I’ll leave it to the tourist books to tell you about the getting there, the what not to miss, the where you should go… my story is about Sri Lanka, about its magic and its effect on an unwary traveller, with just a little bit of curiosity – me!
Its a story that starts more than 2,000 years ago – of kings and palaces and a fight for a throne. The evidence is in the cultural triangle and is beautifully preserved at Anuradhapura and Polonnarawa – with the jewel of the whole story atop a mountain – Sigiriya! At first the dates, the evidence, and the story are too much to grasp, but as you walk the paths, listening to your guide – the rustle of the trees, and the cheeky monkeys which accompany you, the story unravels in wonder.
And interwoven to the story is a prince called Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Listen to the tale of how he tested the Kings fitness to receive the message from Buddha, and try to solve the riddle of the mango trees yourself!
“What name does this tree bear, O king?”
“This tree is called a mango.”
“Is there yet another mango besides this?”
“There are many mango-trees.”
“And are there yet other trees besides this mango and the other mangoes?”
“There are many trees, sir; but those are trees that are not mangoes.”
“And are there, beside the other mangoes and those trees which are not mangoes, yet other trees?”
“There is this mango-tree, sir.”
It is Buddhism in Sri Lanka, that brings out the peace of the people, the gentle quiet. Their welcoming smiles are what you will remember the most when you leave.
Interspersed in the cultural sightseeing are some wonderful excursions – the wild elephant safari at Minneriya National Park – and learn the meaning of the local word ‘tank’. Tanks are man made lakes, and there are thousands of them all over Sri Lanka – to give a regular water supply to agriculture – rice especially. Tanks are where the animals and the birds gather, so are great places to see the wildlife. The Botanical Gardens near Kandy have some prize specimens of orchids, coco do mer palms and tallipot trees – plus a fig tree – huge and spreading, over 100 years old.
At Punnewala Elephant Orphanage you can get up close and personal to these beautiful beasts. I just couldn’t help myself reciting the poem of The Six Blind Men of Hindustan… there is no way to describe an elephant at all! Huge, gentle, protective of their babies and family life; they say ‘an elephant never forgets’ well I, too, will never forget my day at Punnewala.
As if Kandy could offer no more, I queued amongst nuns and Buddist monks at the sacred Temple of the Tooth for a fleeting glimpse in the chamber that holds the relic of Buddha’s tooth – rescued from Buddha’s cremation in 543BC – the tooth relic must be akin to the Catholic Shroud of Turin, and just as sacred.
Kandycan dancers, colourful and almost heady, dancing to the beat of drums, and the beautiful women spinning to the Peacock dance were enchanting at the evening cultural show in Kandy. Afterwards we watched in horror, amazement, and disbelief as they swallowed fire and walked on hot coals! Leaving this frenzy of Kandy I stayed up in the hills and the tea plantations en-route to my next adventure… Yala!
Yala National Park is in the South East. A thatched lodge, a ranger to walk you back and forth to your hut, and an elephant who strolled in to breakfast one morning for a cool drink! One early morning safari drive and we were privileged to share dawn at the waterholes with the best! Leopard, wild boar, elephant, deer, crocodiles and countless, countless birds – storks, pelicans, king fishers, and bee-eaters. We spent a quiet half hour looking out over the sea at Yala and thought about the 2004 tsunami – luckily Yala village is about 3kms in shore and the tsunami could not do its worst.
Time to relax now, my senses needed to absorb and soak up all the culture and adventure of the past days, so my retreat was to the beaches on the West Coast. There is no shortage of colonial and heritage hotels, 5 star service and Indian Ocean settings, food and comfort to appease all your bodily needs.
Time to get out the sun block and a couple of good paperbacks! Why do I feel so at home here?