

24th December - Christmas Eve:

Leaving Joy asleep, I wandered down for a pre-breakfast coffee around 8.00 and fell into conversation with the only other breakfasters, a couple of young women who proved to be on vastly different holiday experiences. One was a Dutch professional photographer based in Vietnam on a photographic tour and the other, an Austrian, a Yoga teacher on a trip that took her to meditation sites in between sight-seeing.

They had been in Sri Lanka for several weeks criss-crossing each others journeys several times and were now swapping stories of the sights and sounds they had experienced since their last meeting.

Joy joined us, along with a young couple from Australia who were heading off, overland via India and Nepal, to Europe and the UK, and we breakfasted and picked up advice on places to see in Kandy from them and our hostess.

The rain had, by then, become a light drizzle with the promise of sunlight relief later in the morning so Joy and I headed off into central Kandy in a local tuk-tuk. We were dropped off at the Kandy City Centre “mall” from where we commenced our wanderings around the city. The centre of the city is Kandy Lake, an artificial lake created by the last Kandyan King in the early years of the nineteenth century as a pleasure piece for his palace and harem despite being advised against it by his advisors who found out what he thought of their advice when they were all impaled on the island in the new lake’s centre.

We wandered along the lake front, past the remains of the royal bath-house (now the central police station) towards the Temple of the Sacred Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) where a tooth from the jaw of Buddha is reputedly kept enshrined and venerated by Buddhists the world over. The temple grounds were bustling with the faithful and tourists whose clothing did not offend the eyes of god. I, to Joy’s great humour (a payback for her banishment from the Milan Cathedral for a similar transgression), soon discovered that my knee length shorts were not accepted as decent and that I was banned from the precincts.

Undeterred, we headed towards the Royal Palace and the harem which now house the archeological remains of the Kandyan dynasty. The walk there took us past a sand-bagged security post, a reminder that the country has not long recovered from civil war, and the Temple elephant bathing yard and along a clay path to the beckoning custodian. The threat of the security post was, however, somewhat undermined by a large board that rose above the sandbags and machine gun, advertising Marmite that made up one wall.

The museum housed, in darkened cabinets and musty light, a miscellany of carved stone frontages, wooden door and window frames and remnants from the British rule over the island. We browsed our way along the cabinets admiring carvings of nubile women dancing, weapons, dusty ceremonial costumes and fading proclamations from nineteenth century English Governors announcing either that some local dignatory had been given greater status or that a local insurrection was to be put down and the conspirators were to be exiled from the province on pain of death until, exhausted, we emerged into the drizzle of the afternoon.

We meandered our way back through the alleys and lanes where we stumbled, down a side street, on a Hindu- Buddhist temple which invited passersby in to view the different stations of the gods and to be blessed, wishing us all good luck for 2011, by the resident Buddhist monk who, after waving the air around me with his fan, asking me to hold a sacred ball of orange thread in my hands, and chanting a prayer over me, tied an orange string around my wrist and advised me not to take it off for three weeks to guarantee good luck.
(The efficacy of that blessing remains to be seen.)

We’d bought tickets for a Dance Performance at the Kandyan Cultural Centre for later in the afternoon so headed along the lake front to the hall which was filling up with other tourists looking to discover Kandyan dance.

We were promised a programme of eight dances, (described as: a Pooja Dance paying homage to the deities, a Panteru, a cobra dance, a mask dance, a peacock dance, a Raban and a Ves dance ) the Sri Lankan National anthem and a demonstration of fire walking from local devotees of the local fire goddess, Paththini, and were not disappointed as the drummers, tambourinists, horn players and dancers gave a spirited display reminiscent of many amateur local centre Maori culture demonstrations we have experienced at home.

We made it back, through the drizzling dark and echoing buddhist chants to the Lodge and a Sri Lankan Christmas eve with our fellow guests- the young women from breakfast and an English couple on a twitching tour of Sri Lanka.

Indra served us a pleasantly eclectic Christmas eve meal, a cross over of Sri Lankan and European cooking that left us comfortably full and, with the pleasantries of conversation of mixed cultures feeling that we had prepared ourselves for Christmas.

25th December - Christmas Day:
Over breakfast we sounded out the others about places to explore and, with the Australian couple, decided to hire a van and head to the Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary at Pinnawala, to see the herd of local elephants the Sri Lankan Government is working to preserve.

We wound our way back down the hills, along the stall lined roads, through traffic jams of fume spewing buses, tuk-tuks, cars and ambling pedestrians and through the mist laden jungle to the sanctuary.

Here, the Government has built up a herd of over 70 elephants as part of a conservation exercise. The sanctuary is a popular tourist destination for Sri Lankans as well as foreigners all of us having come to get close to the elephants and to watch them eat and bathe as they stand and stare at us.

Thankfully the rain held off until late afternoon when we’d gotten back to the Hostel and settled down to conversation over dinner.

No comments: