Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sri Lanka - Colombo.

We have been back from Sri Lanka for two weeks and already it seems like a distant dream. In Sri Lanka we were four and are now temporarily down to two at home base! Ads departed for the US over a week ago and Simon followed a few days back. So Wills and I are alone for a couple of week. Very strange. You'd think I'd have plenty of time to blog Sri Lanka but seemingly not!!

Sri Lanka, so geographically close to India (25 miles), but yet so different. Roads without potholes, no trash, comprehensive rules of the road followed by the majority, no gratuitous horn blasting, less overt poverty...... So not Bangalore!! I'm not slamming Bangers but however one feels about this city the infrastructure in our neck of the woods is the pits. Interesting question is why such differences. Sri Lanka has also suffered civil war (tho'  internally this seems to be referred to terrorist attack/activity) from 1980's to 2009 and was also a victim of the tsunami along one of its coastlines. Sri Lanka has a long and complicated history - invaded by India several times - great stories of murder, fratricide, betrayal, exiles, bloody battles..... and settled 3 times - by european empire builders - the Dutch, Portuguese and of course the Brits. Despite all the ups and downs Sri Lanka seems to be victim of much less corruption in its administration than India and stuff seems to get done! Everyone gets free education including college, free healthcare (apparently good but crowded) and post the "troubles"  bridges, roads etc. have been rebuilt quickly and efficiently. Tourism being key, Sri Lankan's are proud to show off their country and sing its praises. Our guide, Harsha, I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. We had a huge van for the week which could have comfortably sat eight, air con etc.etc. and Harsha was a fountain of knowledge of his country past and present. He was also very flexible and although we had a sort of itinerary he was quite happy to accommodate when we deviated here and there. In arranging the trip I had decided up front where we wanted to go - we only had 9 nights and also had an eye on the weather. Sri Lanka gets hit by two monsoons so you need to get your seasons and geographical areas right! I then used trip advisor and other travel companies to select my hotels and then realizing we needed a driver as we wanted to stay in four different areas turned my plan over to a travel firm referred by a friend and they produced Harsha.

We got a direct flight from Bangalore to Colombo (all of an hour and twenty mins) the Friday evening, so Simon got in a full day at work. We met up with Harsha at the airport and after maybe a one hour smooth (I may keep harping on about "smooth" roads - but believe you me, for a Bangalore resident they are a luxury!) drive were settled into the Galle Face Hotel.  This is probably one of last years we can get one room for all of us. It works well, a king size double Simon and I share with Wills and a single bed brought in for Ads.  But I'm guessing Ads will soon want a bit more privacy and Wills will, without doubt be getting bigger and bigger. But for now it keeps the costs down! The Galle Face is perfectly positioned, ocean side, breakfast to the sound of the waves crashing. I didn't want to move!

The hotel was positioned alongside the main promenade and park which came alive in the late afternoon and evenings. I could have sat there for hours people watching, especially as was different from much of India, no one was particularly interested in us and we could just sit and watch!
It was a huge family affair. walking, playing, eating, visiting, chatting and of course cricket... It was really misty from the ocean (she said to excuse the equality of the pics!)
The food on sale from these vendors looked and smelt so yummy.
With the wind off the sea it was a kite flyers mecca.
We saw the highlights of Colombo - a lot of architectural hang-over from the Brits. I was reading Jeremy Paxman's book "Empire" while we were in Sri Lanka which as well as giving an interesting perspective on the effects of the empire on England today in Jeremy's usual witty style, also gave some history, including the Brits takeover in Sri Lanka. Normally most of what one reads about the old Brit Empire is the effect on the countries the Brits marched into and not the long term effect on Britain itself. It is an interesting book and worth a read.

Sri Lanka is a generally a Buddhist country. Though Buddhism was banned by those awful Brits and also under some Indian kings. The Sinhalese are mainly Buddhists but there are also Tamil descendants in Sri Lanka who are mainly Hindu and some muslims. In ancient times some of the Sinhalese Kings married Indian Queens to try and keep peace with India. So in some Buddhists temples there are the odd shrines to Ganesh, Shiva and Vishnu originally erected to keep the Indian spouses happy. But as Buddha is not a God as such, one learns from his teachings but cannot ask him for anything one wants, some Buddhists will also pray to an Indian God if they want something specific so the religions are a bit intermingled!
The flag is also a sign of intermingling. There have never been lions in Sri Lanka but the symbol of the lion which was imported by an Indian King in by gone days represents the Sinhalese bravery. The maroon color and the four leaves symbolize Buddhism. The saffron and green stripes were added later to represent the Hindu and Muslims in Sri Lanka who were feeling left out.
 In one of the Buddhist temples we visited we were presented with threads in all the colors of the Buddhist flag which were tied round our wrists. I still have mine, It doesn't feel right to take it off, even though the colors are now not so bright and it looks a bit ragged. I learnt quite a bit about Buddhism while we were in Sri Lanka and tested our drivers English to its limit, though he was keen to try and answer my questions. There are different kinds of Buddhism which made it all a bit more complex. In Buddhism the eventual aim is enlightenment and you go round and round in different lives until this is achieved and then nothing, all is done. To a believer in heaven and an afterlife the concept of such finality seemed a bit bleak and took some explanation!


  1. Sounds like such a super trip! Seems like such a waste for Buddhists. If you reach enlightenment, then seems like something good should come of it. At least something good passed on for the world or universe? Does that not encourage one to not want to reach enlightenment then? I'm so intrigued!

  2. thanks for sharing.