Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sri Lanka–Colombo to the Hill Country

Next morning we met Leslie, our driver for the trip to the tea plantation in the hill country. I immediately realized that his temperament was opposite to the talkative Joe. Calm and quiet, Leslie would usually wait until asked before offering up information. This turned out to be his gift, because he never commented on the traffic unless we commented first, and he handled every situation with equanimity, passing on blind curves, braking for oncoming traffic, and passing within a few centimeters of motorized vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and dogs.


The road from Colombo to Kandy, the cultural heart of the country, climbs into the hills and through a series of towns, each of which has roadside vendors selling the local specialty of fruits, nuts, or crafts. We stopped for freshly sliced pineapples, spicy roasted cashews, and, on a whim, clay wind chimes.


Mark picked out one of the biggest pieces. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, because if we hang it outdoors in Nevada, it will be blown to bits when the next wind comes roaring down the mountain. I guess we’ll have to hang it inside the house.


We stopped for a rice curry lunch at a local restaurant in one of the towns. “Local food” is a useful term I picked up from my friend Cindy Davis in the UAE. Not touristy, and not necessarily locally grown, local food is what locals eat every day. In the Middle East, it’s biryani for lunch and at night, a shawarma or two.

Sri-Lanka--292_thumbSri Lankan local restaurants serve lunch buffet-style, and the one we stopped at was using the traditional clay cooking pots. It’s hard to say exactly what we were eating, but it started with a pile of plain rice, upon which we ladled hunks of meat and vegetables in spicy gravy. Greens sautéed in garlic and oil are a common side dish with which I fell in love.

After eating our fill, we were served a platter of fresh fruit – banana, pineapple, and papaya with slivers of lime to squeeze over it. “If I had known this was coming,” Mark said, “I wouldn’t have eaten so much!”

About 40 km before we reached Kandy, Leslie asked us if we wanted to see the elephants. I know, we love elephants and everyone goes to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. But we really just wanted to see the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and then get to the tea country. And the orphanage has been reported lately as mistreating or neglecting the animals. So elephants were off the table, and that admission is now out of the way. If you want to know about the elephants, click the link.


We did stop at Regent Spice and Herb Garden, which was more of an experience than I expected. After a tour of the garden during which we learned the rareness, value, and uses of each herb and spice, we were introduced to two students of Ayurveda who gave us a head, neck, shoulder, and arm massage.

Sri-Lanka--315_thumbI wish I had a picture of Mark, who is very ticklish never agrees to anything like this, having sandalwood oil rubbed into his scalp, face, ears, arms and hands, but I didn’t want to get oil on my camera and I couldn't bear to disrupt the soothing process, so we had to leave that image behind at the spice garden. We did take away several products including jasmine oil, a sandalwood cream, a depilatory, and cocoa. I am still kicking myself for not buying the sandalwood oil.

Sri Lanka - Road to Kandy
Sri Lanka - Road to Kandy


At the Temple of the Tooth, which is Sri Lanka’s most famous Buddhist site, we allowed ourselves to be immediately herded into a tour that was just getting underway. The temple houses what is believed to be a fragment of Buddha’s tooth.


Our guide was very knowledgeable, directing us around and telling us when to take pictures. But when he asked us for money at the end, and made Mark double his offer of payment, we became suspicious that he wasn’t an official tour guide. It had all happened too fast, but it didn’t matter, except that I later realized that we had paid him, for an hour’s tour, four times what a tea worker makes in a whole day, and there were four other paying people in our group.


And his name was … Mohammed. Which seemed a bit ironic, that we came all the way from the UAE to take a tour of a Buddhist temple with a Muslim guide. To be fair, Muslims make up a very small, but also very visible, portion of the population in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka - Kandy, Temple of the Tooth
Sri Lanka - Kandy, Temple of the Tooth


Leaving the chaos of Kandy, which is Sri Lanka’s second-largest city after Colombo, we continued northeast to Madulkelle (pronounced model-kelly) in the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country.


Leslie had never been there, so he stopped in a couple of towns to ask if we were going the right way. We finally began to see Madulkelle signs, which were a great help.

The road went up, up, up, winding and winding, finally turning into a narrow one-lane dirt road, barely more than a trail, still with big trucks in our faces at several turns, forcing us to put over to the edge of the road, where it was a long way down if we slipped. All the way, we were passing through tiny villages that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.


But this wasn’t nowhere. This was Sri Lanka’s tea country which is, we came to realize, a very organized place. Finally, about an hour and a half after leaving Kandy, we arrived at the Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge. It was like stepping off of Earth and onto a sublimely green, perfectly manicured, and divinely peaceful little planet. One which deserves its own story. Which is coming soon.

1 comment:

monika singh said...

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