The British Empire may be long gone, but it has left its mark across the world and sometimes for the good, tea and cricket anyone? Sri Lanka…146 days in.
“India light” is what we termed our week long sandwich as we checked out of Indonesia and into Sri Lanka; pearl of the Indian Ocean. A few days were had in Colombo, getting around by tuktuk to see the sights, which were few and far between. Fortunately chance sometimes rolls a six and we happened upon a mini cricket festival with drums and food and a welcoming crew with a liking for the Backstreet Boys. With the winning runs bringing about the triumphant celebrations for one quarter of the oval, we headed off to meet a friend of Mike’s dad for an insiders guide to Colombo. John Joshua is most definitely one of those people who has lived a few lives and at eighty years old is in no mood to stop now and we were soon discussing business opportunities in the coconut oil market over a fabulous Chinese dinner.The bus journey to Kandy the following day was one of those epic voyages you hope to only happens once. Our one saving grace was that we were first on board, so had seats; even before we left the isles were full and plenty more squeezed on during the ride, or rather race, as we appeared to be competing with another bus as to who could cram on the most punters. The engine was loud but nothing compared to the horn that was in constant use, though it was no defence against the conductor of the rival bus as matters came to a head at one stop with some shouting and pushing. Then as the gradients became steeper the strain became apparent as some loud hissing accompanied our lurching forward and promptly stopping. Thirty minutes and no doubt a roll of gaffer tape later and we were back on the go. An hour and a half late, most of which Helen spent with her face in someone’s belly button, we finally managed to alight the bus for the first point in the journey, not that the bus stopped for the occasion, it simply kept rolling forward into a sea of people, buses and taxis. Sick, drained and in need of liquid and a toilet we stumbled around the ugly half of town and ate some ropey bread products and used the dingy toilet in the store room. Fortunately our hostel was a haven, and Mike spent the rest of the day there fending off some short lived flu. Kandy is home to a Buddhist temple that houses one of Buddha’s teeth, and for a fee you can see it, or rather, you can see a jewelled box that is said to house the tooth. Well, with that type of assurance, we skipped the temple, but did go to the Buddhist history museum and learnt a little more of its origins. It helped explain one of the notions we had that Buddhism has no deity, but for some reason there are statues of various images of Buddha’s that are worshipped; this not being Buddha’s wish, but has developed as people desire a way to pay tribute to him. Explained, but not quite understood! Ella was our next stop, recommended by a friend from home and the journey there was across spectacular mountain scenery by train. So famous is the journey that every single tourist takes the same train ride. Luckily, the train tickets never sell out; however, the reason for this is because they never stop selling tickets. So with a full train arriving at the station the tourists, rucksacks and all lept onto the toe board faster than the other passengers could disembark. Faces were mooched, voices were raised and the train was packed. We managed to squeeze on, just. But as luck would have it, that simply meant we had the best seats on the carriage, feet dangling out of the doorway and the open vista laid out in all its lush splendour. Ella’s population can only be a few thousand, all of whome appear to work in the tourist trade, with the street lind with nothing but hotels, restaurants and tat shops. That aside, the draw is for the nature, great mountain tops accessed by hikes begun along railway lines and paths winding through tea plantations. And after a steep decent from Ella rock what better aid to recovery that some first class Ceylon tea straight from the factory. A bus back to Colombo and some couch surfing via the hospitality of John Joshua was all we had time before hitting the check-in desk of Jetair armed only with an Indian eVisa screenshot on our phones and no onward flight itinerary. It was no easy check-in, but we made it thanks to a sympathetic clerk! So, India Light? We had currys aplenty, over crowded train and bus journeys that arrived hours late and were followed by the sounds of car horns, job done!