Monday, June 8, 2009

Cultural Tour: Our last few days together

After everyone packed up all of their belongings and checked their rooms, we said our final goodbies to the Wavy Ocean staff as well as a few friends we played soccer with a number of times. Anil’s brother, Ranjith, came over too for a quick goodbye and also to pick up some of the participants’ old shoes and clothing for those who might need it.

Happy 21st Birthday to Smrita, who celebrated with a spa day and a very nice party. The next day we headed out to the train station to catch a train to Nuwara Eliya, the highest living city in Sri Lanka. Just going to the train station was quite an experience. It is very old and very British, and the engineers and workers have maintained the old systems of signaling communication (bells and disks traded between passing trains and stations en route) that were very interesting to see. We were lucky enough to have been able to get seats in the ‘observation room’- the caboose of the train, with large windows around the side of the train and on the back wall of the last car. We enjoyed the unreal views as we passed everything from schools to waterfalls to expansive hill/mountain ranges to intricately organized terraced farms.

When we made it to the train station just outside of Nuwara Eliya, Deepal, Anil and Ruwan were waiting for us (they had driven from Ella while we took the train for the scenery) and drove us to our guest house here. The climate is much cooler here than in almost anywhere else in the country and many people were freezing (I couldn’t get over how chilly everyone thought it was- maybe it is just because we have been used to 30’s in Tangalle!). After dropping everything off at the guest houses, we planned to do something in town. But, nothing went our way! We went to the golf club for those who were interested only to find that it was extremely expensive even just for 10 holes; we went to take a boat tour on a small lake, but due to the chilliness and size of the lake (pretty small), that was not a hit; we went to play volleyball at a park, but everyone was falling asleep in the vans; and, finally, we had the opportunity to go horse riding, but no-one was very interested!

Sri Lanka’s beer- Lion- is actually brewed in Nuwara Eliya. As such, it seemed only fit to go to a local pub branch of Lion where they served draught Lion and could save our day! The next day we headed off to Kandy. On the way, we stopped at a tea factory-Glenloch- that was established by a Scot 135 years ago and hasn’t got much new equipment since! It was quite the experience being able to see the entire process from picking the leaves to drying them, breaking them, sifting them, sorting them and putting them in a bag.

A short drive from the tea factory brought us to a nice lunch (curries, chicken and fresh lime juice), after which we drove through to Kandy. The city here is much bigger than Tangalle or any other city that we have passed through. The streets are bustling with pedestrian and vehicle traffic and there are stores and vendors everywhere (there’s even a KFC- it seems a little out of place though). After getting settled, we went to see an awesome presentation of a number of culturally important dances (including fire dancing which was quite impressive!) and then headed back to the hotel for a swim and dinner at the extremely fancy (by our standards) buffet.

Tomorrow its off to see Pinnawala elephant orphanage during the feeding time, then a gem factory, some shopping, and finally Temple of the Tooth (where a tooth of Buddha is kept) in the evening. Some of the guys are thinking of getting tailored suits, and the girls are very interested in the gems and other jewelry. Tomorrow should be a packed day!

June 5th

After an early wakeup we headed off to Pinnawala elephant orphanage to make it just in time to view the feeding of a couple babies. Far from amazing or impressive, the feeding was somewhat depressing for most people, as we watched baby elephants chained to the ground tug at their restrained leg and waiting for a small couple of milk bottles. However, soon after the feeding, we came to understand the orphanage a little more, realizing that this feeding is simply one more way for the orphanage to make money and maintain the work that it does in protecting and saving elephants from dangerous areas or poor health. We were lucky enough to see massive heards (maybe with 75 to 100 elephants!) very close up on dry land, and then even watch them bath in a nearby river. Everyone really enjoyed seeing the elephants!

When we finished watching the elephants bathe, we drove to a gem factory that gave us a small tour and description (live and also via a movie) of the processes involved in moving a precious gem from deep in the ground to our fingers. Afterwards, we spent about 3 hours in the factory shop looking at amazing semiprecious (garnet, blue topaz, moonstone…) and precious (ruby, emerald, diamond and sapphire) gems. Many people had some nice pieces made and purchased jewelry for themselves. I was very very interested in getting a 9-gem ring, which is a culturally important piece that has strong astrological meaning and is meant to protect its bearer from bad luck (they are very popular here amongst the men). As I hummed and hawed, trying to make a decision, the group was mumbling, and all of a sudden, said that they would like to purchase the ring for me as an end of the trip thank you. I was extremely honored and touched, and thanks to my Dad’s sensitive genes, I had a nice little cry in the gem shop. I still cannot get over the quality of the relationships that this trip has offered to us- previously strangers in Canada!

When everyone finished ordering and buying their gems, the group quickly went back to the hotel, changed into some light coloured, conservative clothing and headed for the Temple of the Tooth here on Kandy Lake. Our tour of the temple was incredible. Not only did we enjoy reading and hearing the stories of how the tooth made it to Kandy, but we also were fascinated by the intricacy and quality of the statues and also the temple walls and ceiling (which includes over 100 gold plated lotus flower pieces. The temple is very important to Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and has fully recovered after a couple of LTTE (Tamil Tigers) bombings.

Our last destination prior to our departure from Sri Lanka is to Dambulla. This is most likely my last entry before we depart. Right now everyone is making plans already for September when we will be able to get back together. It is going to be a tough goodbye at the airport in a couple days!

1 comment:

D Nadeau said...

As a member of the January DWC trip to Tangalle, I have followed your blog with interest and am extremely happy that the foundation for the TTF building is completed (having helped to dig the foundation holes). Great job!! Great info on the blog!! Glad you had a good time!