Sri Lanka

Published on February 28th, 2011 | by Simon

True Grit

I’m not sure whether an Americanism is exactly suitable, but whatever the phrase, I reckon the colonialists of old must have been made of much sterner stuff than me…


After 4 hours on two buses traveling west,  I arrived in Galle which was colonised by the Portuguese, then grabbed by the Dutch, who then handed it over to the Brits. Being set right on the southwest corner of Sri Lanka, it became the natural place for P&O to put in and allow passengers some rest when en route to Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and so on.
For my first day there , I elected not to pay for aircon. Bad idea! It was impossibly hot and humid. No speed of overhead fan was going to create a feeling of comfort. Day two was much better. But I was suffering in shorts and a t-shirt. Back a century or more, there was no aircon and the dress code was, to say the least, rather less loose. I have absolutely  no idea how they managed – probably on a continuous diet of gin and tonics.


The town is very mixed with Moslem, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu religious buildings. The old Dutch church has tombstones set in the floor going back 400 years, and some rather sad evidence of later British presence.


I’m now way north after a fun train journey (yes another one) in one of the old capitals – Anaradhapura. The funniest sight on the train journey was a woodworking factory a little outside Colombo where hundreds upon hundreds of cricket bats were laid out beside the railway tracks to season. Just a reminder of how addicted Sri Lankans are to cricket – I even have a minor version of that bug now.
Lots of active religious sites here which is nice to see for a change. I sincerely trust that Buddha is watching over the workers who are clinging to the side of the huge stupa in order to slap some fresh paint on it…

Yesterday I piled into a van with a couple of Germans so we could all go and visit three huge sites fairly nearby (well it was a 12 hour trip in the end). Sigirya was a monastery built on a rock which far beyond having vertical sides, is actually a big overhang. I’ve no idea how the monks got up there but modern-day visitors use some very temporary looking iron stairs and hanging balconies. I’m glad that the parted rivets and missing handrails were visible only on the downward route.

The view from the top is pretty cool, but the real purpose is to see some of the best known Asian frescoes anywhere. How this was supposed to keep monks true to their vows, I have no idea.

 And after this exercise, involving more than 2000 steps, we went to the caves. Great, thought I, a bit of shade and no climbing. Wrong. The caves are halfway up another huge chunk of rock. Bizarrely, the entrance area looked for all the world like Lunar Park. 
But the caves themselves, as with all these locations dating back some 500-1000 years, housed some fantastically atmospheric buddhas in caves.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Trincomalee which is in the northeast and was until a little over a year ago, part of the warzone between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. Could be interesting, though I’m really just in search of another gold beach…
Be sure to check out all the images of Sri Lanka here.



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