Why not read my new travelogue from 2002 to Sri Lanka
This Travelogue is about my travels in Sri Lanka from 1. August to 31. August 1993. I have been to Sri Lanka previously, in 1991 for 12 days (on a world tour), and decided at that time that some day I would return and see some of the things I missed the first time - and that time was now.
This travelogue will be most useful for independent travellers as I travelled as one. I tried to find the 'real' Sri Lanka - but of course I also wanted to see some of the more 'famous' places (Sigiria, Kandy etc.), and therefore also one-weekers will find some interesting facts here - take a look at the index below. I was travelling on a pretty low budget (~15$/day) and stayed primarily at guest houses, listed in Lonely Planet's Travel Survival Kit (1993) - Sri Lanka (hereafter referred to as TSK) which is the very best guide for travelling around in Sri Lanka. The prices are mentioned in Rupees and in US$. At the time of travelling, 1US$=48.50rs.
I have mentioned prices many times; those of you who just want to read a story can skip them; I have mentioned them in case you are going there yourself; prices don't go up very much, so you should be able to get an idea of the prices. A bit about myself: I study Computer Science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark; I have one year to go before I get my master degree (I have a bachelor degree in Math and Computer Science). I'm 25 years old, live in a shared flat with four other Christian students and yes I like Sri Lanka very much and no, I'm not married; this should answer all the standard questions one is asked 20 times a day in Sri Lanka :-)
Day Places Keywords
1 Moscow Aeroflot, Moscow airport
3 Panadura Elephants, boat trip
4 Colombo Dehiwala Zoo
5 Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage
6 Nuwara Eliya Brewery, spices
Hakgala Hakgala gardens, Chinchona
7 Nuwara Eliya Pidurutalagala
8 Horton Plains Leopards, World's End (Lokanthaya)
10 Kandy Temple of the Tooth, National Museum,
11 Kandy Hantana mountain
12 Kandy Mahaweli river trip, iguanas.
The Ancient Cities
13 Aluvihare Cave temple, spice garden.
Dambulla Cave temple, Cultural Triangle pass
14 Sigiria Lion Rock, fresco paintings
Polonnaruwa Ancient capital
15 Trincomalee Tamils, checkpoints, military, east coast
16 Trinco Pigeon Island, skin diving, LTTE (Tigers)
17 Mutur Fishing village, Tiger country, Mahaweli
18 Trinco Uppuveli
19 Trinco Skin diving, coral fish
(another) Ancient City
21 Anuradhapura The Bo tree, ancient ruins.
22 Mihintale Cradle of Buddhism
24 Colombo Viharamaderi Park, Museum of Natural History
The National Museum, Liberty Plaza
25 Galle Portuguese Fort
26 Meetiyagoda Moon-stones
27 Deniyaya Sinharaja rain forest
28 Panadura LTTE, Buddhism
29 Colombo Gems, spices
MAP OF SRI LANKA
*'s indicate my travel route
| **/ Trincomalee
| * * * |
| Anuradhapura * \
| * * * \
/ * * * \
| * **** |
| * Habarana |
| * **** \
| * Sigiria *Polonnaruwa \
| * * \
| * Dambulla \
| * * Batticaloa
| * * \
| * * \
| * * \
| * * \
| * *Kandy |
| * ****** * |
| ** * |
| * * |
| * ***** /
Colombo Nuwara Eliya |
|* * * * /
|* *******Haputale |
Panadura Ratnapura /
\* *Deniyaya /
Ambalangoda * /
\* * /
\* ***Akuressa |
Galle* * /
TIPS, HINTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Places to stay:
Everywhere you can get a good room (in a guest house) for 100- 200rs (2-4$) - and you can stay two persons in a room, most places. The rooms have (usually) a fan, and if they don't have mosquito nets, you can ask for coils, which I prefer to nets. You light them before going to sleep, and the smoke keeps off the mosquitoes. I guess they aren't very healthy since there are warnings all over the packages... If they haven't written prices in the rooms, you can usually bargain the price down 50-100rs. NEVER follow a tout to a place, they get about 50rs which you'll have to pay extra for the room
Places to eat:
I had breakfast and dinner, most of the time, at the guest
houses. Breakfast will cost about 40-60rs (0.80-1.25$) which
consists of bread, butter, jam and either fried egg, a piece of
fruit or string hoppers. Dinner costs between 55-80rs (1.10$-
1.60$), which usually means rice & curry. Soft drinks and beers
costs extra. They don't make it hot (spicy) unless you ask them to.
To hail a bus: Stand by the road, put your arm out with a 20-45
degree angle and hold your hand parallel with the ground, palm
Buses are still very cheap, and the boys collecting money in the
buses usually only raise the fare from like 8.50rs to like 9 or
10rs, and you don't really want to do anything about this; actually
they are (almost) always VERY helpful helping you get off at the
They have to write you a ticket, and since they don't always
speak English, it is an easy way to find out how much to pay.
I enjoyed travelling by bus very much. The trains are better of
course, but more expensive, and even if you take 2.class, you
often have to stand up.
If you have plenty of money; the usualy way for westerners is to
rent a van with a driver for a few days. A French couple I met
paid 7000rs/144$ for 3 days, including hotels, but without entrance
fees (they did the Cultural Triangle). It gets cheaper the more
persons you are.
I brought Thomas Cook travel cheques, and I would do this again
next time. You can change them in all banks and it gives a better
exchange rate than cash. If you bring cash, bring US$. Credit
Cards are getting more common; in 1991 there
was only one bank in the country where you could get money, but it
is different now.
What to bring:
Toilet paper (you can buy them at the pharmacy though), pens (for children). If you are a coffee drinker, bring instant coffee (the Sri Lanka coffee is terrible). Bring mosquito repellent, Micropur (silver tablets) for water purification (beware: it doesn't kill Giardia!), a padlock, flashlight, pictures from your country. If you dive, bring diving gear - you may sell it with profit on the east coast
Things to buy:
Spices: Saffron, cinnamon (only whole pieces), red chillies and
Also gems, batik shirts, leather goods and devil masks.
The one you want to bring:
The Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit (TSK) Sri Lanka, 5th
Edition, May 1993. ISBN 0-86442-169-9. (red: there is a 6th edition
Richard, I met in Anuradhapura had read in TSK the evening
before leaving, and had forgotten it on his table - when he told
me this he was tearing hair out from his head!
Insight Guides, Sri Lanka, 6th Edition 1993. Apa Publications.
ISBN 0-395-66310-5 and 9-62421-014-4
This is the one you want to read at your coffee table at home,
and look in again (many pictures) after you return. But don't
Dangers & annoyances:
More tourists are going to Sri Lanka, this means that there are
getting more and more touts and very annoying people. They are
sometimes very difficult to distinguish from good meaning people,
and I know that I must have missed several good friendships this
way, by saying no to people who offered to help me. The problem
is that 90% of people approaching you and offer to help you at
stations and close to the cultural sights, are out for your
money. You might as well learn to say no immediately when you
are approached on the railway or bus station.
Use a guidebook instead to get to a guest house, and
then ask the owner for guidance instead - or go into a 'short-
eats' shop, and talk to people there! It works! People are very
willing to help, if YOU ask. Mostly, (not always) people you meet
on the train or in a bus are OK; especially families travelling.
Remember, if you follow a person to a shop, you are going to pay
much more for the goods than if you came on your own - that is
just the way with touts, they get high commissions.
I was very careful with my things this time, and had no accidents
or thefts. So as always, be careful.
The War between Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the Sinhalese
The explanations would be long, so the following is just to give
a feeling what the troubles are about. The following is extracts
from a Reuter article (Feizal Samath):
On July 23, 1983, Tamil militants ambushed and killed 13 soldiers
at Tinneveli on the Jaffna Peninsula. The dead were brought to
the capital for a mass funeral on the following night. It was at
this point that then president Jayewardene decided to use
violence to "teach the Tamils a lesson." Once started, the
attacks ignited a tinder-box. Analysts say working-class Sinhalese
in the capital felt frustration over a government ban on public-
sector strikes and other suppression. The Tamils provided a
outlet for anger against the government as well as for ethnic
tension. 3000 Tamils were killed in the following days. As a
result, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) grew from a
ragtag bunch of ill-trained young men into one of the world's most
fearsome guerrilla armies. More than half a million Tamils went
More than 18,000 people have been killed the past 10 years.
The Tamils make up 18 percent of Sri Lanka's 17 million peo-
ple, and say they are discriminated against by the Sinhalese, who
comprise 75 percent of the population and control the government
Today the LTTE control and run the Jaffna peninsula, areas north
of Trincomalee and the jungle north of Batticaloa. There are no
signs that the war should end soon; no talks are going on.
I think it is a terrible war which has caused too much suffering;
please note while reading that I haven't taken any 'side' in the
Day 1 (1.August 1993) Copenhagen - Moscow
I had paid 700$ to fly with Aeroflot to Colombo from Copenhagen over Moscow. Not much to complain about the flight to Moscow; the food was OK, and the stewardesses actually looked female. Arrived at sunset; it was raining and outside the plane, several soldiers in long trench-coats were watching; just what you would expect.
A loooong waiting time in Moscow airport - after waiting 30 minutes in a wrong line (no signs whatsoever to direct you to the transit area). There is only concrete floor and too few chairs - and everything is grey. The flight to Karachi-Colombo was at 03:00am and at this time I really started to get nervous: Women and children were called to board first... and the guards started to get really rude and started hitting people (who wanted to get on the plane) and pushing people very hard! Next it was the men with relations to the women and children. It took half an hour before I got through... 12 people didn't make it - even though they all had boarding cards! I was told that the problem arose when they first had to put 10 people on the plane who had been bumped 3 days before - and had had to stay at a lousy Moscow hotel meanwhile...
Day 2 - Karachi (Pakistan) - Colombo
Woke up in Karachi - funny to be here again; the last time I was here, it was during the Gulf-war, and when walking in the streets, young people would shout 'Bush-Bush' at you and drive around in lorries with posters of Saddam Hussein - which you could buy everywhere. It seems that they had done something about the airport. Last time we were packed together in (what looked like) an air plane hangar. Now it had become very fancy with marble everywhere and toned windows in all of the 30 departure lounges. We were of course send to the shopping arcade.
Flew over India. Saw a big river which looked like it had overflown its banks several kilometres to each side. Not quite sure which river it was, but wondered if it had anything to do with the floods one had heard so much about in the news lately. We are delayed 1 1/2 hours when we arrive in the Katunayake airport, 30km north of Colombo. I had arranged with my friend Silva (see my travelogue from 1991) that he would meet me in the airport at either 4 or 5pm. He was nowhere to be seen in the arrival lounge (4:30pm). Change a travel cheque but there is no sign of him at 5:15pm so I go to the bus stand (after rejecting a dozen of taxi-people and other touts). After a couple of minutes I discover that I'm waiting at the wrong side of the road - had forgotten they drive in the left side :-) Join a British guy who also had followed the TSK-recommendation to take the bus. We pay 10rs/20c (well, the fare should actually only be 7rs), and get the front seats. The bus enters the Sri Lankan traffic. My friend is horrified, and cannot recall anything like this driving even though he had been in both Jakarta, Bangkok and China! Well, I enjoy the trip very much, the warmth, the sunset, the humming of the crowds, the vendors, the palms and (even) the drivers driving... Well, he'll get used to it sooner or later, I think. When we get to the Central Railway station, the British guy is all worn out, and takes a taxi to a hotel. I buy a 3. class ticket (5.75rs/12c) to Panadura (30km south of Colombo). The train departs immediately, but there are many delays on the way. Some of the stations are all dark because of a power failure, but it doesn't affect the atmosphere at all; the humming, the chanting and drumming of a band in the train, the vendors, the singing of the Indian ocean and the chatter from my fellow passengers.
Arrive in Panadura and I am pulled out by Silva, my friend, who doesn't know if he is to smile, cry or be angry. He tells me how he had rented a van and been to the airport with his two oldest children. Turns out that they had not been inside (because they would have to pay), so they had waited outside, where I had taken another road when I left... Well, bad luck. He has of course found a place for me to stay - at Sonny's! Sonny's family also seems to be glad to see me again. Silva arranges the price to 280rs (5.75$). At first I think it is a bit much; we paid the same amount last time we were here (for 3 persons). Silva tells me I'll get 50rs back per day when he gets his commission (well, I never got that). I pay the Silva family a visit; it is a small cottage close to the sea, and last year we send him some money for a roof to his 'new' house. It is still made of old boards, and they have to sleep at their relatives place during the south- west monsoon. He has just got a new son (one week old), and the 3 other children are at his brother-in-law's place; we go there and I get a fresh mango juice and Silva tells proudly of me to his family as the saviour from last time (where I went to the doctor with him) and I'm very welcome at once. Talk with Sonny's two oldest children about the school. They both have to study very hard to be able to go on studying. I walk along the beach (in the dark) with Silva and look at the crabs and measures the monsoon damages. The monsoon had stopped about 14 days ago, but the traces are still there, and the sea is still a bit rough.
Day 3 - Panadura
What a sleep! Great breakfast (Sonny's home-baked bread) and next I meet with the Silva family for a cup of tea. They are very proud to be able to give me real cow milk in my tea - they have a relative who has a cow. I had asked before I came (in a letter) if it would be possible to go out with a fisher for a day. The best he could come up with was a tour with a katamaran (which later turns out to be a canoe with a log attached). Took a bus to a nearby lake and watched a (working) elephant being scrubbed from top to toe - they did that several hours a day. The told me they had to do this because the elephant had killed it's previous owner a couple of years ago - apparently they don't get so upset when they are clean. Nice trip on the lake. I went with Silva and two others. Saw some nice brown falcon-looking birds (I'm later told that the were probably Brahminy Kites) and several other water birds. Silva told me that last time he had been here, they had had crocodile-beef. The family invited me for lunch, and I then had to make the usual family photographs. It is amazing how happy one can make people just by sending them a photo.
I paid them 140rs (2.90$) for the afternoon trip. Saw a very beautiful 'Blood Sucker Lizard' (lat. Calotes versicolor and 'bodilima' in Sinhala) - it looks like a chameleon - eating a (15cm) millipede (and got a great picture), but the people told me that this 'was a very bad animal - it bites the babies' (which I'm later told is totally incorrect). Back to Panadura; one of the men we visited went with us. I have started to learn Singhalese - it is incredibly difficult! There is nothing to relate the words to, and you have to put the stress on the first syllable. Well, Silva likes to teach me anyway. Take a 1/2 hour walk in the busy town and enjoy it very much. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of consumers. The chime of bells, the best offers in town, a friendly smile from everybody, a car playing 'Santa is coming to town' when reversing, the smell of the spices, the honks of the cars and so on. Later I sit by the beach with Silva and his friend (that is what everybody do in the late afternoon in Sri Lanka) and talk politics, family, Tamils, emigration etc. Silva is an UNP, and the friend too. He has had a house build by the government, and he has, as a sign of trust, put up a 1/2 square meter big picture of Premadasa (the president who got assassinated lately) in his living room. Good spicy dinner at Sonny's, in spite of his insurance: "No! No! Not spicy! Not hot! No!". Well, it is yummy yummy anyway. One of the things I find very annoying is that it is not possible to eat together with a family; one has always to be treated like a king, no matter where one goes! At the lake (in the morning) they took out an armchair on the veranda for me! I think it is a bit embarrassing, but they love to be hospitable.
Day 4 - Panadura, Zoo
At the breakfast table, I'm told that there is a Dane visiting their opposite neighbour. Silver takes me there and he has a good deal for me: A trip to the mountains with 3 nights in a bungalow with this family. I pay 2500rs (51$) and the family pays 5000rs for a van. Think it is a bit expensive (compared to taking local transportation), but would like to go for a few days with Silva (he can get a few days holiday from his work too). It turns out that the Dane is Anders from Viborg. He is retired (and a bit senile) who had married a Singhalese widow two year ago and moved to Denmark. So now they are on a holiday here for a month. I had suggested to Silva (yesterday) to go to the zoo with his family, and the neighbour would like to come too, so Silva had arranged a van (without my knowledge). 250rs/5.15$ for me and the same for the other family. We had some funny conversations with the family - in 4 languages! Silva, the wife and the children were speaking Singhalese to each other; The man, the son and me: Danish; Silva to me: German (he likes that only the person he talks to understands him :-) - so I speak English to him and to the wife.
Before lunch I take a walk along the Bounty beach [details omitted - you know palms, sun etc...] and then to a lovely lunch at Silva's - rice & curry (of course). We are picked up at 1pm and Tjutee (Silva's daughter) and Silva's son are very eager to go. The Zoo (in Dehiwala) is one of the places with differentiated entrance fees. 60rs/1.25$ for white persons, 17rs/35c for (local) adults and 3rs/6c for children. :-( Actually the zoo is quite nice. Not like Singapore, but I'm amazed by the number and variety of animals. Tjutee holds my hand all the way. Normally there is elephant-dancing at 5:15pm, but not today. A big snake was escaped into the zoo (or out of a cage?) and was foolish enough to slip into the Giraffe-cage. When the giraffe found out, it jumped like a foal, and I'm sure the poor snake felt pretty bad after this!
On the way back, I bought the Island (a newspaper). Two bombs had exploded 16km from where I was staying. It was barely mentioned in the news the previous evening. They did not know if it was the Tamils or just a fight between two businessmen... 7 dead and 38 wounded. Well, my mother will probably be worrying. I also heard a car playing 'Jinglebells'. I guess it must be 'in' to have a car which can play Christmas carols in this town. During dinner (at Sonny's) the power fails again, for half an hour. It is pretty cosy with candle lights and the family together. I offered a cup of instant coffee to Sonny and the whole family had to take a sip - they were very grateful.
Day 5 - Panadura - Pinnewala - Kandy - Nuwara Eliya
Up at 3:40am! There is just time for a shower before the breakfast tea. Sonny had been up to make tea for me before I left [his address: When leaving the Panadura railway station, turn right and walk 100m. Turn right and cross the railway, and take the second 'track' on the right and walk 80m. His house is no.8 on the left side (B.A. Munidase, no.8 R.S.Fernando Mawatha)]. Very nice family. Well, the neighbour is not ready so we don't get going until 5:00am. At least the streets are not so crowed at this time, even though many people are already working. The family counts 6 to a start, but we pick up more family members on the way: the wife, the man (Anders), the son and his wife (and her father), the wife's sister (and her son and wife) and a couple of the son's friends. I feel a bit cheated that I shall pay 1/3 of the party. Well, I enjoy the morning trip very much - through the palm scenery in the morning light and while the world is waking up. We pass the new parliament building complex at Sri Jayewardenepura - which is in the middle of a lake, a bit north east of Colombo - build by the Japanese. Onwards to Pinnewala, the Elephant orphanage. It must be the meeting place for all the tourists on the island. The orphanage is set up to save abandoned or orphaned wild elephants and has about 35 young elephants, and when we visited there were a couple of new-borns. One can take some very good pictures of all the elephants bathing in the river. It cost about 60 or 80rs/1.60$ for foreigners.
We hurry on to Kandy, where the others go to the Tooth-temple, but I want to go back to Kandy later (and take my time to see things), so I use the 45 minutes they are in the temple to obtain some money and read the paper. On the (very) scenic drive to Nuwara Eliya they buy a Durian fruit and shares it IN THE VAN! It just smells worse than anything I know. People use to compare the smell with a sewer. I don't even like the taste, but they seem to enjoy it. (Hotels often have a 'No durians in the room' on their regulations). While we drive in the mountains they like to tell about the places (which is great), but I have done my homework by reading many of the stories; it is good to be able to add to their stories. Also my fellow-travellers are not very good at reading maps; they are really surprised when I at one time can tell them that this mountain is not Sigiria at all but Bible rock. The view on the road between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya is splendid! Lots of waterfalls along the way; we stopped and had a good rice and curry at one place.
Nuwara Eliya is a town, situated in an altitude of 1889 meters, next to the highest mountain in the country, Pidurutalagala. It is a very famous tea-country and it used to be the favourite place for the British who build lots of British-style houses here. When we arrive, they are looking for their bungalow, which is supposed to be close to The Grand Hotel. I, of course, could tell them which way to go (from my map in TSK), but first they would not listen to me, but then I started to insist: "We should be going this way!". After we got there, my status was raised quite a bit. I figured out immediately that it was going to be real cold (it was so already and we were in the middle of the clouds), so I go to the town to buy a blanket (I didn't bring my sleeping bag to Sri Lanka this time). Enter 4 places where the starting price (for the same double-blanket) is between 290 and 350rs (6$-7$). No matter how hard I try, I cannot get the price below 280rs (5.75$), so I buy it.
A little later when we all are in the town to buy supplies, I tell Silva that I don't quite find it satisfactory that I shall pay so much for the trip. I eat at the Milano (Spaghetti and meat sauce, 75rs/1.55$) and tell him that I don't like being treated like a common tourist. I have been around the world and have experienced much worse things than Sri Lankan standards. I don't mind sitting (or standing) on an old wooden bench in an old bus and he don't have to protect me from the local people - I came here to meet them. I think he had some trouble understanding this. In the evening the Singhala lessons continues...
Day 6 - Nuwara Eliya - Hakgala gardens - Nuwara Eliya
Glad I had my blanket! The others have all been freezing in the night and had had a very bad sleep. They just never learn. They all have been here before, and they know it is cold... I think Silva will remember the next time he brings tourists here...
The family I'm with just can't get into their head that I didn't come here to eat Danish food! I have to pay 130rs/2.65$ for a chicken to make soup of, in the evening. It is mostly because Anders cannot eat Sri Lankan food. In town, I look at some spices and is told 100g of Chilli-powder or Saffron costs 80rs/1.65$. I think it is a fair price. Silva asks the vendor why I should pay 80rs here, when we could buy the same in Panadura for 15rs/30c. Well, I get the spices for this price here also... From the vendors view, he is allowed to try to get as much money as possible... After lunch we go to the famous Hakgala gardens, a few kilometres east of Nuwara Eliya - and again special price for foreigners. I pay 25rs/50c (student price) - the others pay 5rs/10c. A very nice garden and a lot of pictures to be taken. I had read about the gardens that it used to be a plantation of cinchona - from which is derived the anti-malaria drug quinine. The others didn't know that. Silva tried to find a gardener, and when he did, he could show us an old cinchona tree. When I could show the others a leaf and tell them the story, again I rose in rank. I think Lonely Planet should try harder to sell their book to the Sri Lankans - they have something to learn about their own country. The wife's sister know the plant; she is working with nature medicine.
Next, we went to see the only brewery in Sri Lanka (it is in Nuwara Eliya). Someone shows us around, and except for 10 times more workers as usual, it looks much like a Danish brewery - and Carlsberg also has 1/3 of the brewery, under license. More interesting is that the clouds have lifted and the peak of Pidurutalagala can be seen. I look forward to the climb. The others think that I'm crazy that I can even think of going up there.
Nice chicken soup for dinner. It turns out that there is enough for everybody, but again I see the class divisions. First Anders and I, then the father to the sons wife, and so on and finally, the friends of the son, Silva and the driver gets the rest (chicken skin and the leftovers). Well, this is something I think is not quite fair. I have also had to listen to their complains about the hardworking Tamils. 20% of the people here in the area are Tamil, and they are going to take over the town and join it with the Tamil-state.... according to the wife. On the way one can see the tamil women working hard in the tea-plantations from early morning to dusk. Silva thinks that they may earn 100rs/2$ a day.
Day 7 - Nuwara Eliya - Haputale
Wake up to a clear sky. Mt. Piduru-tala-gala (yes I can even pronounce it now) was waiting for me (I thought). Start my journey very early. I am a bit sulky - the others have changed the plans so we will have to go on today. Cannot find the path (there is an error in the TSK map) and after asking different places, it turns out that I would have to get a permission first. I'm supposed to go to an army camp. After half an hour I find a small army post with a couple of guards. Well, they cannot give me a permission, and I cannot go on. The permission can be obtained from the Army Headquarters. I complain and look like I'm about to give up, but no matter what I do, it does it help. I walk back (more sulky). The others want to see an 'animal farm', but first they agree to take me to the Headquarters. It is quite a bit out of town, and after the guard on duty talks with the people 'inside', he tells us that the permission can only be obtained from Colombo! I start to get rather upset! They say that a bomb exploded at the top (there is an antenna for the whole island there) two years ago, and that should be the reason why only army people can go there. (TSK has not been updated on this point). We go to the police station and tries to get them confirm that I don't carry any bombs, but this is not their area. Well! I have to go with them to the animal farm - very UNinteresting.
Silva, the driver and the 'boy', Nihal, agrees to follow me up to the waterfall (about 200m up from our bungalow). A very nice climb. Enjoy the sun, the mountain air, the smiles. Fantastic view over the area. There is actually a spring here, which supplies water to the waterfall.
After lunch and coffee, we go on to Bandarawela - again a very beautiful trip; driving in the mountains is truly something travellers to Sri Lanka should experience. Bandarawela has turned into a package-tourist place since we were here last time. Between Bandarawela and Haputale, we see thousands of very tall, white trees. It turns out to be barked trees. Forget what is was that they made from the bark.
They drop me off at the Hyacinth Cottage (Mrs. Q. Daniels), and they go on to Panadura. Silva argues to Mrs. Daniels that I'm a poor Danish student - and I get a room for 100rs/2$. Great food and I meet 4 British people (travelling 2 and 2) and a French girl. Two of the British are also mentioned in the TSK credit list - good to exchange experiences and to help the 3 other girls, who are here for the first time. Get some good pieces of advice about Horton Plains and Trincomalee. They have all had a very good trip to the Plains and I'm looking forward to going there tomorrow.
Day 8 - Haputale - Horton Plains - Nuwara Eliya - Haputale
Up early (6:40am) so I can catch the morning train going west. The plan was to take the train to see the famous Horton Plains and take the last train back to Haputale. The train is 30 minutes delayed and is in Ohiya at 9am. This stretch is the highest situated on the mountain-railway-stretch, and it is just splendid! I can truly recommend this train-trip. at Ohiya I want to take the 'shortcut' mentioned in TSK, but cannot find the path. It later turns out that the map is drawn wrong, and one has to actually walk ON the rail tracks for a while. Catches up with a Tamil family carrying potatoes and carrots to an Estate (probably the Ohiya Estate) by the 'usual' way and they know a couple of shortcuts. I take the sack from the smallest boy and carry it some of the way. After an hour the track starts to ascend quite steeply. When I get to the plateau, a very unexpected sight meets me. When one thinks of plains, one would expect grass steps (a la Salisbury plains), but I am met by strange and new kinds of trees, strange vegetation and unknown plants. I hear a leopard roar about 100m away! (very awesome!) and think it could be fun to see it, so I can show a picture to my friends when I get back - on the other hand, I had seen a couple of specimens in the zoo which were quite big, and my pocket-knife will probably not be able to do much about one of them :-) Shortly after I also hear the wheezy grunt of the shaggy bear monkey, but don't see any. Further on, the real grass plains starts. Horton Plains is actually more what I associate with a (very) vigorous savannah. I reach the Far inn after 2 1/2 hours (TSK says 3-4 hours), and have to pay 10$ !! Probably because it recently was made a National Park. Sri Lankans only have to pay 15rs/30c! Well, here is a lot of vans, which have come here from the west, by a road slightly better than the dirt track I travelled (which is only for jeeps). World's End (Lokanthaya) is a very famous sight, and I was afraid to be disappointed. Well, I had no reason to... On the path from the Far Inn (4-5km), I meet a lot of Sri Lankan tourists who all wanted to talk (and have cigarettes from me - fortunately I don't smoke). It takes an hour to walk there and WHAT A SIGHT! No clouds in sight and it just goes straight DOWN for 700m! (like Angels Landing in Zion). One can see very far. 5 minutes later, clouds starts coming up vertically. One minute later I could see why it is called World's End. At the edge, there was just a vertically grey wall going way up, and there was JUST NOTHING THERE! The world just ended... One can get quite philosophical by sitting at the edge staring into the nothingness - if it wasn't for all the Sri Lankans who wanted to have their picture taken with me... I eat my rye bread (brought from Denmark) with (tinned) liverpaté. Great! Not that I had come to Sri Lanka to eat Danish food; just left-overs from the lunch-packet I brought...
Well, I had spend half of my time by now (had had 40 minutes at the World's End), and had to get back to the station. Had worn sandals today (which was a mistake) and even though my legs could walk another 100km, the skin under my left food had been punctured and my right ankle was beginning to get sore. Well, at the entrance (at the Far Inn), the Ranger shows me the path I should take to get to the famous short-cut (about 3/4 km from the Far Inn). It is easy to find, and the path over the plains (south) is quite easy to follow. I even find leopard dropping (recognised by containing animal fur). The story of the next four hours is deleted from this story. I get lost in the woods (the path just ends in a stream, and there is NOWHERE to go, except back) - never take shortcuts. I hump back to the ranger. During the past 12 hours I have walked about 30km, ripped my feet and missed my train. The ranger kindly offers me a room at his station (it only has a mattress) (for 100rs/2$), and first I accept. The Far Inn is full, and it also costs something like 1000rs/20$. Most of the park visitors have already left, but I get (kindly) a lift from a family which stays in Nuwara Eliya. The temperature is only 10 degrees at this time of day, so I figure out that I'll probably freeze to death if I stay here, so I go with them. We arrive in Nuwara Eliya at 7pm, I take a bus to Welimade (8pm), another to Bandarawela (9pm) and a third bus to Haputale (9:40pm). I am really lucky; all the busses depart just as I arrive. Mrs. Daniels was of course quite worried for me, but what a great day!
I love driving busses here. They may be crowed and you risk your life - but they go all the time, and if you know where you are going, you can ask anyone, like: "Which bus, Haputale?", and you are on your way. Driving at night (after 7pm), in the mountains is like driving on the edge of the universe! Earth and sky becomes one in the dusk and the spread out lights from the houses looks like the stars in the heaven. Quite an experience.
Day 9 - Haputale - Kandy
Say goodbye to Mrs. Daniels (with tears in my eyes :-) and I am told that I cannot take the train directly to Kandy because of a landslide after Hatton. It also turns out that there only is one train a day - 8.55. Since I'm late for this, I take a bus to Welimade (at 11am) (9rs/20c) and another to Nuwara Eliya (10rs/20c) - this is the third day in a row that I arrive in Nuwara Eliya. Take a third bus to Kandy (22rs/45c) - 3 hours. Generally, I think as a tourist there is several advantages in the busses. Often I have been offered a seat beside the driver, and if you arrive just before the bus departs, and you get to stand up, you are often offered a seat by the boy who collects money, when the first persons get off. Other tourists have told me that several old people have offered their seats to them. Haven't experienced this though.
I talk to a pensioned bank employee (when I talk to Sri Lankans, half of the time they turns out to be bank people) and we exchange experiences. He recommends the Kandy City Mission, when he sees me looking for a place in TSK. He also tells me the way to go from the Clock-tower. The place is VERY good. It is only mentioned under places to eat in TSK, but should also be under places to stay. Singles are 220rs/4.50$, but I get a triple with a/c, fan, attached bathroom, and balcony for the same price. Very fancy. The prices is usually 200/350/500rs for single/double/triple + 10% All with attached bathroom and fan or a/c.
Day 10 - Kandy
Went to the 9:30 ceremony in the Temple of the Tooth (50rs/1$ - extra if you want to take pictures). In a way it was impressing to see the bell-shaped casket supposed to contain the tooth of Buddha, and hearing the Kandy-drummers drum while the casket was being shown (only 3 times a day). But if you read other books (like H.H.Seedorffs 'Ceylon' adventures), you would know a couple of interesting facts about the tooth. In 1560 the Portuguese discovered the hiding place of the tooth, and brought it to the mainland where they burned the thing. No, says the Buddhist, it was only a copy. Seedorff was present at one of the occasions where the tooth was shown (in honor of some Burmese visitors sometime between 1920 and 1940). The room which has the real silver Kandua is behind bars; locked with three keys. There is 7 Kanduas under each other - with all kinds of jewels - revealing a 2 inch long yellowish piece of bone, barely resembling a human tooth. Quite an experience, he thought. But it is quite nice to walk around in here; many fine details. Next I visit the National Museum (40rs/80c) (if you don't have the Cultural Triangle ticket) behind the temple. Not very impressing, but they had a couple of funny things: Both Ludo and Kalaha from the 17. and 18. century. Two people (working at the museum) offered me tickets to the Kandy Dances (including fire walking and more) in the evening. Well, I'm not sure I would like it anyway (probably a tourist thing), so I said I might come.
When I left, I saw a track/road named 'Cemetery Road', and thought it might be an old Cemetery. Yes, right out of a Stephen King movie. I would not like to be here at dusk. A rusty gate, 1 meter high grass, 300 years old gravestones hidden in the grass and overgrown stone coffins a couple of places. Forgotten, hidden, but charming in a way. Got some very good pictures. Next I went to see the (almost) new Buddha overlooking the city, the Asgiriya Vihara. Impressing in size, but the Buddhist boy (10-12 years old) could not understand that I would not pay 100rs/2$ nor 25rs to get all the way up to the statue. He followed me out and we had a good talk. He spoke english very well. Talked religion and about him being monk for life. Nice kid - rev. Buddadatha. Check the train schedules at the station and buy 10 rambutans (my favourite fruit) (7rs/15c). Take a swim at the Hotel Swiss' swimming pool. Only 35rs/70c. Nice place; the pool is almost 25m including a diving board and reclining chairs for sunbathing. Almost as good at staying at the place, but a bit cheaper, I think.
Day 11 - Kandy
The program of the day was to climb the Hantana mountain, clearly visible to the south/south-west of town. One start next to the prison, passes west around the Bogambara bus stand and turns left just before the hospital. Then just follow the road through tea plantations and other beautiful places for 1 1/2 hour, and when the road start to descend again, take a dirt track further up, and at the peak of this (2-300m up), continue on a small path to the top of Hantana. In the tea plantations I met MANY people and all of them wants your attention - Cigarette, money... It starts to get a bit difficult to keep a big smile on the face, even though most of them just say 'Helo vere you goin'. One asked me that question 100m from the peak! 'Up', I told him. And when I met him again on the descend, he asked again. 'Down' I answered. Close to the top, a couple of things surprised me. Somebody had brought two rails (from a railway) up here and just thrown them 20m before the radio/telecommunication stations! The manager of the station could probably not afford them. After the station, I was all by my self on the top - and WHAT A VIEW! Well, one hopes very much that it doesn't start lightning, but one can really see far from here! Stayed up here for half an hour and enjoyed the view, the solitude and the air. When I was about to take the last picture, I put the camera on a rock, and it blew down (20cm) :-( and the camera broke open at the top.
When I get back to Kandy, I take 12 pictures (using another film) and have it developed for the next day. Fortunately there is nothing wrong with the camera, after I fix it - and it also turns out that the film that was in the camera was all right too, so my Hantana pictures also turned out quite good. But I was quite worried on the way down... On the way down, I almost steps on what looks like a very green grass straw, but it turns out to be a 50cm long, 1/2-1cm wide green adder. Too bad my camera doesn't work. A big watermelon for (late) lunch (10rs/50c) by the lake side. Opposite my balcony I can see a cat on a hot tin roof. Went to a restaurant and had supper. Tomato soup w/beef (turned out to be without tomatoes) 50rs/1$, A full plate with beefsteaks and salad 70rs/1.45$ and a Pepsi 10rs/25c (standard price for soft drinks). Sterling.
Day 12 - Kandy (Mahaweli river trip)
The Mahaweli river (the biggest in Sri Lanka) bends around Kandy, and I went first to a suspension bridge east of Kandy (see the TSK Kandy map). It turned out to be only wide enough for 2 persons to barely pass each other, but had something nice about it. The river is about 80m wide, and I followed it north; passed a dam. Close by I pass a tobacco factory and then I wish I had my camera! A 170cm Water Monitor Lizard (kind of iguana which looked like a Komodo dragon) ('kabaragoya' in Sinhala) crawling through the swamp 3m away from me! I watched it for some time. Suddenly it had a big bird in its mouth (probably brooding), 10 seconds later it was fully swallowed! Wow! That's faster than I can eat a Kentucky Fried Chicken! I was really impressed by this dragon. The local people passing wasn't impressed at all. 2 minutes later I saw (what looked like) several blue ice birds (I'm told it could be Purple Coots). Wow! This is better than the zoo. Many rice paddy fields meets the river and you come upon a couple of water buffaloes here and there with birds (Cattle Egrets) on their backs. The journey continues back to the city through the 'land'. Not so impressing as the river-road. After lunch, I go to the market. On the way I talk to 3 girls (going to a bus). We are of course disturbed by the usual annoying boys, and I would actually have liked to continue the conversation. One of the girls get my address. I give perhaps my address to people 5 times a day, but Sri Lankans don't usually write back; usually they just want the address to show to their friends. But this girl actually wrote to me, and I was very glad she did. Her name is Niluka. Buy 10 rambutans (10rs/20c) (uhm!) and a watermelon (10rs/20c). The vendor also had me taste a mangosteen. Really good (20rs for 3) Small white segments in a purple apple. Nice to sit by the waterfront and eat fruit. Well, one has always to turn down a couple of touts trying to sell grass(!), Kandy Dance tickets or wants to show you a gem shop where you don't have to buy anything! There are thousands of fish in the lake, which fight over the seeds from my watermelon. A man has a pair of scales, and people can try it for 1rs. This was just too silly, so I had to try it. It showed 110. Either it was in pounds or it must have been much out of adjustment. Newspaper, coffee and cake at the Mission. That's life. I get my pictures but unfortunately they cannot make them in 10x15cm - they had never heard of this size. Well, I use the pictures as postcards later... The girls at the Mission are very nice; even though it is a Christian mission, they almost fought over the picture I had taken of them :-) Well, I gave them the negative too.
Around sunset I finally find out (the hard way) why people walk around with the umbrella open in the evening! Well, you could probably figure it out if just listen: thousands of crows. One has to run the gauntlet to avoid their droppings! My first thought was that it was only non-Christians who had to protect themselves from the moon: Psalm 121,5-6: "The Lord will guard you; he is by your side to protect you. The sun will not hurt you during the day, nor the moon during the night." I guess the umbrella was a good idea anyway.
Go to the same restaurant (think it is called the Devon Restaurant) and get a very good steak filet with french fries and chilli sauce - 52rs! (1.10$) Then coffee and cake for 10rs/20c. That is cheap for a visit to a good restaurant! Usually I don't eat meat here in Sri Lanka (more of this later), but the meat was very good here.
I was very surprised when I found out that 4 days at this good hotel had only cost me 1200rs (25$) including 4 breakfasts and 2 dinners.
The Ancient Cities and the East Coast
Day 13 - Kandy - Aluvihare - Dambulla
On the Cultural Triangle pass, you can go and see the Dambulla cave temples, but on the way from Kandy to Dambulla, there is a less famous cave-temple, the Aluvihare rock monastery. The busses going north towards Dambulla leaves from the Goods Shed Bus stand, near the railway station. As usual the people in the bus were very helpful to help me get off at the right place. The rock monastery features both a large reclining Buddha image and especially some very fine frescoes. The most interesting place, is the 'horror chamber'. It features 'horrible' frescoes of people suffering in Hell. I didn't know that there was a Hell in the Buddhist religion, but I later found out that people are sentenced to a time in Hell by an underworld king when they die, and after some time there, they will be born again. The temple usually had many monks working here, but this day they were all in Kandy. I meet a French couple, and we are shown how the monks write on ola leaves. The French couple were on a 3 day 'Ancient Cities van trip' with their own guide/driver. They paid about 7000rs/144$ for the trip, including everything but entrance fees (which runs up very quickly!). Well, I prefer my way of travelling. I asked for a lift to Dambulla. No problem. On the way, the driver stops in one of the (many) spice gardens. We get each our guide, and I also learn something. I never knew that there were two kinds of saffron - the flower version we buy in Europe, and the Asian version, which is a grounded root. Gives the same colour though. Of course they wanted to sell me some spices, but I could see that they charged about 10 times as much for the spices as I had paid at the market in Nuwara Eliya! I told this to my guide, and paid him 20rs/40c for showing me around instead. He understood.
Next we stop because there is a turned over truck blocking the road. It takes 20 minutes before we can get past it. Says good bye to the French in Dambulla. They buy the Cultural Triangle pass from one of their driver's friends. I later find out that the trick is that the guides buy (or get) the half used passes from their tourists, and sell them to 'dealers' near the ancient sites. I think it is strange that nothing is done about it. I mean, we pay 25$ for the pass! The pass can be used for 7 places, and if you are going to more than two of them, you can save money by buying this pass. It gets you into Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy and a (far away) place called Nalanda Gedige.
I find a guest house, the Chamara Tourist Inn (125rs/2.55$), including net and fan, but it is not very clean and a bit musty. I visit the caves for an hour or so. Partly interesting. Depending on what you like. If you like thousands of Buddha statues and wall paintings, you'll like this place. OK, it IS a bit impressive. Better is the view from up here. You can see all the way to the Lion Rock, Sigiria. There is a lot of monkeys up here, so keep watch of your belongings... Walk around in 'town' for a while, and get back to the rocks outside the temple just before sunset. A very good place to watch sunset, indeed!
Day 14 - Dambulla - Sigiria - Polonnaruwa
The owner helps me on a bus - didn't get far with the first bus though, but (as usual) I got onwards to Sigi-REE (as it is pronounced) within 10 minutes. The van got very crowed before getting there, and had to pay 10rs/20c, which was too much. Well, so here I was at the foot of the huge rock, where King Kasyapa ruled from. The rock is something like the Australian Ayers Rock, and there is the ruins of the old palace on the top. There is a long story which goes with the palace, which I'll omit here. First I saw the beautiful Damsels - the fresco paintings, or the 5th-century pin-ups (as TSK calls them). And actually, they are very beautiful (the girls). While I admire the girls, I hear a 'flock' of Danes - package tourists with a Danish guide! I don't give myself up.
On the top, there was a strong wind - a very strong wind. But a fabulous view - but there were SO many tourists here, Germans, Italians, British and Sri Lankans. Enjoyed sitting at King Kasyapa's throne and contemplate the jungle below - just like he did 1500 years ago.
The area was much bigger than I had expected. It must have been quite a palace once! Well, too many tourists, so I had to get away from here - to Polonnaruwa. I had made a nice sign, saying 'Polonnaruwa', and had walked to the car-park. Many people came to inspect my sign. They stood and looked very thoughtful at it. After some time they came to me and asked: 'What do you want?' or 'Where do you go to?' - Well, haven't they seen hitchhikers in the movies? Well, they are just not ready for hitchhikers yet.
Had to walk back to the bus stand, but at least the bus left immediately. Got to the Sigiria-junction, and within minutes I was on a direct bus to Polonnaruwa (passing Habarana). Have hardly left the bus, before I am met by a couple of boys - who wants to hire out a bike to me. Well, that is actually what I want to. The bike is quite good, so we agree on 80rs/1.65$ for the day. I think you can get the price a bit lower, if you keep pressing them. I can keep my backpack in a room in his guest house, with my own padlock. I ask for the name of the guest house. Orchid Inn. What it would cost to stay here a night? 280rs/5.75$. I tell them that my book (TSK) says it costs 200rs/4.10$ here. They hesitates a moment. OK. And it is even including breakfast :-)
Polonnaruwa was the capital of Sri Lanka from 11th to 13th century A.D. The buildings, mainly brick structures, include the Inner City Area, with two Palace Complexes of two different kings.
I start along the route about 1pm and spend about 3 hours there. I get rather impressed quite a few times. A bike is a must! And it is hot, VERY hot! The sun was baking from a cloudless sky - and I enjoyed it. Finally I found the building from the old 50rs note, called the Lankatilaka. Here I met Richard. We had a lot in common: None of us had met other 'lone' travellers, we had arrived about the same time, we were here for a month, travelled by busses, had been to Sigiria in the morning. We went together to see the last few ruins to the north - a few dagobas and some Buddhas (including the famous one which is on the back of the TSK). I promised to look in at his place in the evening. His budget was somewhat higher than mine, so he stayed at a rest house (which is a class higher than guest houses). After a few Fantas, I followed the lake (on my bike) to the southern ruins. Not very interesting, but the nature was very beautiful! The paddy-fields looked very green in the afternoon- sun. Next, I took a swim in the lake. Surprisingly warm. Felt a lot of small itches on my back, like something biting me. Turned out to be hundreds of very tiny fish which wanted to taste me. Again, later, I went to the lake to enjoy the last sun. The sky was coloured in unimaginable shades of blue.
After dinner (a 'normal' rice & curry), Richard and I exchanged experiences. He had been in West Africa for half a year, and I had been to south-east Asia. Had a very good talk.
Day 15 - Polonnaruwa - Trinco(malee)
Took a bus at 7:30am to Habarana (10rs/20c). I left early to catch a train, if any should pass by. No train today, according to a man passing by - Sunday. Habarana is nothing but a junction town - well situated between the east, the north, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiria. Well, a bus left a few minutes later. Didn't get a seat until after half an hour. Paid 20rs/40c, but after 2 minutes another traveller got on. Shabby dressed and had long hair. When he got his ticket, he looked at it for a while and handed it back to the poor ticket-boy: Seven-teen, he said. "It's 17! I travelled this way yesterday." Well, he got it for 17. It turned out to be 14 days since he had come this way. He told me he had been travelling for 5 years and was now in Sri Lanka for 6 month. I wondered where he got his money from. Not very talkative, but told me that he had been to Batticaloa (further down on the east coast). He said that the town was safe, but you could not get out into the surrounding area, so it had been a bit boring. Two trains a week and also busses go to Batticaloa. They had passed 6-8 checkpoints on the way. We passed 4 between Habarana and Trinco. At each checkpoint, all the Tamils had to get out (about half of the passengers). The soldiers were very thorough. After the check, the Tamils walked on 50m while the bus was checked. Then the bus drove on. Same procedure every time. Only once did I have to open my hand-bag. Except this once, I did not experience any notice by the soldiers. Was humming the Shu- bi-dua song: Costa Kalundborg: ... if you want to be all by your self, then go to the Costa Trincomalee (A Danish song). It turned out to be so, later.
When you get into the town, you are met by the (very) blue lagoon! I fell very much in love with the town. It is beautiful, but boy, it is HOT here! (between 1pm till sunset, I drink 4 litres of soft drinks and water!) My watch shows 36-37 degrees (at 9pm it shows 34 degrees, with the fan running on high). One easily forgets that you are in the middle of all the troubles of the country - surrounded by rebel-held areas. You are reminded again and again by the presence of the military which is met on every corner.
The first place has no vacant rooms, only dorms (Votre Maison), so I check out the Chinese Guest house, which turns out to be the best place I get to stay in Sri Lanka. I get a nice room on first floor (3 beds, fan, bathroom, shared balcony to the ocean) and the beach 10m away - beautiful, blue ocean. 150rs/3.10$ (didn't bargain)
People are different here. The people who address you here are either from Colombo or from other outside areas. The local people just smile, and an occasional 'Where are you going?' Get lunch at the next door 'Rainbow Restaurant'. TSK says it is a hotel, but it is not so anymore. Besides the Votre Maison and the Chinese Guest House, there is just one or two other places to stay, unless you go north to Uppuveli and Nilaveli. There used to be hundreds of hotels here. Well, the Rainbow is good and cheap, but it takes some time for them to make the food.
Go for a walk to Fort Frederic (build by the Portuguese), but I have to stop every 10 minutes and drink something! It is just SO hot! I get more tanned these few days in Trinco than in all the other days summed up. The military uses the Fort, so I have to leave my camera outside at a guard post. Walk through the fort to a Hindu-temple at the eastern point. I think about the Hindus (Tamils) who have to walk right through the enemy-camp, to get to one of their temples. Well, there were no people out here when I came. You meet lots of spotted deer on the way, even between the military barracks. There is also many squirrels and monkeys. Walk towards the station to check out the train-table. The train leaves at 9am, a guard post tells me, when I tell him where I am going. Think it is a bit embarrassing to continue after getting this piece of information.
Read the newspaper on my balcony, a walk (all alone) along Trinco beach. When I wake up after a nap (around 6pm), I am much surprised when meeting hundreds of people on the beach. It seems the whole town is down here talking to their friends, and enjoying the Sunday evening (no work!).
Day 16 - Trinco - Pigeon Island - Trinco
HurrahHurrah!/sniffle. Today is my 25 year birthday. Ask the old (very friendly) Chinese if I can go out with one of the boats which lands fish here. Yees! I realise that this is the place where many of the aquarium-fish I see in Denmark are landed! There is a blackboard in the room with names of several hundreds of fish-names. The Chinese have 5 boats, which sail out every morning, one 'driver' and one 'diver'. They sail out, a long way to the north or south, and dive between the coral reefs. They return in the late afternoon, and put the coral fish in bags with water and air, and are transported to an auction in Colombo (by WP - Wet Pets :-), from where they are exported to Claus' Fish Import in Denmark - and other places.
Have breakfast with a young Dutch couple (they are leaving today, and are the only other white people here, during my stay). We exchange travel experiences. Especially about animals we have encountered - he has been here for half a year (working) and seen lots of the big Monitor Lizards (iguanas), and also large snakes - one got into his room through the air-holes. He tells me about a snake which can stretch and crawl up a wall vertically! He also tells me about a trip he and his girlfriend were on from Polonnaruwa. It is close to the big Mahaweli dam (where they filmed scenes to one of the Indiana Jones movies). The military took them close to a big rock (perhaps the Dimbulagala rock? - do any of my 'readers' know of this rock?) where the military knew that the rebels had their headquarters. They could just not do anything about it! The rock was too big to bomb and the jungle to dense to attack through! My friends were quite anxious to get away from there - how should the rebels be able to distinguish them from military persons - in a military jeep? I am offered a trip with one of the boats for 500rs/10$ and can rent diving gear for 100rs/2$. Well, it is my birthday, so I accept. They sail me to Pigeon Island (an island out of Nilaveli), and pick me up after they finish diving, in the afternoon. I get a very good talk during the one hour long trip with Jaan (Afghan descent, muslim) about the war. He has lived here through all the troubles. 5 years ago (?) the rebels attacked the town, and most muslim and Singhalese people had to run away for a few days. When Jaan came back a few days later, all his diving equipment was stolen, and the only way divers can get new equipment on Sri Lanka is by buying it from tourists (which don't come here any more). He also shows me where the 'borders' go between rebel held territory and army held. Nilaveli is the northern frontier - a week before several policemen were killed by rebels here. He say that the rebels used to climb up the Foul Point lighthouse (can be seen south-east of Trinco) and watch army movements in Trinco. He tells me about his life, the diving life (which is not so romantic as my diving friends think). The boats may only use up to 15 h.p. motors (military orders) - only the LTTE (the rebels) have bigger, Jaan jokes :-)
They put me off on the small Pigeon Island - which should be called Crow Island (though there are a few pigeons here). A very nice place to swim between the corals and all the fish. 1 hour of swimming, half an hour on the beach, and back skin diving again. This I do until 3:30. Amazing that one can swim among hundreds of colourful tropical fish! But it is with mixed feelings being here. You can see right into LTTE-country from the island. Being a traveller here in the middle of a war zone... Jaan told me they continued on with the boat much further north, which cost them 1000rs in gas and oxygen. If the territory had been safe, they could just take a van up there, and sail out from the beach.
Back at 4:30. Jaan has brought up a big conch from the sea bottom (25x16cm) - it is just beautiful. I ask if I could buy it from him. I pay him 50rs/1$ for it, and he cleans it for me. Dinner at the Rainbow; Take a three-wheeler to a movie theatre. The first time I take one. I went to see 'Die Hard' staring Bruce Wilus! - Yes, all the hand-written posters had lots of spelling errors and funny details. It was the latest movie around. 17rs/35c in the 'upper-half' part of the theatre - which is rows of wooden chairs with padded seats. The last show is at 6:30pm. Thought the film was good (seen it twice before), but again one come to think that people go in to see a terrorist movie, and 20km away people are killed - both LTTE- people, civilians and policemen. Kind of scary. Only male people go to see a movie like this.
On the way back, I walk trough a dark alley, and a soldier asks me in Singhalese (he could not see I was white at first) where I was going. I was very proud to be able to answer him in Singhalese... Back home I have a good talk with a couple of the divers. They are great people here. They told me that they only were here in Trinco 8 months a year. When the north-east monsoon comes here, they go to Negombo (west-coast) with all their boats. Smart. The wives of the Singhalese divers lives there, so they are separated most of the year. One diver, Manuel, told me that his Singhalese wife and children could not live here; too dangerous - we are Singhalese. The divers are all in great need of diving equipment. A mask would cost more than 1500rs/31$ here, so they are willing to buy all the diving equipment that you could bring here. But I should bring big sized of flippers, they said. (red.: when I returned in 1995, they were not so interested in buying...)
Day 17 - Trinco - Mutur - Kinniya - Trinco
Took the 9am ferry (which is a small passenger boat) to Mutur (south of Trinco). 14rs/30c, 1 hour (not 1 1/2 hours which TSK states). Lovely trip. Passed a few military boats. We also passed a big ship, the Nicoba. All the people in the boat looked after this ship for a long time. The next day I could read in the paper why. It was the second ship load of refugees, returning from Tamil Nadu (southern India). Actually I was hoping to see this. 1100 people returned in this ship-load. The government build houses to the people which return voluntarily, and gives them some money. Mutur is a sleepy fishing village, and since there was a boat back at 2:30pm, I thought I had time to see the mouth of the Mahaweli river (the biggest in Sri Lanka).
Some people wanted to sail me to the place, but there was only 4 km along the beach, so I thought I might as well walk. Not many tourists come here - shortly after I had 25 kids tailing me (just because I took a picture of 4 of them...) Well, they lost interest eventually. I told the last soldier I met, that I was going to the Mahaweli Ganga. Ah Ganga! he replied. Shortly after, I came to a mouth of a river. Not very big though, but I didn't want to swim across with my camera). A friendly fisher helped me across in his canoe. I helped him and his son pulling the boat along the shore for 10 minutes. After that I walked alone along the palm beach for about half an hour. I saw burned down houses close to the beach. Was just about to give up when I finally came to the river mouth. Stood and took some pictures and watched a man in the middle the big river; he had a net with sinkers which he threw out, and pulled in again. Then I saw two soldiers on the other side of the river, waving to me. They tried to get some fishermen to come to shore, to get me transported over to them. Well, I swam over the big river. I had seen a fisher standing in the middle of the river fishing, so I thought the crocodiles weren't around. The soldiers looked quite pale: Where did I come from? (Mutur), what I was doing here? (just seeing the river mouth), and if I knew that I had walked right through LTTE-country? It was a very dangerous area. I was a bit shaken. They fetched their sergeant, who also had to have the whole story. The soldiers were very kind, but I could not go the same way back - no way. They could not understand how I was allowed to walk the way I had. The last soldier I met had probably thought I was only going to the first river (Ganga). There were 100 men in this army camp. They had a fisher sail me to the other shore to get my bag and back again. Then we waited for a passenger boat to come this way. The army men were quite sorry that they could not offer me anything but a coconut.
Half an hour later (after telling my story to 10 different soldiers) a motor boat came. Seemed to be a regular service along the beach. Got a lift to Kinniya (to the north-west). Nice ride (about 45 minutes), where a family shared some of their coconuts with me.
At Kinniya there was a small ferry. It was a small barge which had (on its side) two outboard motors in a cage and a normal chair. Nice construction. The military had told the boat-driver that I should not pay for the trip. Took a bus to Trinco (16km, 8rs/15c) and passed through 3 roadblocks on the way.
Called Colombo to have my tickets re-confirmed. Everything OK. Back home I enjoy half an hour in the ocean. Wish I had an ocean like this outside my door back home... Meet an annoying fellow at the beach who has many friend all over the world, and a very good Danish friend whom he had met a year ago... He shows me his address, and I can hardly keep from laughing very loud! I tell him that this guy is definitely Danish. His name was Peter Røv (Peter Arse) and several naughty words making up an address. Can't help laughing all the way back. I had probably not been the first person to find this man annoying.
Great dinner at the Chinese! A very (VERY!) good fried tuna-fish with fried potatoes and fried egg. Much recommendable.
Day 18 - Trinco - Uppuveli - Trinco
Went and asked a bicycle dealer (Sri Krishna Cycle Stores, 266 Court Rd) if I could rent a bike for the day. 40rs/80c he said. OK, I replied.
Went to Uppuveli. On the way, along the coast, I got kind of sad. Thousands of ruins around (really!); whole villages. Burned down houses for many kilometres. You could still see the names of the big hotels. They could make the area into a National Monument for the terrible war.
I went to see a man I met at the Mission in Kandy. He was Tamil, working at the Government Veterinarian Office. A nice visit. He was glad I had come to see him. Talked about my trip, about his work, and he wanted to know the difference between the Catholics and the Protestants. We could agree that one lost his appetite after seeing a butcher shop. Meat is not very well treated. A guy came in and told that the meat was OK - after boiling it for several hours, then all the worms were dead. I guess he is right. Rode around a bit, and enjoyed 'my' ocean again. I returned the bike, and the owner wanted to give me 20rs back - I had only used the bike for half a day. I didn't want that, he had been very kind to me.
Yeah, another good thing about Trinco: Hardly no mosquitoes! Hooray!
Another great fish for dinner at the Chinese.
Day 19 - Trinco
Today the divers didn't go diving. They are mostly going for a certain 'red shrimp', and the price in Colombo had dropped from 100rs to 75rs. I talked much to a guy (Manuel) who was very sad today. Today, no salary ;-(, he said. They later told me about some of the most expensive fish and plants. The most expensive was 'The Royal Cucumber' which was a kind of anemone. Very beautiful; they got 1000rs/20$/piece. The specimen they had, had been found in a shipwreck. They only found these a couple of times a year. Also a very nice blue fish with (what looked like ) year rings (like a tree), called the Emperor.
Again today I rented a mask and flippers (today only 75rs/1.55$). Saw some very nice luminous blue fish with yellow tails. The divers told me: Only 2rs. Blue Damsel. Well, nice anyway. Later I talked with a Tamil diver. Had a sister in Denmark, and a brother in Switzerland. Told me that Tamils abroad don't spend any of the money they get, but sends everything back to their families in Sri Lanka. He told me that several families here were quite rich because of relatives with refugee status in Europe. Hmm. I didn't think the purpose of giving the Tamils in Denmark money was that they should send everything back... Well, this is just his story; it probably isn't like this for all Tamils abroad. Think about the place I am staying, the Chinese Guest House. Finally I have found a place where I get what I need, without somebody coming all the time: Do you want this? or that? The place is a working place, where I eat next to big cases with fish, and the divers running around. And for once they don't hide when I eat. They have always plenty of boiled water (for free); the old Chinese can keep your valuables in his safe, when you go swimming. All the divers are friendly, a bit reserved, but like to talk with you. 5 stars. Also for the food. I got a nice postcard from the Old Chinese after sending him a picture; yes, you'll love him too.
Go to the theatre and sees 'Blind Date'. Not very good, but OK for 20rs/40c. Again only boys to the show. Ask one of the boys about this. 'Good question'. He thinks that the girls here are a bit too conservative. 'Maybe in Colombo and Kandy, the girls come'.
Day 20 - Trinco - Habarana - Anuradhapura
5 days in the Chinese Guest House, including food: 1200rs/25$. Really good value for my money.
My next destination is Anuradhapura in the north-west. The northern/direct road is still closed (the jungle is too dense, a policeman tells me). Walks to the station (30 minutes), and meet hoards of people waiting for the daily train. It is not a problem though. Most of them are Indians who have been visiting, and they have special carriages. Buy a 2. class ticket to Habarana (you remember, the junction town) - 41rs/85c. The departure is 9:00am. The ride is fairly boring (compared to most other rides in trains in Sri Lanka). The most exciting is the man-high termite hills which also looses my interest after seeing 512 of them. Also I got a picture of a 'watch out for crossing elephants' sign along the track.
From Habarana 'station' to the town, there is about 3 km. Find out that it was a bad place to get off. Very few busses go east. For the first time I had to wait more than 15 minutes: Almost an hour! And I only get to Kekirawa (6rs/12c). It is also a junction-town. Here I have to wait another half an hour before the bus departs to Anuradhapura (10rs/20c) by twisted roads. Arrive at 4:30pm. Get off at the New Bus Station, and have found a couple of places to check out from TSK. Meet a nephew of the owner of the Indra Inn, close by. Had the price down from 150rs to 125rs, but the owner gets rather upset with the nephew, and have to explain to me why he cannot go lower than 150rs/3.10$ - that is what his other guests pay (there aren't any right now). Bad argumentation. An unwritten rule is that the owner can try to get as much as possible from his guests, and there is no problem among the guests (not that I have experienced) of the differentiated prices. Well, it is a nice room, and they can get a bike for me. We agree on 75rs/1.50$ for a day. Taste the famous Curd yoghurt (buffalo) for the first time. With honey, it tastes great.
The owner works in the local government administration; we changes views and experiences with the social system, especially about things with old peoples home.
Day 21 - Anuradhapura
After breakfast, I get on the old bike and goes to the holy Sri Maha Bodhi - the holy Bo tree; the oldest documented tree in the world. Note that you have to pay (much money) to take pictures of the tree. Glad I didn't pay!
Next I visited the sights in the order that TSK mentions them. The museum was not very impressing. I like the so-called Guard stones which are before most entrances to the ruins. Looks like a gravestone with a person pictured, often the Cobra King or a dwarf. The most beautiful ones are the one in Ratnaprasada and those in the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba.
You can get refreshments everywhere in the enormous area with ruins, but the vendors are difficult to haggle with. Had brought 1 1/2 litre of juice which lasted until lunch. Went to town and bought bread and cola (1 litre of soft drink costs 20rs/40c, if you have your own bottle).
This area was one of the places where I almost lost my temper. The people were really annoying, and ALL the children in this city were always yelling 'money, money'! Also one can wonder about the impudence of people: I usually wear my watch with the face on the palm side. But many people spot it anyway. One person showed me a 3cm tube - for medicine. Ivory and silver. Would I like to change with him? My most precious possession (Thermometer, 5 alarms, bought in Singapore, etc.). Casio, 1400rs, I told him. But, the tube he would sell for 3000rs/61$! and watches like mine would only cost about 1000rs/20$ per kilo in Colombo! What a jerk. Many episodes like this today, made me upset (or could it be the heat?).
After lunch, 'I did' the western part. Didn't meet my Asokamale in the Royal Park :-( like the legend says that Prins Salina did. She was not royal so the prince forsook his right to the throne. What I did find was fresh rambutans on the way back (1rs/piece). Great. Finished Jurassic Park with a cup of coffee and my rambutans.
Day 22 - Anuradhapura - Mihintale - Anuradhapura
from the place I lived, I went to a service in an Angelican Church (The Church of Christ the compassionate). Met an American couple outside talking to the reverend. They had worked in the church a couple of years back, and were now visiting. The service was in Singhalese, but it was easy to follow the liturgy from the English pamphlet we had. Felt very much at home and was impressed that a community like this could grow in the capital of Buddhism.
Went to the big Sunday marked opposite the New Bus stand. Mostly vegetables, fruit and household goods. Bought 200g dried chillies for 20rs/40c and 10 bananas for 10rs/20c (normal tourist-price is 1 1/2 - 2rs/piece).
At 2:30, I took a bus to Mihintale (5rs/10c), which is The Cradle of Buddhism. Again I followed the directions of TSK, but waited with the Ambasthale part until later. This place has a well known story connected with it. This place is where Mahinda (son of the great Indian Buddhist-Emperor Ashoka) converted the king of Sri Lanka to Buddhism.
All most up to the big Mahaseya Dagoba, the Buddhist monk wanted 50rs/1$ to let me through! Told the monk that he was selling his soul for money, and walked back to the Refectory and up another way to the big dagoba (see the TSK map) - it is free to go this way. There is a fantastic view in all directions from this place. The area is very flat, only the Mihintale rocks pops up from the land. Found a good rock to the west, and waited 45 minutes for the sunset. Really beautiful with the sunset over Anuradhapura where the big dagobas protrudes above the jungle and city. Hurried down to the 'Anuradhapura Road' (the light is turned off 10 minutes after sunset!) and hail a bus. The bus stand is 200m towards Anuradhapura from the gas station.
Day 23 - Anuradhapura - Panadura
Walked to the railway station, by which I saved 2rs/4c - well, not to save money, but I had plenty of time, and it is a quite nice stroll to the station. 2. class to Colombo (96.5rs/2$). At the Maho junction, Simon from England got on the train. He had worked here for 1 1/2 years as a teacher in Astronomy, and every month he went on a weekend trip. Very interesting to talk with. He knew Arthur C. Clarke personally; he was even credited in his new book - he had calculated the trajectory of a comet around the sun for him. (Red.: I got an e-mail from him a few years later after returning to England - he had found my travelogue on the net...) Talked about how it was to live here. He made 4500rs/93$ a month, which was plenty for him. All his friends had forgotten him, but his parents were coming next month. He also gave me a Wadé (sold in all trains), which is eaten with whole chillies.
In Colombo I had half an hour to change my last Travel Cheques before catching a train to Moratuwa and a bus on to Panadura. Checked in at Sonny's and said hi to Silva at the station, and had a nice glass of tea with his wife and children. Bought toilet paper in town, watched sunset at the beach (like everybody else in town), and told about my travels to Sonny's children. Sonny had been on a 5 day tour with his family too, and seen many of the things I had seen, but they had been in a hurry all the time. They had met Veddhas though (the native of Sri Lanka).
The South coast
Day 24 - Panadura - Colombo - Panadura
Took the train to Kollupitiya (suburb of Colombo), and walked to the Viharamaderi Park; cosy place with working elephants and hundreds of kissing couples. It is kind of embarrassing to walk through certain parts of the park; you feel that you are intruding in peoples private lives (though they are just kissing).
Saw the Museum of Natural History (opposite the park) (25rs/50c), but not very exciting. You can learn a little about malaria-mosquitoes and snakes. The National Museum (right behind) (40rs/80c) had a few interesting things. Two of the gifts to Mrs. Banderenaike (former president) were quite funny. From Iraq she had received a small cannon and from Vietnam: A mini statue of the last 1/3 of an American plane, pulled by an ox and a peasant playing a pan flute on top. Had also a large coin collection, a mask collection, Buddha and Shiva statues etc. Went looking in the big (a/c) centre, Liberty Plaza. Nice place. You can buy the new TSK here for 450rs/9$ (which is 1/3 of the Danish price, and 4$ off the American price). But most of the things in here is either high-priced tourist goods or very expensive imported electronic equipment.
Back in Panadura. Sonny's wife has a Buddhist Bhikku in the family. Him and another monk were visiting. I was really surprised/shocked when I found out that they (and the family) were going to see a quite violent film (Martial Arts) - they can't even kill a mosquito! Sonny's son told me a lot about the lifestyle of the Bhikkus. E.g. they only eat twice a day. At 7am and before 12am! - NEVER after 12am. The small Bhikkus can sometimes be granted a couple of extra biscuits by the superior of the monastery.
Day 25 - Panadura - Galle
After After negotiations with Sonny, he can see that 250rs/5.10$ is a bit high, so the last 2 nights here (before I return to Denmark), I can have for 200rs/4.10$. I leave my backpack here, and borrow a small bag from him. I won't need much more than a couple of T- shirts and a sheet in the south.
Train to Galle (2. class, 41rs/85c). Fairly many westerners (that is Germans), who were going to Bentota, Hikkaduwa and Galle. As soon as you get out in Galle, you are met by hoards of touts! Had a map in TSK, so I tried to walk away quickly from all of them. (It is quite difficult!). In the Fort, one of them caught up with me; said he was the owner of the Lighthouse Inn (which is also in the TSK). I told him that my budget was about 100-150rs for a room. We passed a guest house which was not mentioned in the TSK. Had no rooms. My 'guide' thought all the cheap guest houses were full. Another guide took over. But now I lead the way, and he followed and talked about this and that. His boss was opening a small shop in Kandy and he had a text, only 4 words, which he already had in English, German, French and Swedish. Could I come and translate it to Danish? Of course it is a stupid standard trick, and the TSK has a warning too (see later). But I told him that the text would be the same in Danish as the Swedish text he had. No, no! My boss says it is different in Danish! I feel sorry for him. He followed me to the guest house I had looked for (at Kodikara, 29 Rampart St - no signs outside), but I took the lead. I got a nice room for 125rs/2.50$ (two beds, fan, net). My tout gave up and asked if I would be so kind and come with him and look at some jewellery at his gem store (just as the TSK and I thought was his intention). Told him that I was out of money and wasn't interested. Crestfallen he left the place. During the day 3 other persons tried the same trick!!! The following two talked a long while and helped me with the train schedules etc. before they ended with the standard question: 'if I could help them translate something into my language?' I got rather upset: "I know that trick - Goodbye!", and left quickly. The third one just approached me and asked if I could translate something from English to German (which 90% of the tourists here would be able to). Amazing! Do I look that stupid? Shocking. After a couple of short-eats for Lunch, I saw the Dutch church which had paved the floor with grave stones, several centuries old. Cute. Walked through the marked, towards the harbour and back again along the waterfront. Then a nice pot of tea at the porch.
Next I followed the entrenchment around the fort, to end on the west side at sunset. It was perfect, and what a sunset! It is astonishing that every sunset in Sri Lanka is a big surprise - every time!
Talked a lot with the owner of the guest house. Next year, he is going on pension, and will do a lot to his 'mansion'. He remembered John Noble from the time he did his first research for the TSK. We also discussed how to get to the Sinharaja forest - the (almost) only untouched jungle in Sri Lanka. He also recommended the same restaurant as I was planning to go to, the South Ceylon Restaurant, next to the Bus station. Didn't have crab today (why can't I find a place where they serve crab?), but had a delicious fried fish with garlic sauce - 90rs/1.85$ - and didn't have the usual extra 10% on all dishes.
Day 26 - Galle - Meetiyagoda - Unawatuna - Galle
breakfast with two British guys (who were returning to England today). They had been the same places as we had been on our world-tour, 2 1/2 years ago: Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra and Singapore.
Took the train to Ambalangoda (a couple of stops north of Galle). My plan was to find a small village, Meetiyagoda, 8 km from Ambalangoda. I had read this at home, but had put my X the wrong place, so took a (wrong) bus towards Elpitiya. My own fault. It cost me 3 bus rides, and went through Batapola. In one of the villages, I saw yet a Water Monitor. And this time I had my camera. It crossed the road and walked right into somebody's garden. I don't know what I would say, if I found a 2 meter long dragon in my fishpond (if I had one).
In Meetiyagoda I used my standard trick, which I use when I get into unknown territory, where friends are difficult to find among foes. You hurry into a short-eats shop and have a couple of short-eats and a Fanta. Here there is always somebody you can ask about local things. Here they could also tell me how to find the mines where they dug out the blue moon stones - the only place in Sri Lanka - the purpose of my trip. The moon stone is usually a smooth, milky white stone which has a nice warm glow, I think. Walked towards the mines (1 1/2 km in the Batapola directions) and was met by a young guy on a bike. He worked in the mine, and I got astride his bike. He showed me around, and I found it quite interesting. Mostly because tourists don't often come here; (I read only 2 lines about Meetiyagoda in the Insight Sri Lanka guide) and it was quite primitive digging they did. They dig down 15m, and make tunnels horizontal from the bottom of the 'well'. The gravel (or illama) is half sand and half moon stones (it seemed). Then it is washed in a small pool and sold un-processed to buyers who come here. They also did a little polishing themselves. My guide showed me to the owners place, who 'accidentally' had an exhibition-shop. The owner (a young man with 20 gold chains) looked bored (what gem dealers usually never do). He said tourists hardly ever got here, mostly buyers from Colombo - well they would have to since there is only 2 families here who dig the only two small areas in the country where the stones are found... A warning: It was very good to see the mine, but I should warn people of buying anything here. I have bought several gems, different places in the country, and have had them tested by a friend working in the Gem Corporation. This place is the only place I have been cheated. Not much, but I bought a 4.5ct blue moon stone here, which he weighted to 6ct, and I bought a black star Diopside, which he said was a spinel. If you, the reader, want to know more about gem-business in Sri Lanka or have a tip or two, feel free to ask. I have not written the other gem- related things from my trip in this travelogue. On my way back towards Meetiyagoda, a van stops and the driver asks if I'm going to Galle. Well, I am. He had seen me going to the mine, and thought I was OK. He turned out to reliable too. He was a whole-sale gem dealer. Travelling around. He told me the story about the closing of the mines, I had heard: The two rivalling families have the mines close to each other, and one of the families had dug a tunnel under the others land, which in return had shot a couple of the first families men. A regular war had started, and the police had shut down the mines (both) for 6 months, where they would be put in jail, if they tried to do any digging. Well, that was half a year ago, so now there are moon stones again on the market in Sri Lanka. There is still much hostility between the families.
Was dropped off a bit outside Galle, and took a bus the last stretch (one more tried the translating trick on the bus!). 'Home' at 2pm and change clothes, and thought I would go and see (and 'try') the famous Unawatuna beach. Didn't quite know the way out there (TSK is a bit unclear), so I tried to get a three- wheeler. The first I asked: 'Unawatuna, 50rs - Yes or no?' No. Hmm. That was what the TSK had said. Walked to the bus station and tried another one: 'Unawatuna, 70rs - OK?' It was OK. Wasn't so far away, just follow the Matara/Colombo road a short way. I liked the place, a good place to relax a few days, if that was what one wanted. A palm beach right out of the brochures. Many Europeans, but they didn't look like package-tourists. Relaxed a couple of hours. Not the best weather, but had a nice swim and a cup of coffee. Took a bus to Galle - cost 4.50rs/10c. Sigh! The bus stop is 50m in Matara direction from where the road meets the beach.
Sunset at the fort and dinner at my usual place. Good, cheap vegetable soup (15rs/30c) but a bad 'roast beef' (90rs/1.85$)
Day 27 - Galle - Deniyaya - Mirissa
The plan was to go through the southern mountains, to Deniyaya (close to the Sinharaja rain forest) and onwards to Ratnapura. Got on a bus to Deniyaya 5 minutes after getting to the station (8am) which cost 18rs/35c. The Galle-Akuressa road was only minor interesting, but wow - the following 2 1/2 - 3 hours were really fascinating and after Morawaka it was very idyllic; rain forest, 'river scenery'. A very beautiful trip, but it takes 4 hours. A short trip through the village (after short-eats and Fanta - reconnaissance). There was supposed to be a bus to Ratnapura one hour later. It didn't come. Waited until 3pm and gave up. Took a bus back to Akuressa (10rs/20c). A quick shower had passed, so everything looked very fresh. The bus was packed all the way, but I had travelled between end-stations all the way so I had had a window seat all day - a must. Another bus to Matara (6rs/12c) - at 5pm, but had read that there wasn't anything special to see here, so jumped on a Galle bus (6pm) just as the sun was setting. Got off in Mirissa, a small picturesque beach spot. Closest to the bus station was the Paradise Beach Club - but since TSK was made the room prices had gone up from 100rs/2$ to at least 490rs/10$ - so I went to the other place - the Mirissa Beach Inn. A real shoestring travellers place - had both cottages and rooms. Got a single for 100rs/2$ - and the best rice & curry I have had in Sri Lanka! The sun had set, but the beach was very beautiful in the moonlight.
After dinner: Coffee on the porch, a good book, Sting in the background mixed with the sounds of cicadas and the contour of the palms on a moonlit night sky - that is my Sri Lanka.
Day 28 - Mirissa - Panadura
Barely had time to get a couple of morning pictures of the lovely Mirissa beach - before it started raining. Spoke to another guest who had been to Jaffna (really!). He told me a quite different story about the so called 'LTTE-terrorists' and the Tamils. There are two boats a week going to Jaffna with Red Cross people and people from the administration. In Jaffna the Tigers had made their own administration, and the available food and goods were distributed so everybody got their share. Being a white man one would be greeted as a welcome stranger. In the paper it was told that 15 LTTE boats (out of 50) were sunken in the Jaffna lagoon - it meant that 15 boats with Tamil civilians going to the main land had been sunken... A couple of days previously the LTTE had been condemned for the first time by the UN - that was the headlines of the Newspaper. What was written with very small print was that so had the Sri Lankan government for doing nothing about the situation.
Because of the rain, I hurried on - bus to Weligama (3rs/5c). I should have continued on with bus, but I took the train instead :-( The train broke down before it had even left the station and we had to wait 1 1/2 hours! Unbearable - and of course there were only standing places - on 2.class. Further delayed 45 minutes at another station. What a lousy trip. Standing in a hot train from 10:10am to 3:30pm.
Met Silva at the Panadura station. He was going to work 24 hours (someone was ill). Went to Sonny's place. Sonny's son had promised to show the temples of the town to me (after seeing a cricket match). The first temple was one of the comic-style- temples; pictures of the life of Buddha. I must admit; they are rather pretty. On the way to the next temple, I asked him to try to explain the teaching of Nirvana, but I still can't understand how it can be a good thing to strive towards annihilation. Discussed rebirth, what happens to unbelievers (a Christian like me). Where you are born next time depends 98% about what your last though is, before you die - whether you think about something good you have done or something bad you have done in your life. We also discussed the Buddhist purgatory (between rebirths), the significance of the Bo-tree and other things.
There was a Saturday puja going on at the temple, so we went to the back of the temple, and I was told some of the stories behind the comic-style-pictures while the old women and monks were chanting. Later, I was invited to the house of the Bhikkus, where I was in audience with the Bhikku related to Sonny's wife. He asked me what I thought about Buddhism. After telling my opinion I was asked about which laws a Christian should obey. I spent some time telling them about my faith, Sonny's son translated and they listened very interested. It had started raining, so we borrowed two Bhikku-umbrellas, and walked home.
Day 29 - Panadura - Colombo - Panadura
The head of the temple we went to yesterday died today, so Sonny's son was away all day - he usually studies at the temple. My last full day in Sri Lanka. The plan for today was to see the yearly 'Facets' exhibition (Gems) in the distinguished Colombo Hilton Hotel. There were exhibitors from all the world, about 50 stalls.
Took the train to Colombo and walked to the hotel. Got registered and it turned out to be free for tourists (even though it had said 150rs in the paper). I was quite impressed. I have a friend in the Gem Corporation, and he took me around and told me about the big and small gems, about the best colours for the sapphire, the big and small star sapphires, chrysoberyl and alexandrite Cat's-eyes, Padparadschahs (a very rare reddish to orange-yellow sapphire), gem testing instruments etc., etc. I had several 20.000$ stones in my hand, and he could tell me, "notice this inclusion", "the colour change here" etc. Didn't buy anything here though, the prices always go up on exhibitions (the wise men told me). Back in Panadura I bought spices on the market (good to bring home). A kilo of the good red onions (30rs/60c), 100g of saffron roots 12rs/25c, 200g of whole black pepper (16rs/30c), 200g chilli-powder (32rs/60c) and a few other spices. Talked with the whole Sonny family about the spices. They could not understand that we didn't mix all the ingredients together to one curry. Well, that is just not our way. Again, visited the Silva family and (again) a fantastic sunset! Still wonder how a sky can look like an opal: blue, yellow, orange, green, brown and 10 shades of violet - at the same time! Fantastic.
Day 30 - Panadura - Moscow
Sonny had been all around town to buy String-hoppers for me, but it was the birthday of Mohammed, and therefore a public holiday - which meant no shops open. So I had to be content with Sonny's home-baked bread and buns (which is great!). Thank them for a good time, and promises to send my friends and tourists to his place (see the first part for address). Silva told me that it actually is the only place in Panadura to stay, except for an expensive hotel 8km away. I'm not sure if this is correct, but I didn't see other places though.
Said good bye and see you soon to Athula (Silva) at the station, and enjoyed my last train trip to Colombo. Place my backpack in a locker at the Central Station (7rs/15c) for two hours and try the 'toilet' at platform 1 (disgusting!). Looked around in the 5 cross-streets, which go north-south from the station. Each street is specialised in something. Get my backpack, buy bananas, Fanta and an apple. The airport bus stand is moved a bit: Walk past the CTB-bus-station, turn left up Saunders Place, 50m. On the left side is an airport sign. (1995 note: the stop has moved again). The busses leaves quite frequently. The boy in the bus tried to keep my last 20rs, but I told him it should cost 7rs, but I could only get 10rs back. When you enter the airport, you are back in the western world. No problems here.
A pleasant flight (departure 5pm) to Moscow with stop in Karachi - good food and no fighting this time. I even slept both in the plane and in the Moscow airport (arrived at 3am). Took good care of my things - Anders (whom I met in part 1) had been robbed for all his money while sleeping this very place). It was very cold here! They don't heat this place, I think.
Day 31 - Moscow - Aarhus
Got a 'refreshment' ticket in the airport and it turned out to be for a hard-boiled egg, 1/2 slide of rye-bread, 1/2 slice of French bread and 1/3 glass of cold coffee with milk and sugar! Ugh! I spend the rest of the day going from Copenhagen to Aarhus, and were invited for dinner by a couple of good friends right after getting home.
This is the end of my story. Please mail me if you actually go to Sri Lanka and meet some of the people I have met; I'd love to hear how they are doing. Comments are also very welcome.
Thanks to D.P.Wijesinghe (NY) for telling me the correct names of some of the animals I encountered; Chatura Sendanayake for comments and updates and Jagath Samarabandu for scanning my pictures.
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