The Mists of Ceylon, Sri Lanka February 2013

Aayu-bowan from Sri Lanka! My latest travel tales come from a little teardrop island off the southern point of India. Steeped in legend and a rich history, and now emerging from decades of civil war and rebuilding from the Tsunami of 2009 I have come to see Sri Lanka for myself. Named Serendib by ancient Arab traders, it was known for its exotic spices and for the gemstones which tumbled from clear rivers in its hills.  The riches and pivotal trading location were not lost on Colonial raiders and the Dutch, Portuguese and eventually British left their mark on an outpost they called Ceylon. Today Sri Lanka has been recaimed by the Sinhalese in an uneasy truce with the minority Tamils (of southern Indian descent – many brought in as a slave class by the British to work the tea plantations).


In my first week on the ground I have ventured to central Sri Lanka to the seat of the ancient capital and relics of the Sinhalese Kingdom from almost a thousand years ago. Hurtling local buses speed you through vast stretches of rice paddies framed by towering coconut palms. But the former vast cities are now simple villages of farmers and woodcarvers. The grandeur of royal palaces, vast audience halls and buddhist temple complexes are now crumbled, forgotten ruins.  I spent a day cycling around the archaeological sites of Polonnaruwa – a humble pleasure to start my day in solitude as the mists lift from the ruins and I share the moment with a few monkeys who scratch themselves awake in the sunshine that warms thousand year old stone blocks. Although many buildings were wooden in their day, the heavily decorated stone carcasses still remain. Elephants trumpet and fat dwarves dance merrily on friezes; fierce lion representations are everywhere on guard stones to temples and palaces – the symbol of Sinhalese power. I’m surprised to realize the sophistication of medicine and engineering realized by this 12th century civilization with complex irrigation, sanitation, dam building and surgery perfomed along Ayurvedic principles.

Kandy Town

My journey has now continued south. There are some places you travel that give you a certain feeling.  It’s difficult to describe in words and near impossible to capture in photographs – the truth is that some places you have to experience for yourself.  Kandy is one of those places for me.  It starts with the intrigue of the name, its history as the ancient Sinhalese royal capital and its location at the gateway to the Sri Lanka highlands “Hill country.”  Kandy Lake sits at its centrepiece – a milky green mirror around which the green hills rise steeply.  Emerald forest and swaying coconut palms crowd the hills among which buildings old and new are dotted – temples, colonial mansions and creeping concrete hotels cling perilously to the slopes.  A clocktower and elegant lamplights speak of former glory days, but the whitewashed parapets of the old fortress walls and the facade of the Olde Empire Hotel are grubbied with diesel fumes of the rickety buses that now careen around Kandy Town.  It feels like the royal silver is in need of a good polish again!  But the pleasure of Kandy seems to be its blessed location – although stubborn mists cling to the hills in the early mornings a delicious cool breeze constantly soothes during the warm days.  A chorus of Kandy birdsong springs from the greenery and if you close your eyes you can forget for a moment that you’re even in a city bounds. Ah Kandy!

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