Kandy Perehera and David Beckham???

August 23, 2008 at 11:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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15.35pm on Friday 15th August 2008 found me on the Inter city train from Colombo bound for Kandy, accompanied by friend’s food and drink for the 2 1/2 hour journey. We were off to see the Esala Perehera, documented as one of Sri Lanka’s most spectacular festivals and one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia. Its origins date back to the 4th century AD.

The train journey was my first in SL so I was very excited; having been to Kandy on 2 occasions the train journey gave me the opportunity to really see the country side not visible by road. I had managed to purchase seats in the observation carriage for 3 of the party (2 travelled in 2nd class as they had been on a SL train  last month )this is situated at the rear of the train with a huge window so you travel backwards as you take in the views. Intercity refers to just that, not the speed it travels which allowed many photos to be taken without being blurred (very different from my high speed train travel in Japan!) I would recommend it, the views are amazing!

We were met by the guest house owner Malik, (this is a common service offered of the SL’s when booking the accommodation). We had booked a 3 bed roomed apartment 15 min walk from the centre of Kandy for 2,700 rupees each for the 2 nights(£13)the Palm Gardens- www.palmgardenkandy.com

This was a good find and will be used again I am sure; we enjoyed our evening meal at the terrace restaurant as the sunset and the views of the hill country in the morning as we munched our brekky.

We took a stroll in to Kandy where we checked out the preparation s for the evening. We had arranged tickets through Malik for seats to observe the parade at a third of the price of what the touts offered us as we meandered our way through the streets. Being a Poya day no alcohol was sold in Kandy until 2pm the next day. We took a rest at the Queens hotel with ginger beer and cadju nuts (cashew) chatted to the life guard on duty as we envied the swimmers in the pool as the temp reached the 30’s. He turns out to be a scuba diver instructor in Hikkaduaw so details were taken as I really fancy having a go whilst I am here… we’ll see!

Kandy was busy with people arriving from all over the island, some coming for the whole ten days. They were taking their place on the pavements, large groups of friends, 3 or 4 family generation s together enjoying picnics or ice cream whilst arranging their sheets of plastic. Security was tight lots of check points, with the army and police visible in huge numbers; I noted police dogs for the first time.

We made our way back to Palm Gardens to change with time for a quick G& T before being transported back to Kandy for the tickets, it was quite farcical, the van driver was to meet Malik with the tickets but the roads had been closed off so the van driver was asking us which way to go in Sinhalen…we did meet Malik who then sent us off with a name less chap to the entry point but we were up against it, the check points would close at 6 and no entry would be allowed. We did manage to locate our seats following a hurried pace (for SL) plus the 2 very thorough body and bag searches we were seated at 6.15. Kick off was due about 7.30pm but we were prepared for a SL time delay armed with litres of water, and snacks we sat back and waited. I commented on how quiet it was, the last time I had been in a crowd this big was at a music festival in the UK. I had read that the perehera was not about spectator participation, being described as “a carefully orchestrated quasi theatrical event” this one was to be televised for the first time in over 165 countries .Basically the perehera consists of 5 separate processions, the main one is from the Temple of the Tooth with the replica Tooth Relic, which is the centre piece. Each of the other 4 processions made up   from devals around the country, consists of elephants, various dignitaries in Kandyian costume, with dancers and drummers. A canon being fired signals the start of the perehera, so we had our cameras at the ready and were snap happy for the next 3 and a bit hours as we watched elephants adorned with lights file passed with dancers, musicians mainly drummers, torch light bearers burning dried coconut shells, some trumpeters and free form dancers costumes various .The male dancers were of all ages and sizes all seemed to be having a great time. Even the guys who had various back piercings attached to pieces of string being held by a guy as they danced along, oh matron, made me squirm a bit it can tell you! The TV crews were close to where we were seated so we had good views as they stopped to be filmed. The Pattini procession is the only one devoted to a female deity and attracts mainly female dancers. The girls certainly did it in style one group had Marge Simpson  type multi coloured head pieces 3 or 4 foot on their heads fantastic. Yeah it was indeed a sight to see despite the numb bum!

We waited back to let the crowds thin out a bit before we join the thousands making their way through the streets. As we passed the train station looking for a trishaw, thinking of a cool beer that awaited us back a guest house I went over in my left foot on the road side, I hobbled a long thinking it was a bad sprain. Back at the ranch first aid was provided a bag of frozen chips produced and applied to the swelling, pain killers taken and a beer for medicinal purposes accepted.

 The next morning at breakfast Malik insisted I visit the local Ayuvedic doctor. What did I have to lose? With my interested entourage in tow we literally popped next door. No conversation with me was made, no therapeutic relationship embarked upon between Dr and patient, as an elderly gentleman lifted my foot and stared to pummel it quite hard, well with tears in my eyes I with drew my foot and asked him to proceed hemin hemin( slowly slowly)He got the message! I think I did actually settle back in to the chair as he rubbed oil in to my foot, applied some heat, via a ball of cloth from a pot on the stove next to him which was quite comforting, then slapped on some henna coloured paste, followed by what looked like stuffing mixture, Malik informed me was herbs and bark of local plants. An oiled cloth was applied followed by a blue strip of material as a bandage then a white bandage on top 300 rupees madam I was sent on my way. If nothing else it enabled me to get to the front of the queue for the  A/C bus back to Colombo.

I slept surprisingly ok, on removing the bandage as instructed I realised the swelling had increased and I could not weight bear. A quick phone call to VSO at 9 ish and by 11.30 I had been to hospital, seen,  x-rayed, and a plaster cast applied to the fractured 5th metatarsal. The pain/aching is less each day ,it being more awkward than anything, and has slowed me right down! My friends and colleagues have been brilliant and rallied round. As I type from my balcony leg outstretched on a pillowed chair I am smiling to myself, I was aware on leaving Blighty I would have lots of experiences in Sri Lanka, but sustaining an injury similar to Mr Beckham was certainly not one of them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forget the rupees…keep an eye on the pounds!

August 7, 2008 at 11:59 am | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel | 1 Comment
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Last week found me experiencing  5 star treatment in two ways;  first VSO held its annual Conference entitled “Safe & Sound” at the Mahaweli Reach (see www.mahaweli.com ) in Kandy. From the title you gather that the focus was on the new security policy and continued development /networking/communication between the programme office staff and vols. Being part of the planning team and self named“Flow Manager” (time keeper ,generally  “chivving”  things along ) over the two days, I am pleased to say, it was indeed an informative and interactive event which was a great success, with work to follow up on as well…

There is of course a price for success, mine being the expansion of the waist line I fear! For the buffet style food (three times a day) was delicious despite daily attempts to resist the sweet table (in the absence of a cheese board), when attempting to walk past a fellow vol would whisper in my ear “go on we are volunteers working in a developing country …you never know when you will get tiramisu again … how could I resist. It was lovely to have a choice of western foods baked beans, cauliflower cheese, chips and the amazing salads ummm! Oh yeah and one or 3 beers in the evenings!

Secondly on return I thought ,double the sit ups, and  I’ll feel ok in a couple of days( I did use the gym on 1 out 3 mornings!) I was however greeted by my landlady Mrs S who invited me to join her on a visit to her family home in Kosagama (45min by car east of Himbutana) for a Dana celebration . A quick trip to collect my washing, a shower  and 2 hours later I was back on the road (having spent 4hrs already on my return from Kandy)

Well it was absolutely wonderful ,they own ( the family) lots of land on which they have a rubber plantation, this was the family inheritance shared between Mrs S, her 2 sisters and 2 brothers, 3 of which live less the 2 minutes walk from each other. They were incredibly welcoming and kind I was shown the most generous Sri Lankan hospitality, the majority of which focused on EATING!!!

I am pleased to report  that after meeting  some of the family, partaking of tea and SL cookies with bananas in two houses ( just like visiting my grandmas in the west of Ireland years ago every house you visited you were fed)a walk up the hill to the rubber tree nursery was suggested. Well the questions started and major concerns voiced…

 “You tired no?” … no, a walk would be lovely

“You can walk no?”… Yes it has been known

 “What about leeches? “… What about them?

 “It is steep no? “… Steep? – You heard of Kilimanjaro?

Furtive looks were swapped between the adults as I was being encouraged outside by 9 year old identical twins girls A pair of wellingtons found (6 sizes to big) I was allowed to go up the hill. Our guide was a family cousin, a man of 65 plus years with the thinnest legs I’ve ever seen he carried a huge scythe (the leeches must be big un’s I thought) and was bare footed. The twins wore flip flops as they chased after their cousins 2 boys’ age 12 and 9. Mrs S, declined stating she was too fat “I never climb” Mr S donned an old Stetson type hat, accompanied by his sister in law in a straw bonnet we looked a motley crew! (No photos sorry I’d un packed me camera and not re packed it)

It was noticeably cooler as we made our way through the plantation, the “hill” was more of a gentle incline nothing too strenuous very pleasant the views were wonderful. The cousin chatted away in SL with the sister (principle of the local school) translating for me. I was informed there had been some heavy rains recently which were making it difficult to collect the sap. It is a profitable business, the majority of the rubber stays in SL for tyre manufacture with some exported.

As we approached the ridge the kids were busy pointing out the small herd of goats that belonged to the people who had acquired some of the government land to try to make a living. Their accommodation was making shift and basic with one family living and sleeping in the same space. They came out to look at the “walking party” and offered us water from the stream, much appreciated. At the top we stood to admire the view, miles of forest stretched around me, a mix of pines and palms. I was informed on a clear day the infamous Adams Peak could be seen from here, – now that would be a climb and it’s on my list of “to do’s in SL”. The kids and I were keen to continue but the olds decided I’d be better coming back to do more another day. We had walked for about an hour; they were concerned about the light, so we wandered back the same path. The footwear had served its purpose, I reassured the welcome party, who were informed I would partake in a coconut drink. Mr S proudly told them I had drunk Tempali (king coconut) from his garden, therefore I was offered green coconut, it was refreshing and not as bitter as the king coconut. When finished drinking, the coconut was split open and I ate the white flesh within, delicious !

The women fussed over me arranging which bathroom I would use, as they all had different facilities, all indoors, they wanted me to use the most modern of the 3, as I have adapted to SL ways any of the 3 were fine by me, but being a guest I accepted their offer and went and had my “body wash” as they called it.

The hospitality continued by being invited to join the chaps for a beer while and of course sample the snacks on offer, some sambol and a root veg similar to a potato with a nutty taste…(again ever thankful to the inventor of the loose fitting draw sting trousers.) I did my best to speak in singalish (or singasarah) acknowledging the fact I was in the company of a fairly senior member of the SL police force, a tour guide (he’d also worked in Paris in the film industry) a senior engineer trying to obtain work in the Emirates, Mr S, and the thin legged cousin, who proceeded to sing to me! I then was asked to go inside to eat, nice I thought eat with the women and kids …wrong I was sat at the head of a laden table, there must have been 14 dishes of various curries and sambols and ONE plate, I was to eat alone watched by the women some of the kids and the men when passing thro to the fridge. It is a tradition in rural areas, to watch your guest eat, I found it a little un nerving but hey never been known to refuse I got stuck in…well you have to don’t you, it would have been rude not to…the trick is to take a little of everything, as if you don’t go for seconds you can offend, luckily I recalled this from my training. This was indeed 5 star home cooking, this was some of the food prepared for the priests (monks ) who would attend the house the next day to pray for the parents as it was the anniversary of their deaths the Dana, which is also an alms giving ceremony.

The priests arrived before mid day, they said prayers all the family, friends and villagers sit on the floor and join in, the senior priest speaks wise words, and he kindly acknowledged and prayed for me apparently! The food was brought in and presented to the 4 priests who then get out the bowls from their bags, are served, we all left the room, then they were presented with new fans and robes by the family. That was it; they were away by ¼ to 1.  Not a bad day’s work in my book!

Then guess what, yep it was time for us to eat, (it less than 5 hours since I had eaten breakfast, and 2 hours since pre ceremony snacks!)Oh well when in Rome…

Like I say it was a 5 star couple of days from the hotel to the countryside… I know I gained a few pounds, but  also I gained an awareness of rural SL family life and traditions therein.  I have been invited back,  and am looking forward to that… now where did I leave that skipping rope!

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