Thursday, January 1, 2015

Travelogue Sri Lanka!

And so, I finally decided on my first solo trip. And why I chose Sri Lanka is because I thought the first solo should be a country with cultural similarities, so that I am not completely lost in a new land and though have lot of new things to grasp upon there will always be an anchor of resemblance to get back to.

I will start my travel story from the time I landed in the Sri Lankan airport. There was a queue for immigration and while I waited, I saw a white guy shout at the lady who was checking the visa. He was angry and red. He screamed, “Why, why do I have to go to that counter?” Foreigners who had some problem in their visas were being sent to another counter to get it rectified. I do not know in this scenario who was right or who was wrong, but what struck me was the expression on that lady’s face. She was calm with a gentle smile. No matter how many times he banged the table and threw his arms around shouting “why”, she stayed as calm as she was, with that gentle smile that had a determination to not fed away no matter what comes.

Why I decided to start my travelogue with that incident would be more relevant as I progress further. In a nutshell, that was the incident that perfectly defines Sri Lanka or the vibes it has.

Day 1 Colombo
I had chosen to stay in a hostel rather than a hotel in Colombo. One reason was to have more people share the room and space, so that I have my initial ice-breaking done without much trouble. When I reached in the morning, I was quite sure I made the right choice. This place was friendly and as international as it could be, a perfect way to begin the trip I planned.

When I reached the door of the reception, a guy was in his underwear changing into his pants. He greened at me and said, “This is not how I meant to welcome you here. But I have my flight, so getting ready to leave.” 

I loved how this conversation happened. So natural! Not like two strangers met each other. It felt like two travelers met rather. They don’t need the scripted, “Hi, I am so and so. Nice to meet you.” They already have a common thread of traveling and so can start right where it makes sense from: I am leaving for the airport. My travel here is over. Welcome to the beginning of your travel here.

Then gradually I got to know he was from Canada. When I said, I came from New Delhi, he smirked and said, “That is the worst city I have been to in this whole world.” I added to agree and said, “Yes. People are cunning there.”

I wished he stayed, because we had got along so well. I would have wanted to know his experiences in other places in other countries he had traveled. He had a smile very accepting in nature, that almost immediately thrashes the barrier of unknown and invites you with certain bare honesty from which you find so many similarities.

The Hostel Reception

I got to know since I arrived on the 25th morning, I had to wait till I got checked in. They had a hard party last night celebrating Christmas and would take time to wake up to be back to their senses to check me in. This is not acceptable in a hotel but in a hostel this is what it should be like or this is exactly what you would expect.

While I waited there at the reception, I gradually encountered the other hostel-mates. One Chinese guy with his breakfast prepared from the kitchen sat in the common table on the ground across which I had sat. He held his bread in one hand and with the other he spreaded a map of Sri Lanka trying to plan his next destination. Now, this is what you would call stereotyping, but I would like to put it across as drawing a pattern. It so happens that across cultures you see similarities in a way people behave. From my experience and impression of the Chinese, they are very planned people and this is exactly how you would expect to see them. Woken up early despite the party to make the next move and of course with a map in hand. If you ask them what their travel plans are, they usually have a clear plan with lot of study done and useful information.

As more people woke up and I asked their whereabouts, I was convinced almost the whole world was here! This was where young people from all over the globe met in Sri Lanka. I met an Australian girl who was an architect and had also set out solo. One American girl who was a nurse and also solo. A German girl who had come with her friend. A guy from Portugal, solo. He had been traveling from 6 years at a stretch! Being 3 months in Sri Lanka now, he was the wise guy of the hostel who everyone asked for city-information. One guy from Italy, solo. One guy from France, solo. So, needless to say my solo-ness started to feel very comfortable and obvious by then.

My check in did not seem possible before noon. And as I talked to more people and got to know everyone was set forth for 3 to 6 months here, my trip of 6 days began to feel extremely tight. One day to explore Colombo felt like a tight schedule and I did not want to wait any longer.

I left my bags in the locker and without much freshening up, after a whole-night-flight and no sleep, I began my Colombo expedition.

The three-wheelers that we call “auto” in India are called tuk-tuk here. I had assumed that was the local name when I was told by the driver that was the name given by the foreigners rather. The locals called it three-wheeler. However, bus seems to be the most used and cheap way to travel around the city but if you have enough time. The sky was beginning to get cloudy and I didn’t want to loose the clear share of the day in the bus. So, I decided to hire the tuk-tuk to my first destination, the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple.

This place has statues of Buddha in abundance. In whichever side you take your face to, there is a Buddha sitting or standing, sleeping or preaching. There is an open space with steps that has identical Buddha figures in rows and columns. There are many ivory-curved Buddhas in the main hall, a white stupa in the centre of the complex and monks in their saffron robes wandered around who probably resided at that temple.  


Buddha statues at the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple 

Before I planned my trip, I was determined to take all the advantages of being solo. When you are in a company, people don’t approach to talk to you as much or you don’t have to rely so much on the people. So, almost everywhere I went, people were curious and wanted to know about me. I took this opportunity to know them better and enrich my travel-story. I had also carried a book that guides around Sri Lanka. I found spots to sit and read about the places I visited so that I could glance around with more understanding.

People here were naturally curious and friendly. They wanted to talk and were very eager to have conversations. Though language was the barrier, with broken English and some common gestures you could get across the basic introduction. As soon as I uttered I am from India, almost everyone responded with a smile, and a similar kind of smile that reflected fascination. The reason I felt was that the cultural similarities and the neighbor-hood draw a lot of things they refer to in their minds while they flash that smile. They either have traveled to one or two cities in India or have a desire to travel to India some day.

The Seema Malaka Temple was just across the road from here. So, while I walked to cross the road and waited for the vehicles to pass by so that I could walk across, the vehicles stopped! I couldn’t understand why, so I waited for it to pass and the drivers drove again with smile. 

Well, guess what! They were stopping for me! They wanted me to cross the street and so stopped! Only for me! Just the me! The Indians who are reading this already know why I am so delighted. If in case, you are not an Indian, to inform you, we don’t have the concept of letting people pass while you drive. We are always in a hurry and especially while in the street. If at all anyone wants to cross the street, he or she runs across with his or her life in hand. If there are many people who have gathered to cross, may be sometimes some driver will be compassionate enough to slow down the vehicle. But to stop the vehicle just for one person to pass? That is untold, unseen, unheard of.

The Seema Malaka Temple though very small was very beautifully located. It was at the Beira lake, almost floating on that. There were ducks and cranes and pelicans in the lake. And the entire temple was surrounded by identical, meditating Buddhas. With the wind from the lake and the gentle face of Buddha repeated again and again to calm down a restless mind almost hypnotizing with repetition, you feel very relaxed in this place.

And then suddenly I thought, may be that was the entire purpose actually! To fill up the city with as many Buddhas as one can, to keep repeating that gentle face with smile so that it just gets stamped into one’s psyche. May be that is why this place has everyone smiling, everyone so calm and polite. I then remembered that lady at the immigration. Her face after the rude words and anger remained steady like this. Each one came, showed their passport and left, whether they were stressed or smiling or in anger or tired, she was like these statues, repeating that gentle, smiling face to everyone that passed.

Seema Malaka Temple 

By now, I was hungry enough to eat anything that I would spot. My head started to ache a little from no rest after the night flight. But I still started looking out for a traditional restaurant to have something Sri Lankan. However, nothing seemed to appear in the vicinity. There was an open space next to the lake that had a set meal and lot of local people eating there. I decided to have my first Sri Lankan meal here.

It was mango pickle, dal, rice, a cabbage sabji and a fish curry with one piece of fish for 100 Sri Lankan Rupees meaning 50 INR. Every plate that was being given was covered with a polythene sheet. I didn’t quite understand why it was there so I removed that to take my food from the counter. I later understood, food was to be eaten over that sheet so that you can remove your leftover along with that and throw in the bins to make it easy for them to wash the plate for the next set of people at the counter. I saw this system in other local restaurants there later. This probably comes from the banana leaf replacement. In some south Indian restaurants you eat over the banana leaf placed on the plate so that you can leave the plate clean after the leftovers are thrown away with the leaf to the bin.

After the meal, I gathered some energy to explore a bit more. I had gone prepared with a rough idea of what all to visit in the city and so decided to visit the beach next. The Museum I was not sure would be open that day being the Christmas day and with my short span didn’t want to take any chance. So, Galle Face Green as my book told was the beach area, was to be visited next.

I walked for a while and then took a bus to the Fort. This is the central market area. I am not sure where the “fort” actually is or no one I asked could say. So, I asked them for Galle Face Green instead. Now, this is where your book fails. All the information you have gathered in the internet fails. No one knew where the Galle was. Probably they had a local name that the internet or book didn’t mention. I went to the extreme end to explain what I meant and made wave motion with my hand to show beach. Water? Beach? Sea? Galle? Galle Face Green? Galle Face?

And finally there was one young guy who had an eureka smile on his face. “Ahhhh Gold Fish? Its that side. Take a bus from there.” So, Galle Face is actually a Gold Fish here.

When I reached there, it had started to drizzle. It is a long stretch of green patch along the street running along the sea. Lot of local people and foreigners walked around. Since this was my first solo, I was extra careful to follow the cultural codes to blend in. And I read again and again to dress up conservatively. So, I especially did a kurta-scarf shopping to cover myself up with “decency”.  However, a lot of foreigners here were roaming around in their string tops and shorts. A lot of local girls I saw were roaming around in sleeveless.  The usual clothes women wore here were below knee-length skirts and a shirt on top. Some women in Saree at the hotel receptions draped it very differently than one does in India. It had folds coming out at the waist and looked very interesting and nice.

The Galle Face Green or "Gold Fish"

I did have plan to visit the Saint Anthony’s Church after this, expecting some activities there since it was 25th December, but the rain just poured down at this point and so I got on a bus to head back to the hostel.  The bus conductor as usual in this place was a friendly, nice person.

“India?” He asked me with smile. People here either think I am a Sri Lankan and start talking in Sinhala till I make a confused face, or they right away know I am from India.

“Yes.” I replied with smile.
“Which place?”
“New Delhi.”
“I have been to Agra. I know Hindi. Talk to me in Hindi.”
And then we had a conversation about his experience in India. He said Sri Lanka is a nice place with helpful people. But if I face any problem I should dial a number and I will get official help immediately.

I asked him how much I should pay for the bus. And he said, “Nothing. Its your free ride!” And smiled and dropped me to a place I can get my next bus to the hostel from.

The rain got worse. I sat in a local shop to have coffee to relieve my head of the ache with which it constantly declared, “Get some rest now!”

The next bus I caught dropped me to a place near the hostel from which point I had to walk a little inside. The problem was, I had walked out the same way but have now forgotten which way that was. So, I decided to halt at a roadside temple till the rain stopped till I figured out which way to take.

But the rain didn’t seem to give up. There were two guys inside the temple and a beggar woman outside waiting next to me for the rain to stop. I thought of utilizing this time and asked the guys inside if they knew where that hostel was. They saw the hostel-card, read up the address, asked me a few things in Sinhala which I didn’t understand and I asked a few things in English which they didn’t understand. One of them was even writing on his palm to explain what he means and made very helpless, sad face when he was unable to communicate at all. As if it was their duty to help, as if the government of Sri Lanka has been paying them to guide everyone to their destination. As if the embassy of India had appointed them there to guide me whenever I forgot my way.

The funny thing is while we looked at each other’s faces with helplessness in severe communication malfunction, the beggar lady now spoke. She spoke to me in clear, good English and translated whatever I said to them in Sinhala. Wow! Her English was crisp and up to the point. I wondered why she is a beggar. She can clearly be a travel guide gathering a little knowledge about the spots and communicating with the many westerners that come there and hire guides.

However, they now understood what I meant through the translator beggar lady and one of them ran out in the rain, hired a tuk-tuk, asked me to sit and guided the driver to the place. What a desperate way to help! What an out of the way initiative to guide someone and even get drenched! While I sat inside the tuk-tuk I felt guilty. I felt I am much less a person than they are. I was just unaccustomed to so much help.

When I entered the hostel, it was bustling with energy. The common room or the reception was filled with people drinking, playing games over the ground table, chatting away and greeting each other.

My room was ready by now and I didn’t have any energy left to join them or socialize. I headed straight to my bed and had a long nap.

When I woke up it was 9 pm at night. The room had a large window facing something like a canal. You could see the endless rain pouring down. There were 2 bunk beds, 4 beds in total. I took my laptop and wallet and headed downstairs for dinner. There was one movie room with lots of VCDs lying in piles and a screen with a sofa in front. Few people were watching a movie there. There was a tennis table. There was an outdoor space with chairs and tables lying around which was empty now due to the rain. There were books kept in the shelf, mostly travel guides. A paper stuck there said, you could take a book from there and leave one for others, or just simply donate yours. Overall, it was made as interactive as possible.

I found out since it was the Christmas eve, they planned on having a collective dinner. “We all order from joints nearby and have dinner together. They have all ordered already but you could still order now”, the receptionist explained. While I did that, there was a guy from Switzerland who also wished to order along. So, we then waited for ours to arrive while the other’s orders were already on the way.

Meanwhile, a guy from Venezuela came to me and asked if I was willing to go with him for dinner. “We could rather have the local food!” He said. I liked the idea and also a one-to-one scenario always works much better for me to know a person than when thrown around in a hall full of people. I am usually a talkative person when with another person but usually the quietest one when in a group. And larger the group, quieter I am.

However, since I had already ordered, I didn’t want to cause extra trouble asking them to cancel and also stepping out in the rain to look out for local food could prove to be too adventurous. So, I waited inside while he decided to leave. He was a sociology person and had been to India many times to teach sociology. An interesting person with depth who I felt I could talk to and could have had a nice time over dinner.

The group’s dinner had arrived. They all sat in the long table to eat. There was so much talking, so much hustle and bustle across the room. The Switzerland guy who was waiting with me for his dinner was an interesting person in his own way. If I came out as a quiet person who is not that social outrightly and going through a conflict if I should make more effort to blend in or just be, he answered that question for me. From the time I saw him in the morning till now he just laid on the bean-bag as still as possible, as zen as possible, looking at his phone from time to time. He talked only when needed or only when he wanted to. But at the same time he was in no way rude. It’s just his way to “be”. Lie still on the bean-bag and make no extra effort at anything that doesn’t happen with natural urge within. I got confidence looking at him and told myself, “Just be.”

However, they finished their dinner. Ours had still not arrived. The lady at the reception started to feel uncomfortable and apologized that they could not include us in the collective dinner they aimed to get everyone together in. Little did she know lying on the bean-bag unaware of the world, he didn’t really care. Little did she know the huge dinner group will only make me the quietest person in the world and left alone with this one guy to have my dinner with will only increase my chances to talk.

We waited for a really unrealistic time now. She called up the place again and again restlessly. Then it was found out, the guy who was to deliver the dinner was dead drunk on the Christmas eve and before he even reached the room he passed out in a nearby room in the hostel, snoring and sleeping to his ecstasy.

Our dinner was given to us from his pack while he slept, a phone call made to his boss, and a compensation made by making the dinner free of cost. So, I sat on the floor next to the bean-bag having the free dinner while talking to this weird, interesting, zen guy from Switzerland, at ease with everything in this world. He worked in tele-communication and was actually an Italian but never been to Italy. How long he will be in Sri Lanka he has no idea about. Where he will go next he doesn’t know. While we had our dinner, a guy from a group shouted out, “I don’t even know why I am in Sri Lanka. I should be in Maldives!” A girl from another group shouted back, “ Can I join you?” They then got together planning out Maldives.

This place was that weird and that interesting. So, that was the story of my strange Christmas Eve!

Day 2 Kandy 
I had not set my alarm for the next morning. When I woke up it was around 8:30 am. I took shower and got ready to leave for Kandy. When I reached the reception, I saw the Philippine couple who I had met the last night all set to leave for Kandy as well. So, I got along with them and together we headed for the bus stop.

I cannot really clearly demarcate, but I find a lot of similarities in the way the Asians behave. It is very easy for me to get along with the Chinese, Japanese, Philippines, Indonesians, Turkish or Iranians. The cultural codes or the things not expressed in statements but understood, are somewhat similar. Whereas, I find the most difficulty in getting myself conveyed the right way or penetrate a conversation without working too hard with the Americans and British. With Europeans, on the other hand, I feel at ease. And Australians and Canadians, somehow don’t feel that distant to me as the Americans and British and neither make me feel that at ease like the Asians and Europeans.

I know! I have stereotyped here the entire world! “You haven’t even met enough people yet to state something like that!” I know! But I just wanted to state my observation so far! I am just curious about that invisible cultural similarity or dissimilarity that make people build over. And after I do understand that I would like to overcome all barriers and be at ease despite that base culture has created for us. See! My intention is clear!

Well, the couple was very sweet. The boy carried my bag into the bus and the girl went inside and got seats for us.

The journey I had read in the internet would be of 2 hours. But it just went on and after 4 long hours, we finally reached Kandy. We parted from here and headed to the hotels we had booked for us.

My hotel was very near to where the bus left us. When I hired a tuk-tuk for 100 Sri Lankan Rupees, it just took one turn and dropped me in front of the hotel. I could have even walked that much! I said to the driver, “Very clever! How is it 100 Rupees?”

Usually, if you say something like that in Delhi, the driver smiles in a sly way. He feels he is smart and he has won. And you have to now pay him for your ignorance of the city he is aware of. “Clever” is what he wants to become. Whereas, I saw this driver’s face turn pale and sad. He looked at me in a sad way and murmured, “This is one-way road. To go back to my stand I have to completely go around.” “Clever” is not what he wants to become. He wants to become a nice, honest person. And being said “clever” I had put some load over his head which he desperately tried to shed off by wishing me “good luck”, “nice time in Kandy”, “bye-bye”. I smiled and wished him too to relieve him of the heavy weight I had imposed on him that made him feel like a criminal.

When I went inside the hotel, the receptionist guy was already talking to 2 white men informing them about the city while handing over the keys. “There is a Kandyan dance show that will begin at 5 pm. You can get the ticket from us. And the temple ceremony will start at 6:30 pm which you can go to right after the dance.”

One of these 2 guys had a “good boy face” and the other had a face I know very well. This is the face I am aware of. It is an intelligent face but also a face of a man who knows women. He knows the art of knowing women and knows that he knows that he knows women. It is not a “bad” person but an “aware” person face. It is amazing to know a face like that and at the same time the most painful to remember one. And looks like, we have recognized each other almost at the first glance.

He looked back again and again at me while I waited at the sofa behind. And as I am well aware, they don’t look from the corner of their eyes or steal a glance. If they look, they make sure you know they are looking. The devil sat on one of my shoulders, “Just smile at him. How will it harm?” The angel was furious, “Your first solo trip! Keep your adventures for later.” The devil said, “At the most, you will go together to the Kandyan dance show. How is that bad?” The angel said, “Haven’t you learnt enough lessons already? This is the kind of men you need to stay away from!”
However, I let the angel win. How boring! Well, I made the right decision. This is not a hostel where you go randomly asking people their whereabouts! In a hotel, it is okay to not want to talk.

After they were given their keys, when he left the chair for me to sit there, he made a last attempt by not leaving the space so easily looking at me almost forcing me to say a “Hi” for the sake of being polite. 

I didn’t. I wanted to get home safe with least adventure.

When they left, I was almost strangling the angel and said, “Get out of my system. Right now!”

When the receptionist explained, “We are giving a triple room to you. So, you have three beds in your room all by yourself!” The devil still wouldn't give up and said, “All by myself? May be. Or may be not!"

This is the point where the angel slapped the devil right across its face to shut him up.

I took my keys and went upstairs. It was a very nice room, very cozy and warm. I had to soon freshen up and leave for the dance show. As I had lost almost half the day in the bus I had not much time to delay any further. 


My room in Kandy

It was a small auditorium. I got myself a chair towards the back but almost central. I checked through my camera lens, yes, since this is the last seat, I could even stand up to take some photographs over the “heads” of the people sitting in front.

Then one kind man who happened to be the guide of some Westerners came to me and said, “Hey, are you alone? Come, I will give you a good seat in the front. I am their guide. One seat is empty there. You will get good photographs!”

I wanted to say, “No. I am fine here.” But he was so kind I didn’t want to refuse his offer. So, he took me to the front. But the chair was towards the corner. Now I don’t get a central view of the stage and can also not stand up. Damn! And the seat I had left behind already got occupied.

I told myself, its okay. Mind over Matter. He was kind to you. Count on that and be glad.

The dance had started. It is performed to the beats of drums. They have very interesting hand gestures. The hands spread with palms facing up and then down in a semi-circular manner that quickly change its direction. Some men spinning in a circle like in the dance you often see in Rajasthan or Gujarat. I felt some dances were inspired from animals and some from the rice festivals etc. The mere use of drums made me associate it with the jungles Kandy is filled with and the tribal use of these instruments in the ancient times.


The Kandyan Dancer

It lasted for one hour. The ticket was of 500 Sri Lankan Rupees, which didn't however, got checked anywhere. The hotel receptionist had shown me a fake ticket saying it is important to get it from a good place that’s why. So, if you do plan to visit Kandy sometime and watch the Kadyan dance, make sure you get your ticket from your hotel or through their guidance from somewhere.


The Dance Group

It was 6 pm and already dark. The temple ceremony occurs at three timings: 5:30 am, 9:30 am and 6:30 pm. I wanted to go to the Temple of the Tooth in the evening itself, but worrying about how late it might get, I decided to head back.


On the way, I made myself comfortable in a restaurant and ordered Chicken Kattu for dinner. It is like bits of parathas cooked with mixed vegetables and chicken crumbs. I have eaten a similar thing in Chennai. And of course Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka would have their similarities, more than just language that is just obvious. 


Chicken Kattu

Though I didn't get to explore Kandy much on that day, but still walking on the street and entering the restaurants, I felt nice about this place. It is more exciting with more "character" than Colombo. The road that goes straight to the temple has nice bakeries and restaurants on both sides. 

I sat to have the Ceylon Tea in a restaurant after dinner. But as they didn't have it there, I ordered the normal milk tea, which also felt very different than the usual. It was thick with milk and tasted very nice. Later, after I tried the other restaurants in other places in Sri Lanka, I realized, the way they generally make their tea is somehow very different and nice. 

As I took sips in a pace as if I had all the time in the world and read the book I had taken with me to be read during my trip, by the lake, in the beach and in the tea-shops, I felt great being in Sri Lanka, being in Kandy, being there that time, that place and just "being" felt so nice.

Day 3 Kandy and Pinnawala
I had decided to visit the temple in the morning. 
5:30 am would be too forceful for a sinner like me and so 9:30 am was what I had as the target in my mind.

The temple of the tooth is believed to have the tooth of Buddha kept in it. According to what I read, there was a long story behind the tooth being taken away and restored and thought to have been replaced and repositioned etc. There is an entry fee here. But if you belong to one of the SAARC countries you get almost 50% discount at most of these places. So, it is wise to always carry your passport around while visiting these places in Sri Lanka.


The Temple of The Tooth

And make sure, you wear “decent” clothes, which implies, cover your legs and your shoulders. I was a little disappointed when in Colombo, I saw people wore their regular outfit in the Galle Face Green and I took extra trouble to do decent shopping. Here, when I heard the instruction about the dress-code, I had a wicked smile, “Bring it on! I am prepared. Organize a decency contest. Let me win the prize!”

I saw some people being given cloth to wrap themselves up if their clothes didn’t fit the expected norm. I have seen this even in the temples I had visited in Colombo.

Visitors are not allowed to go and see the tooth or even enter the room where it is kept. The three timings that are allotted are the timings when the gate of the room which has the tooth is opened up. Visitors can see that golden case from behind a railing while the monks are offering their prayers.

Many people bring lotuses to offer and there is also a place to offer lamps. Some people bring their one-year-olds to receive blessings when that gate opens and have a special place to sit in front of that gate through which the monks pass.

After I had explored the temple, I walked around the lake and took a tuk-tuk to the Upper Lake side. Upper Lake is what they call the hillside or the elevated land from where you get a good view of Kandy town or can see the Temple reflected on the Lake, which is supposed to be a beautiful sight.


The Temple of The Tooth from upper lake

However, it had started to drizzle and the weather was foggy. The green lake had turned murky and I didn’t get the view I had wished for. But who says sitting in the restaurant, carefully finding the best spot near the window from which you could see the lake and the town on a rainy day didn’t have its own charm? The Buffet was about to start at 12 pm. So, I had to wait here till I could have my elaborate lunch.

I was already relaxed aiming for a slow paced day, when I suddenly thought, why not do the Pinnawala? The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was in my list while I am in Kandy, but since I had found out there is no direct bus and it might take 2 hours to just reach and even more than that due to the landslide that occurred, I had given up that plan.

But now, while my digestive system had already made up its mind to ransack the buffet, I wanted to give Pinnawala a try. I found a tuk-tuk and asked him how much he will charge for Pinnawala, 1 hour waiting there and then come back. He seemed to be an honest guy and calculated the kilometres and could not lower the price below 3,500 Sri Lankan Rupees. “What about 3000?” I asked. “Come on. No. It is very far.”

So, we agreed on that and my buffet remained undone. I opened a packet of biscuit from the bag and headed to Pinnawala instead.

This guy looked like an innocent, honest guy. He, like every Sri Lankan was keen on conversation and asked me, “Where are you from? What’s your age? Are you married?”

“No. Not married.” And this is that statement I would be paying the cost for, for the rest of my journey to Pinnawala and back.

“I like Kajol. I want to go to India and meet her someday when I have money.” I thought it was funny and sweet. I laughed.
Then he said, “Your eyes are like Kajol's.” Then I thought, well, it is no more sweet or funny. But okay, lets just smile to that.

Then he said, “Kajol is beautiful.” I thought, don’t respond to it. Let him talk.
Then he said, “Kajol is ‘sex’.” Huh! Well, I have no problem with anyone’s bad English and so far had no issue at all. But for the first time, I felt the use of correct word is essential. “Kajol is sex” sounds very vulgar!

Then he went on, “Where will you go next from Kandy?”
I made my mistake number 2, “Dambulla tomorrow” I said.
“Why don’t you take the tuk-tuk? I will drive you to Dambulla. Just pay for the oil and the tuk-tuk is free.”

I was not even replying to any of his blabber by now. He said, “You are not interested? You don’t like me?”
I thought okay, I missed my first bus, let me catch the second and try rectifying the mistake number 1, “I will be marrying soon when I go back to Delhi.”

“Boyfriend?” He asked, “But he is an Indian boy friend. What about Sri Lankan?”

If only I could hold his neck and swing him around and throw him out. But I decided to keep calm. A dispute might only cause more trouble. All the Buddha statues I had seen so far had now appeared to take my trial. “He is not an evil guy, just an irritating one”, I told myself, “So, just ignore and don’t respond.”

He said, “I am lonely. No girl friend.” That was his entire agenda and the title of his blabber.

After I reached Pinnawala, I was glad I made the decision to come. I loved the elephants there. The baby elephants were fed milk by the bottles and you could hold the bottles to feed it if you paid some extra bucks. The babies were as young as 3 to 4 months and were hairy and restless, naughty and extremely adorable.


Baby elephant at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

On the other side, there were large elephants left open to roam around. Probably these were the domesticated ones as the visitors were allowed to go very near to them and they swung their trunks to welcome.


Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

The older elephants are mostly the ones rescued from different disputes they get into with the farmers when they enter their land. One chained elephant swung its head sideways constantly. So, I assumed that must be one disturbed, traumatized recently rescued one.

However, it was a nice time. Pinnawala is somewhere on the way between Colombo and Kandy. So, if you have your own vehicle or have reserved one, you could stop to visit this place along the way. Since I had come by the bus, I had to separately plan.

There are many spice and herbal gardens or ayurvedic gardens on the sides of the roads while you come to Pinnawala. So, you could plan to drop in one, visit the different plants beings explained by the guide and also get a massage and buy the ayurvedic oils from there.   

Since, I already was ill-fated with this tuk-tuk driver, I didn’t want to stop anywhere else and wished to go back soon and get rid of his blabber. When I came out of the orphanage one guy led me to visit the ayurvedic garden that is free for the orphanage ticket holders.

This is not as huge and planned as the others you would find on the way. Also, while explaining the different plants cocoa, aloe vera, pineapple, sandlewood etc and their usage, which I could also recognize, he showed one plant to me and said, “This is saffron.” I have a little understanding of plants and with that I shouted, “This is turmeric!” thinking of how many people he must be misguiding with the wrong names and wrong plants. He then corrected himself and said, “Saffron is different, no?”

However, I lost faith after that. I wanted to buy an ayurvedic massage oil but due to the turmeric-saffron controversy didn’t want to pick up anything random there. "This place is an authentic Government one", he assured and even showed me papers to prove that. I had the herbal tea they offered, sitting amidst the nice, green garden and left for Kandy from there.  


Cocoa Plant in the Ayurvedic Garden

On the way back with the tuk-tuk driver, I just pretended to be “deaf”, “sleepy” or “I don’t understand your language, so shut up”. But the guy was keen to show me the different spice gardens and informed me about which place has the best ayurvedic massage. Usually the drivers would want to get you back as early as they can but he wanted me to go have massage while he will wait another extra hour which he wouldn’t mind. He is in the enlightened “money-is-not-the-issue-anymore-but-girl-friend-is” phase of life.

When I reached the hotel and told them about the Pinnawala trip they told me I got the tuk-tuk for very cheap price. I thought okay, at least something earned out of the patience test I survived.

 I would have actually loved the Ayurvedic massage in one of the herbal gardens there but just because I wanted to come back early due to his annoying nature, I had to drop that.

And to compensate for it and also as I had some time in hand, I decided to go for a massage to a place now in Kandy that showed good ratings in the internet and also had the receptionist’s recommendation.

It was raining. The place was surrounded by greenery and I was made to wait in the balcony on a relaxed chair. I started feeling good and pampered already. It would be one and half hour massage, head and neck, full body, shirodhara and then steam bath. Perfect thing to do on a rainy day, I thought.

However, I had assumed, warm oils will be poured on me because that is how it has always been done! But the oil was not warm. However, the lady was a strong one. Very soon as she rubbed, it did get warm but still, my hands were placed on a cold, wet towel, there was one more girl on the other side across the curtain whose conversation with her masseur I could overhear. I felt cold and distracted and was already writing a trip advisor complaint in my mind. The masseur was good but the system was not. However, I felt bad that I paid 5,500 Sri Lankan Rupees for that because with 3,000 INR, almost equal to it, I could have got a better massage in Delhi when I got back.

But of course, though it was comparatively bad, it was not that bad! After I had a steam bath followed by the hot shower with oil still glossy on my skin, I went to a restaurant near my hotel and ordered “Roast Chicken Kabul”, a paratha stuffed with loads of chicken and egg, which made me forget all the tiredness I had gathered. 


Roast Chicken Kabul

When I hit the bed that night, throwing my things around the cozy room I loved, I had immediately slept and forgotten everything of this world.

Day 4 Dambulla
I started early on this day so that I don’t make the same mistake of losing half a day in the bus. I felt a little sad on leaving Kandy because I had loved my stay here. I loved that hotel and the people there and its location and of course that room that felt very “mine”.

When the bus dropped me in Dambulla after 3 hours, I found this hotel too was very near to the stop, right on the main road close to all the restaurants and shops.

However, I didn’t like what I saw at the first sight, a shabby building and the reception not exactly below the hotel but separately located more inside. When I was taken to my room I felt a little better as looking at the building I expected worse inside. It had all the basic amenities but it just didn’t feel like a hotel worth its per day amount.

However, I didn’t want to change or take extra trouble in any way for the 2 days I were to stay here.

It was 12 pm and I had a fish roll for my breakfast while boarding the bus, so I proceeded to have my lunch.

To compensate for the shabby looking hotel of mine, I chose to enter a restaurant that looked very well decorated, well maintained and nice. There were outdoor sitting arrangements with thatch-roof umbrellas. I decided to have my Sri Lankan meal here.

I had earlier in other places enquired about Sri Lankan meal but they had all said it is not available for dinner. These come under the title of “rice and curry” and is only prepared by most restaurants for lunch. It looked great when it arrived but it is nothing very different from what we are used to eating in India. 4 veg and chicken or fish curry that you can choose in your meal. It is extremely spicy with fried chilli flavor and you will be aware of it while the food enters your system and also when it exits.

Sri Lankan meal "Rice and Curry"

I hired a tuk-tuk and departed for the Dambulla caves now. The restaurant manager and also this driver while enrolling in a conversation asked, “Are you married?” I was not to repeat the mistake again and so quite promptly without hesitation went ahead to say, “Yes.”
“Children?”
“Not yet.”
“What does he do?”
“Engineer.”
“Why didn’t he come?”
“Didn’t get his leaves. Will join me tomorrow.”

Problem solved.

The Dambulla Temple also known as the Golden Temple has a huge Golden Buddha at the entrance. Unlike other places, here the ticket is equally priced for SAARC and non-SAARC. You have to keep walking and climbing quite a bit till you finally reach the cave complex.

The Golden Temple

And these caves are as old as 1 BC! They have paintings on the walls and rock-cut Buddha sculptures. There are 5 caves in total and have been habitat for many monks over the centuries.

I made it a point to enter each cave after reading in the book about each one. Since I decided not to have a guide, this is the least I could do for myself to prepare my senses to grasp as much as I could from this ancient work of art.

The Cave Complex

These caves mostly had Buddha in his preaching or sleeping or meditating posture. Some also had the king sculpted who decided to have got these made there. The ceilings and walls were full of paintings of repetitive Buddha patterns or a scenario trying to depict a story in sequential order.

Inside the cave

Due to the trickling water and many weather conditions and other factors, these paintings with time begin to fade and many artists were further employed to redo the paintings over the existing ones. Due to this, many styles had got incorporated within the same structure. Like, as my book said and I myself could agree that one wall had a very folk painting style that did not match the others the caves had.

 Frescoes on the cave ceiling

Also, the last cave which was the most recent one, had a Buddha constructed almost the same way as the ancient Buddhas of the other caves but was made out of plaster and cement instead, whereas the ancients were curved out of rock, shaped through chisels.


Inside the cave

It was very fascinating indeed. It had started to rain. I opened my umbrella and walked back. There were many monkeys, old, young, mother carrying the child, child getting loose and wandering around till mom comes and snatches him back to lap again and there were vendors.


Mummy monkey in the Temple Complex

Unlike India, they didn’t believe in following you and troubling you till you buy or rudely keep them away. Like every Sri Lankan, they believed in self-respect above all. They would of course urge you to convince you but would soon leave if you have decided not to buy. Same go for the guides these places have. They would ask you if you would need them, would try to convince you and then either out of curiosity want to have a conversation that has nothing to do with their business or sometimes even guide you for free if you happen to be going the same way as they are going with their clients.

There was a mango-seller and a young boy of around 10. His father brought him a mango that was sliced and placed within a packet. The boy opened the packet and offered one slice to a monkey that stood by. The monkey walked close, with one hand took the slice offered and very strategically with the other snatched the entire packet the boy had held in his other hand.

He then had an expression I felt pity for. The father called him a “fool” and started to scold. I felt terribly sorry, not for the boy, as mangoes can be bought again and again, but for the lesson he had learnt.

He had a very kind face, an honest face that reflected a large heart and he was very young. There will come many people who are in no way better than the “monkeys” here. While you are kind enough to offer them help, with one hand they will take it and with the other hand not hesitate to plunder. The lesson should be, “Do not be one of those monkeys.” The lesson should not be, “Hence, stop being nice in this world.”

To reinforce that, while passing by I looked at the boy and said, “You were very kind. But it was very greedy. It is not your fault.”

I went back to my hotel by 5 pm, had tea in a local restaurant, walked around to see which other restaurants and shops were nearby and wanted to return to my room early, as this place unlike Kandy didn’t seem very happening. It was more of a small town and my hotel which hardly had any staff apart from that manager, I was not feeling very secure of.


One advantage however was, the internet in this hotel ran like a wild horse. So, I wanted to take advantage of that facility and read up in the internet about as much as I could on Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa as those were to be my next destination. 

Day 5 Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa
As more days passed, the money I had changed into Sri Lankan currency were getting less and less within my wallet. So, now automatically “cutting down the cost” was a program that got installed in my mind. Sigiriya I knew I would definitely visit but Polonnaruwa I was not quite sure of.

Reason 1--Money: Sigiriya had an entry fee of 3,900 LKR for the foreigners. I did not know if it would have the SAARC discount or no discount like the Dambulla Caves there. Polonnaruwa would also have an entry fee similar to that, almost 3,500 LKR. I also had to pay the hotel 7,000 LKR for the 2 days in Dambulla after I was back.

Pheww! In one day I would be a beggar and might have to change more money into Sri Lankan to survive further.

Reason 2--Time: When I read about Polonnaruwa, the traveler’s tip was to go as early as possible in the morning to make the most, as it is a huge area. If I went to Sigiriya, I would loose some time there and I did not want to buy the tickets for both the places and not do justice to either.

“Do one and do it well”, was what I had in mind.

Reason 3--Transport: Bus would take more time to reach Sigiriya but of course is so much cheaper. I could easily take the bus, explore the Lion Rock and take the bus to come back before it got dark.

However, if I decided to do Polonnaruwa which is another 2 hours from Sigiriya, it would not be wise to rely on bus. I read wild elephants could roam around that area in the evening and also the place was more secluded and it would be safe to soon head back. 

So, tuk-tuk would be the solution with an additional 4,000 LKR.

Reason 4--Energy: Sigiriya has 1,200 steps to be climbed! After I do ask so much favour from my legs, it might be too much to ask for if I wanted them to explore around the huge area of Polonnaruwa after that. And another reason to discard the bus if I do both would be, the bus journey together with the climbing and walking could prove to be too tiring for a day so packed.

Hence, it was a tough call!

However, I woke up as early as 6:30 am to start my journey at 7 am as the manager had assured there would be discount for SAARC and the driver had assured, Polonnaruwa in tuk-tuk could be done in 2 hours.

So, I decided to cover both, decided to shell out extra money and do away with the bus and headed towards Sigiriya first.

As we had started early, it was not very crowded when we reached there. As the stairs were narrow and steps went steep, it could get difficult to climb when it got crowded later.

Sigiriya or the Lion Rock is also known as the 8th wonder of the world. The story goes as…King Kassapa had illegally taken up the throne after killing his father. His brother who was the rightful heir had to flee to India. Kassapa always knew he would soon be back and so he built his palace over this rock so that he could resist his attack.

The brother, however, did gather forces and come back. In that battle, Kassapa had lost and cut his own throat with his sword to avoid a surrender.


Sigiriya or the Lion Rock

It hadn’t started to rain yet but the clouds had gathered. The ground was wet and slippery. I wrapped my sandals in a plastic bag and kept inside and started climbing bare-feet, ready to go 1,200 steps, 1st one done!

In some places the steps were built as part of the rock and in other places a spiral staircase went right up. I met 2 japanese boys who were kindergarden teachers. We did walk together few steps but a proper conversation is so much more difficult than you would imagine while you are panting to catch your breath while climbing up.


The lion feet that gives it the name "Lion Rock"

In the midway, there was a cave that had the frescoes of the ladies with flowers. When you go inside so unprepared, thinking it is part of your climb and suddenly look up to gasp, “wow” is the word I heard most people utter. 


The frescoes on the wall

It did look like a page from the history book coming alive. My book and the last night's research had informed, these were ladies who could have been the devotees who resided here or the king’s women for pleasure. One of them had a base like a cloud, that to me made her appear like an “apsara” floating there. 

"Celestial Beings!" I had a smile on my face when I thought that. Yes, they were neither devotees nor pleasure-women. They were Aliens.

One disadvantage of solo trip would be, if you come up with something funny you have to manage with a smile and cannot laugh.


The frescoes

There is a TV programme in the History channel in fact, that tries to force aliens into everything they can. And the reason for their suspicion would usually be silly, which they would show as important clues they have deciphered. "So, was King Kassapa being visited by the alines?" It was time to add in history my own version.


The frescoes

Anyway, so after you come out of the cave and continue further, you will come across a mirror wall.  This wall is highly polished and had comments written on it by the ancient visitors. They usually wrote poems glorifying art and culture. Most of these have been deciphered and a book written translating those from the wall.

The Mirror Wall

This almost feels like the mid-way. When you do climb to get to the top, there are remains of the palace there. Probably the head of the lion was built somewhere here which had long fallen off. The Lion Rock derives its name from the giant lion paws it has towards the base of the rock.

Unfortunately, it had started to rain when we climbed up. So, the view of the surrounding from that height remained covered in dense fog.

I began my downward venture. It had taken me one and half hours in total. And if you have been fearing the 1,200 steps, let me assure, it just sounds worse than when done.


The remain of the palace on top

The tuk-tuk had waited there and so Polonnaruwa was the next mission to cover.

Well, to mention here, there was SAARC country discount in Sigiriya. I had paid around 1,600 LKR, almost half the foreigner ticket price and also Polonnaruwa had a discount almost half. I felt a little happy for my wallet and now started with the Museum right inside the ticket counter.

This place prepares you with the history and structure of what you were about to see in that site. It is almost like a history park with ruins on both sides of the road, an ancient city just lay there over a vast stretch of land. How fascinating! I was glad I made it there!


Ruin of the palace

There were bicycles that could be hired. You could cycle around and go from one ruin to the other or decide to walk and also take a tuk-tuk and stop by each ruin, which is the way I had done.

Every ruin had a write-up in front, in both Sinhala and English. And over that, if you had a book to guide, you would not need to hire one. But still, you could decide to get a guide to make your walk an enriching one.


Ruin of a giant Buddha

When I started with the first ruin, I met my Chinese friend from the hostel in Colombo. The guy with the map and the breakfast? In a land where both of us did not know anyone, we re-met like old friends from past.

He had come there by bus and would explore on foot. Since I had a tuk-tuk to take me around, I could not team up. I tried to read up before every ruin until the driver had started hurrying me up. There were palaces, temples, ponds and some remains that could not much be guessed about. Towards the end was Gal Vihara with the giant Buddha statues, which out of all the ruins was the most fascinating one.


Gal Vihara

It was around 4 pm when we decided to head back. The clouds and the rain had gone. In fact, when I reached there I could not tell, if rain was worse or the scorching sun.

It was quite a long journey back and on the way we saw a wild elephant appear from the jungle towards a farm to drink water.

"What is your religion?" The driver asked.
"I am a Hindu. And you?"
"Budhhist. But we don't have God. Buddha is not God."
He showed me an image of Ganesh he had stuck on his vehicle glass.
"Yes, Buddha is not God. He has told again and again he is not God. You don't need God. If you are clean, why do you need God."
"But if you pray to God, God will fulfill your wishes, no!"

I decided with this conversation not to go any further. God is there to grant and so we make wishes or we need to make wishes and so let there be God, could be a chicken or egg situation.

After I reached, I had my early dinner or late lunch. A menu in Sri Lanka is very interesting to look at. There would be continental that has become part of it probably to suit the many Western travelers that come there. There would be Sri Lankan meal, “rice and curry” in one section and Chinese is very popular there and many other food items that could have belonged to South India or Indonesia or many other countries located around. They have all found places in a Sri Lankan kitchen or at least the restaurant ones.

So, though Nasi Goreng is Indonesian, the availability of it everywhere would assure you it has now become very much Sri Lankan. It is nothing but fried rice, the flavour being slightly different, served with an egg on top.


Nasi Goreng

I then walked around, filled up my empty wallet with more Sri Lankan, returned to the hotel and came back to have tea and snack that would be my dinner.

Almost every hotel here would ask you if they could serve you breakfast. But Sri Lanka having so many bakeries around, it would be stupid to have bread and butter. The bakeries open early in the day and remain open till around 9 pm. They have hot dogs, burgers, fish roll, fish pie, egg samosa, chicken roll and different kinds of sweet buns and so many things to eat, you will regret if you just stick to bread and butter.

I needed to sleep early, as next day would be a journey, the longest so far. It would now be my way backward, going back to where I started from.


I packed my bags, thanked the manager. 
My one last day remains in Sri Lanka now.

Day 6 Negombo
Negombo is a place very near to the Airport. So, it does make sense to spend some time there on your arrival day or departure. I had booked a hotel just 15 minutes from the airport so that my early morning flight could be caught with maximum sleep over the night.

Let me mention, so far when I travelled between 2 towns, I had taken the AC bus. The manager had told me, “you will get a bus from right near the hotel here” and so without much thinking, I waited there.

There are no direct buses to Negombo however. You have to take a bus from Dambulla to Kurunegala (2 hours) and board another from Kurunegala to Negombo (2 hours).

When the bus arrived at the stop and it was not an AC bus, I thought to myself, "Does it matter? The weather is not hot!" I simply had overlooked the many facts people count on while choosing an AC bus apart from its facility of Air Condition. (like...Life Condition?)

When I took my seat, I soon realized the fish roll I had packed from a bakery nearby was not really going inside my mouth. It hit my nose, cheek, eyes and to aim it into the mouth was like aiming the balls in the game of billiard.

The bus went zig-zag like a snake making its own trail dodging all the vehicles behind. In one situation the break was so harsh, it almost skidded and climbed a boulder, to which everyone did a “tsk tsk tsk” and went back to sleep soon after.

For once, I felt this is not real. This must be a video game. The driver must be playing it and we must all be those characters created just to add to the picture. After one life is gone, there must be another heart blinking in a row about to come.

However, I could not myself make a clear request due to the language barrier and so explained to the guy beside me to politely remind the bus driver that this is "Real Life"! He just smiled. I told another guy who had a small son on his lap. He too smiled. I told the conductor. He joked and put an imaginary seat belt across my shoulder and...just smiled!

In those 2 hours, my heart had come right out of my body many times and I had to comfort it, push it back, sing a lullaby to delude it from reality, till I finally reached Kurunegala. ALIVE!

I boarded my next bus from there. And what bus?

"AC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Turn off the Air Conditioning if you want! Take all the money that I have! But drive slow, drive steady. Just please let me be alive.

When I reached the hotel in Negombo, the receptionist lady was in a Sri Lankan Saree, with a pleasant smile. I looked again and again at the saree wondering how the draping was done. The folds came out at the waist like skirt frills that was pleated and looked very nice. I will have to check that out in "you tube", I thought.

Apart from her, there was one more guy, who took my bags and led me to my room from the reception. From the balcony of my room, I could see the water of the lagoon and I felt very nice being there.

This place had good sea-food and for my lunch I was aiming one. So, I took the bus towards the beach and it was jam-packed.

I got no seat and so I stood. A boy was behind me. Yes, right behind. By the way he stood there I thought, is he going to do "that"? No, Sri Lankans are good people…wait, he is moving very slowly there. Is he taking a position? Erm. Yes. He has.

I turned behind immediately and swung my finger sideways to say, “No” and made a rotating motion with my hand to signal him turn back.

He cut his tongue with his teeth and quietly turned around. The first thought that came to my mind was, “I come from a place called "Delhi". What new are you going to do to me that I do not know of.”

My second thought was, “How numb have I become that something that should appear to me as "not normal" now feels like a regular task I can calmly and casually approach without losing any peace of mind.”

So, when I reached the beach, first thing first, I ordered a plate of 10 pieces of battered prawns with egg fried rice with French fries and salad. Just for 1,000 LKR! Yes, food is the only thing cheap here. When you see your Indian Rupees getting double into Sri Lankan, you do feel you are going to be a queen here, but hotels and tuk-tuk and everything is more priced when you compare with Indian. Food is the only thing cheaper.


Battered Prawns with Fried Rice, fries and salad

After my hearty meal, I strolled around the beach. It was a sunny, nice day. All the warnings to dress up decent I had read before I packed, felt invalid here. There were people in bikinis and trunks walking around, reading, drinking, eating there or lying there on sand. An artist who show-cased his work, came to me to talk and gave me his card.  


Negombo Beach

I started asking people about the boat ride and finally found a group there. I went ahead to fix the price, “2,000 would be the cost I heard.”
“If you go in group, we can reduce it to that. But one group has just returned. You have to wait for more people now or book the boat at 5,000, the last we can offer.”

The sun would soon set and I couldn’t wait any longer but 5,000 LKR seemed bit too much. It would be a 2 hours ride into the Dutch Canal, where they would take you through the coconut trees and mangrove plants to show you birds and all the other creatures you could spot.

I made my last request. “What about 3,000. 3,500? Okay 4,000? Come on!” So, we agreed on 4,000 LKR and he would return me some notes, whatever he wished for (200 was what he had given me back).


Entering the Dutch Canal

It was a pleasant ride. Sun was no more so strong. The sky was getting orange preparing for the setting Sun. The guide and the boatman talked to each other and occasionally told me, “Excuse me ma’am, there you see a monitor lizard.” And I turned and pointed my camera there and then we continued till we spotted something else, a king-fisher, a heron, a cormorant, a bee-eater.


Bee Eater

As the Sun went milder and milder, the birds went louder. They returned from different directions to their homes next to the canal. After a point, after they had spent enough time in their “balcony” which probably was the periphery of the plants, they headed interior. You could only then hear their voices from somewhere inside and no more spot.


Monitor Lizard

There were other boats that passed by, people waved at me and I waved back, to share the good times we both had. In some places, there were bunglows and hotels on the sides of the banks. You could see the people spend their leisure hours, right into the heart of all the trees and all the chirps.


Kingfisher

There was one man who came out with his fishing wheel and I thought, “What a happy man! He must be the happiest one on Earth.” We waved at each other. And I thought, how simple could be life. Wake up amidst a forest and then fish by the canal. With whatever you catch, have it for the lunch. Read a book, drink some wine. Lay around in the sun, waving at all the fellow-Earthlings that pass. And celebrate this life we have.

My guide was an older man and a very kind one. When the birds whooshed past our heads in huge bunch, he was so happy to see me happy and enjoy the ride.


Crane

And exactly after 2 hours when the boat took a turn in the sea and stopped, the Sun went red, went half, went quarter and then disappeared. It was timed. Bang on.

On the way back I ate “Obus”. My wallet by now looked at me with a sad face and I did not want to strain it, till I reached the airport next morning from there. Obus is like “Appam”. But not exactly Appam. It is more crispy and in a bowl shape rather than just round. There is an egg-version of this as well where it is placed in the center.

The crisp sides feel like Dosa. And the thick base feels like Idli. Problem solved for all South Indians!


Obus

When I told the guy in the hotel to book me a tuk-tuk to the airport next morning, he asked me, “I heard you wanted to have a boat-ride? 2 of my uncles are fisher-men here. I could have taken you in their boat. We sometimes do go...land somewhere nice and then drink, chat and come back.” I smiled and said, “Thanks. May be sometime if I do come back later.”

“The receptionist lady had said, you have a nice photograph in your passport...with nice, pretty eyes...”

Eyes! Again! I remembered that tuk-tuk guy to Pinnawala and soon wanted to change the topic back to tomorrow-morning-reservation.

“Are you married?”
“Yes.” Yes, yes. And definitely, Yes!
“Are you sure ma’am?” He asked very politely and yet with a lot of certainty over my lie.

I went to sleep soon. At 4:30 am my alarm rang. 
After I paid the tuk-tuk to the airport, I had a note of 100 and 2 coins of 5 and 1.

As I walked inside, I asked in a coffee counter. “Will 100 be enough for a coffee? That’s all I have and want to finish it here.”

“Would a Milo do?” He asked.

Without asking for its cost, I handed over the 106 I had.

“How was Sri Lanka?”

I took a sip of my Milo, smiled in a way the thousands of gentle Buddhas in this land, constantly do smile and I said...

 “I wouldn’t want to go back.” 

[Hotel/Hostel—Colombo: BED Hostel, Kandy: Sevana City Hotel, Dambulla: CLN Guest House, Negombo: Lagoon Waves; Ayurvedic Massage—Weda Medura, Kandy; Return Air-fair from Delhi—20,000 INR; Total travel expenditure—52,000 INR]
 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems an interesting solo run to Sri Lanka, wondering did you come across any Raw one's