Sunday, 20 August 2017

Farewell to Ceylon

As I mentioned, Edward spent just over a day in Kandy and it seems that most modern tourists do it in similar speedy fashion. We spent six days there and when I told the taxi driver delivering us from Kandy station to our hotel that, he almost ran off the road in surprise. Likewise, the factotum (cook, waiter, cleaner and concierge) at the Amanda Hills Hotel touched his heart at our last breakfast and said that after six days, he would feel our departure there. I told him we would feel it there too, having had a very relaxing break.  He also insisted on making us a complimentary lunch of ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches, bananas and bottled water, to take on the train back to Colombo.

For his return, Edward rose at five o'clock in the morning...and rapidly descended the hills towards Colombo arriving about 4pm. They rested at the Royal Hotel for three hours before embarking on the coach for Galle at 7pm. The road was now wet and muddy and the horses provided appeared to have already done their work during the afternoon. Thus the trip to Galle which was expected to be reached by daylight, took until almost mid-day. Not only the horses worked hard because the coach had human runners whose job it was to run alongside the horse's heads, pulling and urging them along through difficult patches. Edward noted that one of our runners came all the way without being changed...only occasionally obtaining a little rest by standing on the carriage step. The distance is seventy-three miles. !!!

Edward then had another day in Galle before leaving. He enjoyed his time in Ceylon saying that had arrangements permitted I would gladly have remained a fortnight longer in this delightful island... for never in my life have I spent a week more agreeably than the last. He does mention though that others were less keen on the heat and humidity. Despite his disparaging remarks about the Singalese contempt for labour, he also mentions that several fellow passengers engaged as servants young Cingalese lads...good looking, merry little fellows who appear very obedient and docile and confesses that I would have taken one or two had I been going to, instead of leaving, Australia. Easily done apparently in Edward's time but today's BorderForce might take a dim view of bringing Sri Lankans back now.

The train from Kandy down to the coast once again meandered through scenic mountains on its way. Like the roads, the train traveled slowly in the mountains, averaging only 25-30km/hour. Once on the flat it picked up speed to around 60km/hour and once again it was very crowded. Old hands now, we had arrived at the station an hour before departure so were able to enter the waiting train and find seats, but only just.

Our host at the Galle Star Hotel, had mentioned that he also had a hotel, the Sun Up, at Katunyaka, less than a kilometre from the airport. As we had to be at the airport at 8.30am the following day we had decided to book in there for our last night, rather than stay in Colombo and take an expensive taxi through morning rush hour traffic.

So arriving at Colombo Fort Station we immediately took another train to Katunyaka Station and found the Sun Up Hotel, just a short distance away. It certainly was close to the airport. Trish and I walked the kilometre there to check out the lie of the land, before having dinner at a nearby restaurant. However, I'm glad we only had one night because it was not salubrious. In fact it was just a concrete blockhouse of about five windowless rooms. I commented to Trish that our, at least air conditioned and relatively clean, room and ensuite, was probably what prison would be like, albeit having a cell mate of the opposite sex.

We embarked on our plane the next morning without incident and about 14 hours later were safely home in Perth.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Rocking up to Sigiriya

One place in Sri Lanka that Edward didn't get to,but that I had always wanted to visit is the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. My father visited there on his way through Ceylon in the late 1950's and a black and white photo on his office wall throughout my childhood, always looked to me to be a mysterious and impressive place. As such it had gone on my subconscious bucket list.

Being only 90kms on from Kandy I figured a day visit was a must. After making enquiries about getting there it seemed that our hosts at the Amanda Hills Hotel offered the best price for a day trip (6000 rupees) so we set off at about 7.30am with Dularg, the 25 year old son of the hotel manager, at the helm of his father's air conditioned car. It was a good choice because Dularg must be the safest and most courteous driver in all Sri Lanka. Unlike every other driver (tuk tuks, buses and taxis) we experienced, Dularg kept to sensible speeds, never attempted a blind overtake and frequently let others into the traffic stream. Those other driver's might unkindly suggest that this was why it took over 3 hours on often relatively quiet country roads for us to travel the 90kms but I doubt if their frenetic haste makes much difference.

Sigiriya was built about 1500 years ago when Sri Lanka was a very technologically advanced culture. While the post Roman Europeans were scratching out a living in sod huts, the Sri Lankans were building impressive stone cities, mastering the arts of hydrology and irrigation and generally performing engineering miracles. Sigiriya is an unusual rock formation on which a massive fortress was built, surrounded by an impressive, moated city on the flat. What remains is still impressive in its engineering and use of natural features to become part of their built environment.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress. 
It's only drawback is that it is in a hot, inland part of Sri Lanka and that full enjoyment of it requires a significant climb up hundreds of steps, past some impressive painted frescoes, to view the ruins at the summit. Unfortunately too it is inhabited by wasp colonies that when they swarm, require evacuation of the summit, apparently not so much because they sting but because they can create panic in the crowds. We got half way up, past the frescoes, when the crowds ahead of us on the steps started to retreat with cries of "wasps, wasps, go back".  Given the heat and the climb, Trish claimed that this was the serendipitous event that one always expects of Sri Lanka, in that it allowed to terminate our ascent with honour and I had to agree. The site has a comprehensive air conditioned museum that shows you what you might have seen on the summit and in the circumstances it was a much easier way to view it. Additionally, the site is so extensive that to really appreciate all of it would probably take several days, if not more.
Part of the climb to Sigiriya summit. No place for a wasp inspired panic.
We spent several hours there before returning to Dularg waiting in the car. On the return trip we also visited the Dambulla Rock Temple, an impressive set of reclining Buddhas built into a series of temples formed from rock overhangs on a big granite outcrop. This again included a healthy climb up countless steps. Sri Lankans are very keen on steps!

In his journal Edward discusses in some depth the unhappy disturbances of 1848...for which Lord Torrington and his government will not be soon forgotten, or forgiven. Better known as the Matale Rebellion, this was an uprising by the Singalese against the British. Edward describes the Singalese as being a proud people adverse to working for others or any laborious occupation, or in any way distressing himself with toil. Unsurprisingly, the locals showed little inclination to labour on the British coffee plantations, preferring instead to just work their own agricultural plots. The British therefore decided to import large numbers of Tamil indentured labourers from India, who Edward describes as Malabars. This led to discontent amongst the locals and in 1848 an uprising took place with the rebels initially congregating at the Dambulla Temple before marching on Kandy. The rebels were swiftly and brutally defeated but in all this lay the roots of the vicious, 30 year, civil war that tore Sri Lanka apart in recent times.

Edward acknowledges that the rebellion included much unnecessary bloodshed and that Malabar and Malay troops under British command when once loosed, they could not be restrained. Interestingly given the name Tamil Tigers, adopted by the recent rebels,  he describes them as tigers in human shape, committing atrocities on unresisting and generally unarmed victims. Edward also comments on the fact that local troops didn't include within its ranks a single native of the Cingalese race. Again it is unsurprising that the locals were not keen to serve the British in occupying their own country.

On our return drive from Dambulla, we hit Kandy just in time for evening rush hour gridlock so it took over 4 hours, arriving back at the hotel just after 7pm.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More Kandy

Edward describes the Temple of the Tooth as a fine old Buddhist temple where in the inner sanctum...are kept some valuable jewels and a real tooth of the Buddha; but as the functionary who keeps the key was absent, though we went twice we could not gain admittance. Today the Temple is a huge tourist attraction for locals and foreigners alike, being one of Buddhism's most significant sites. We visited in the afternoon, initially planning to stay for the early evening ceremony that takes place daily. However, when it became apparent that that occurs in a hot, airless internal area that was going to be incredibly crowded, we decided to leave that to those to whom it would have more significance than us.
Temple of the Tooth.
Edward also visited a coffee plantation and took a keen interest in the cultivation process and the economics of the industry. He describes it as one of the most desirable investments to be met with. Certain it is, that the coffee planters boast of very great success during the last few years, and seem to be all prosperous, and in easy circumstances. As a man with an eye to the main chance I suspect Edward may have been mulling over the possibility of making an investment himself. Fortunately he didn't because about a decade later, Sri Lankan coffee was hit with a rust that wiped out most of the plantations.
The view from Amanda Hills Hotel. The golden roof just to the left of centre and in front of the tree line is the Temple of the Tooth.
We visited the local Tea Museum which provides a very good overview of how one coffee planter, James Taylor then turned to tea planting, which with the marketing of Thomas Lipton, then became the mainstay of the Sri Lankan economy. They also provided a very nice pot of tea as part of the tour.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A Taste of Kandy

Although only in Kandy for just over  a day, Edward managed to visit most of what are still the current tourist attractions; the Temple of the Tooth and old Royal Court, the Perhadinia public gardens (now known as the Royal Botanical Gardens), the Kandy Lake, a coffee plantation and Captain Dawson's tower.
A painting of Kandy showing the lake, the Temple of the Tooth in the foreground and what maybe Stainton's in the distance.
Edward describes Kandy as beautifully situated in the midst of an amphitheatre of fine hills beside a small valley, artificially dammed across to form the famous Kandean lake. He also said the air felt lighter...and the appearance of the vegetation generally was less rampant and tropical. With that eye for the ladies that Edward often displays in his journal, he also suggested that the women of Kandy are very good looking, and have lighter complexions than those of the low country he goes on to say the men are slight, sinewy, and tall, and appear even more proud than their lowland brethren.
 Captain Dawson's Tower.
We took a tuk tuk to Captain Dawson's tower, a memorial to the man who supervised the building of the direct road from Colombo to Kandy in the 1820's. He died in the process, possibly of snakebite but possibly just tropical exhaustion, and in 1829 a stark, massive, concrete tower was erected to his memory at Kadugannawa Pass, the highest point in the road. Apart from parts of Galle Fort, this tower is probably the sight least changed from Edward's time to now. There is a staircase up the inside and presumably magnificent views from the top. Some locals standing nearby offered to fetch the caretaker with the key to the locked entry gate but it looked dingy, claustrophobic, steep and not often used so we declined the offer.
Kandy Lake looking out to the prison island where the King apparently kept recalcitrant wives. Hmmmm!
Our hotel was on the hill behind.
We then spent several delightful hours in the Royal Botanical Gardens which Edward described as worth a visit. I endorse that view. They are expansive attractive gardens, laid out in Victorian times and well used by locals and tourists alike. It should be noted that Sri Lanka has hit on a revenue measure that I haven't encountered anywhere else. All tourist attractions have a price for locals and a different price for "foreigners" which is usually between 4 & 10 times as much. This does allow locals to enjoy these places because the "foreigner" price is always far above what a local could afford, at the same time providing revenue that is hopefully used in preserving the place in question.
Talipot palms. The largest of all palm trees.
On his return trip from Kandy to Colombo, Edward mentions seeing one of the rare and magnificent talipot palms, in full flower. The tree is said to blossom only once in a hundred years, and so fine a specimen as that which we saw is regarded even here as a wonder. His companion had tried to buy a piece of the flower but his offer was declined on the basis that the first flower was offered to the gods. I had no idea what a talipot palm was but took the opportunity to ask at the Botanic Gardens if they had any and they did. They weren't in flower so I didn't offer to buy a bloom but I suspect such an offer would still be declined plus Australian quarantine would probably take a dim view of such a souvenir!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Back on Edward's Track

After five days we took the train from Nuwara Eliya down to Kandy, thus rejoining Edward's track, in Kandy. It took Edward a full day to travel the 100 or so kilometres from Colombo to Kandy and again this travel time has not reduced as much as might be expected. Thanks to roads full of tuk tuks, cars, buses and trucks, travel time can often be reduced to 20km/hr or less, and 30km/hr is considered a reasonable average. Even our train from Kandy to Colombo took four hours.
Stainton/Staunton's Hotel as it may have looked in Edward's time.
Edward stayed at what he called Staunton's Hotel in Kandy. This presumably was Stainton's Hotel which was originally a Governor's mansion and barracks, then a hotel, that in 1869 became what is now Kandy's best known Victorian hotel, the Queen's Hotel. (The Queen's appears to have been rebuilt a number of times so the current interior and exterior probably bear little resemblance to what was there in Edward's time.)  I hadn't been able to locate Staunton's prior to coming to Sri Lanka, otherwise I would have booked in there and instead we stayed at Amanda Hills Hotel, a pleasant tourist hotel overlooking Kandy lake and the town.
The Queen's Hotel today.
We did, however, decide on our first night in Kandy to have a drink and dinner at the Queen's. However, while there, Trish proved herself to be a true, delicate English lady by having a fit of the vapours. We had not long embarked on what I hoped to be a prolonged and pleasant buffet dinner when Trish looked across the table at me and said in slightly strangled tones "I need some fresh air. Can you help me outside." One look told me she was serious so I came round and took her arm to escort her out of one of the french doors that led to a cloister like outside footpath that ran down the side of the dining room. I was about to help her to sit on the low wall of the cloister when she passed out. Luckily the maitre d', a waiter and a security officer had all noticed that madam was having problems and had rushed over to join us and the maitre d' sent the waiter off for a chair and a glass of water. He also offered to send for a doctor but Trish who by then had come to, said she'd be ok before slumping down in the chair in a second faint. After some water and a little while sitting in the fresh air she professed herself ready to return to dinner but once back inside, it was clear that she wasn't going to cope. The dining room while being sumptuous and reasonably well served with fans, wasn't air conditioned and was was pretty stifling, so after a cup of tea and a little desert, we paid, summoned up a tuk tuk and headed for home.
Queen's Hotel dining room. We were seated in the central row with no fan. The French Doors out are to the left.
Prior to dinner, Trish had had a double shot Tom Collins on an empty stomach and while I suggested that could have been part of the problem, she maintained it was solely her delicate constitution, and the hot, airless nature of the dining room. (I suspect others observing our little drama unfold probably thought it was just another tourist enjoying a little too much local hospitality as well.)  Whatever, the cause it was a little alarming during the event but luckily she was fine once back in our air conditioned room. Pity too because I was looking forward to being on much better terms with that buffet.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

As High As You Can Get

From Ella, we took the train up to Nuwara Eliya, at just under 2000m above sea level a mountain retreat for British colonials seeking relief from the heat. With daytime temperatures of around 20C, it falls to mid teens at night and blankets are provided on the beds.

We stayed at Trout Cabins, a cosy complex of 3 bedrooms opening onto a central lounge. Although the cheapest place we stayed, at just under $20 per night, it was also possibly the nicest. It had a rustic, hippy feel that reminded me of some of the accommodation places in our local south coast forests. It was also enhanced by Danu the young man in charge of looking after guests. He was a sweet, shy, helpful boy who always did his best to provide good advice and make your visit pleasurable. He lit the fire in the lounge at night, found us an electric kettle to make cups of tea and generally provide delightful service.
Trout Cabins 
At Nuwara Eliya we again took advantage of the cool to go walking. We walked through Victoria Park (an English style park) in the centre of town, around Lake Gregory, up to Lover's Leap waterfall above the Pedro Tea Factory, and we caught a bus up to Shanthipura, the highest village in Sri Lanka. The bus up the steep, winding road took about 40 minutes to cover the 5kms and it didn't take much longer to walk back down.
The road down from Shanthipura.
As the lounge had plates and cups etc we also took to buying local fruit at the markets and having that for breakfast. At some of the other places we stayed, the provided breakfast included fresh fruits but in keeping with the Sri Lankan policy of preparing food well ahead of consumption, they usually had the appearance of having been cut up the night before, whereas we cut ours just as we were about to eat them and they were correspondingly more appetising.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Into the Mountains

In Ella we stayed at the Grand Peak Hotel, a smallish family hotel catering mainly to French tourists, the owners being fluent in French. Cooler than on the coast and in the lowland areas we took the opportunity to do some walking at Ella.
Rawena waterfall.
One day we walked 6 kms downhill to Rawena waterfall and then caught the local bus back up the hill. The falls were crowded with locals and tourists and one visitor said the waters are considered purifying by Buddhists, but these days I wouldn't put my head under water. We also walked up to Little Adam's Peak, a local mountain view point, from where you can look out over south-west Sri Lanka. We were followed almost the entire way by three of the myriad local dogs. These three seemed to decide that we were suitable new owners and embarrassingly took to defending us by growling at passing locals along the way. Have they worked out that Europeans are generous with treats? They got nothing more than a pat from us!
Looking from Little Adam's Peak across south west Sri Lanka.
This walk was our first experience of tea plantation country which is as picturesque as the Ceylon tea ads suggest. It was also where I first noticed something that would interest Edward were he to visit today. In the highland areas, often the dominant tree types are Australian eucalypts. Apparently these were first planted by tea plantation owners in the 1890's for fuel, building timber and to stabilise the hill sides. They are now so ubiquitous that a well educated Sri Lankan lady I was chatting to at a railway station, did not realise that they were not indigenous. I'm not sure why they were introduced because Sri Lanka has a variety of huge native trees that would have fulfilled most of the same functions although the gums do grow particularly tall and straight.
The road down to Rawena waterfall viewed from Little Adam's Peak.
The mountain railways twist and wind through tunnels, along death defying terraces and over waterfalls and streams, sometimes doing a complete circle back on themselves and another popular walk out of Ella is to the 9 Arches bridge, the largest on the line. Tourists and locals alike walk along the lines and even through tunnels in a way that would have Australian OH&S officers in a panic. We walked to a point overlooking the 9 Arches where an enterprising local had turned his front patio into a tea shop.
Train crossing 9 Arches Bridge.
Each railway station, no matter how small, has a white uniformed "admiral" replete with epaulets and rope lanyard whose job it is to supervise every train arrival and departure, blowing a silver whistle at appropriate times. However, promotion to this position must be a mixed blessing, especially in the hotter lowland locations where wearing the uniform must be a nightmare!

From Ella we also took the train to Badulla at the end of the rail line where tourists are few. So few that when we had lunch of tea, cakes and pastries at a local bakehouse, I queried the bill of 180 rupees as being too low. The lady re-checked it and assured me it was full price but was happy to accept my rounding up to 200.