Daily Dribble…Sri Lanka #1

Back when the United Kingdom made multiple vehicle marques for home and worldwide export, a company called British Leyland, which allegedly used the parts bin to create different vehicles across many ranges, produced for a time a vehicular collection that now can only be found rotting in junkyards, or lauded in motor museums as throwbacks to a bygone era of simpler tastes and styles. Switch and running gear, as well as other parts from that era, could be found lurking furtively (or glaringly obviously) on a plethora of cars, vans and buses, among other vehicles, which all seem to have faded into obscurity in the UK over the many intervening years. 

Imagine my surprise today when I found where all the Leyland buses have been put out to pasture when here I was thinking they’d been retired to the countryside to quietly rot away.

Saturday, Day 1 of our tour of Sri Lanka, we are confronted quite literally with hundreds of Lanka Ashok Leyland buses (and trucks), thundering around the cities and countryside, belching fumes that would have the Parisian Crit Air brigade burning tyres on every roundabout and marching from Versailles to the Seine and back again, banner waving and complaining about the carbon monoxide filled sulphur dioxide smog, smothering Colombo and Kandy alike!

Like you do when being driven by a local who knows all the ‘hot spots’ to show you, we suddenly pull off the road into an elephant sanctuary where for 20$ we get to ride, feed and wash in the decidedly brown river one of the six elephants this place is looking after. Allowed to be free from chains, you get the distinct feeling that this beautiful creature knows you as you go eye to eye with him at feeding time. The river washing was something else, where Charlotte allowed herself to be squirted at full bore. Several times.

Second stop en route was at a tea plantation production station. Here we saw the process that the two leaves and a shoot go through before being sacked and sold at the market to Liptons or some other tea company.

The efforts the tea pickers go through collecting between 22kg and 25kg per day from the surrounding hillsides really makes you think when you find that their average monthly salary (in 2019) was 8,000 rupees (£20) when their basic needs monthly average was 27,707 rupees (£70). It puts a new slant on that breakfast cuppa when you know it’s been produced this way. 

Avoiding the carefree style employed and widely exhibited in the driving of these buses, we climbed into the hills above Kandy, arriving at our next two nights location. With a breathtaking view of the Temple of the Tooth across the valley, the beauty of this place is undeniable and a true Charlotte The Travel Agent find. Built in 1928 for a local tea plantation, this particular bungalow offers extended relaxation space with high ceilinged bedrooms where you can unwind from the hectic day of travelling to this beautiful, saphirific island gem of the Indian Ocean. 

Sunday, Day 2 dawns a dry (not literally raining) and bright 23°c, 91% humidity and with it, the necessity to immediately change the iPhone birdsong alarm setting from its current dawn chorus to one that mimics less the Jurassic Park sounds that greet us from beyond our mosquito netted four poster bed. 

Here at Castle Hill Bungalow, as the myriad of exotic birds of the air and beasts of the fields begin their day by shouting their abundant joys at the possibilities of a new day from the forest undergrowth that sprawls over the surrounding hillsides, the distant sounds of movement of a more mechanical nature stir. The frustrated horns from cars, lorries, buses, 3 wheeler tuktuks and mopeds alike, vie for supremacy with each other and the wildlife, as the human-life fight for survival also begins in earnest once again. 

Looming large and in a somewhat threatening manner, one of the rainbow bats has found its way into our boudoir and circles like the proverbial wandering albatross above us until my travel weary eyes focus and register that it’s simply an enormous ceiling fan. 

Obviously the Jungle Formula that I have slathered over my exposed fleshy pearts was inadequate protection against the biting critters of the night. I shall supplement with Nivea So Soft and resemble a Cross Channel swimmer dripping with goose fat, for the duration. Even my satellite of a scantily clad Charlotte does nothing to detract their fascination for my blood. That would be acceptable save for the infernal itching they leave in their wake. 

Driven to distraction I apply some topical Savlon to attempt to quell the incessant irritation. 

By 09:30 our guide, driver and constant daytime companion in Sri Lanka so far, Roshan, has arrived and waits while we change from breakfast, into clothing more suitable for attending the Temple of the Tooth. Covered shoulders and knees, we emerge ready to visit the canine of the veritably esteemed Siddhartha Gautama Buddha number 28. 

A fascinating history of possession and restoration of an enshrined artefact from 2600 years ago. They have another few years to wait before the next Buddha is expected, so in the meantime, the monks pass on wisdom and knowledge of a peaceful, harmonious and principled way of life. 

To balance the non commercial aspect of Buddhist life we next visited a gem museum. Although, to be fair, it was less of a museum and more of a shop. 

There I tried out my skills honed from my time with Renault and drove a hard bargain by way of declaring that as it was surely lunchtime, I was therefore hungry and that I might return afterwards, unless the sales person could arrive at a successfully agreeable line in the sand prior to my walking out. That singularity of place where we can both meet and squeak by way of me not paying more than I want to and by him not giving more discount than he can afford to, was a well fought duel, on both sides. Believe me when I say I made him squeak far more than I did! Poor chap…the deal struck, we headed orf to lunch with a delicate Sri Lankan 3 blue sapphires necklace (for Charlotte’s special birthday this year). 

You can’t escape the fact that here in Sri Lanka, we are in an equatorial tropical rain forest environment. The rain starts promptly at 14:00 hours and is torrential. Even I know that water flows downhill so if the mountain peaks are green, you’ve gotta be having a lot of the wet stuff falling. Humidity is at least 130% now and rising. And that’s just inside. Moist is an understatement of assumption and not caused by the three types of curry I’ve just consumed for the 10,700 Sri Lanka Rupee lunch either. 

It’s 17:00 and we have been taken to a local hall. Everywhere here reminds you of past English Colonial influence. Quite literally you could be in any city, town or village hall awaiting a performance of any amdram performance.  What we are to see I am not sure. The explanation is of a Buddhist Cultural Show. The lights dim and we are treated to drummers and dancers in traditional costumes with an itinerary concluding in fire walking. A uniquely virginal experience for the first time traveller to this neck of the woods. 

As the curtain closes on this first chapter of the Daily Dribble, I’ll leave you with a selection of comestibles from this part of the journey. When asked, “Would sir and madam like Western or local choice of food?” the answer has to be that we haven’t travelled this far not to try everything that the locals eat!

I’m not sure that we haven’t eaten bat, given the look of some of these dishes, but rest assured, it tasted like chicken!

Carry on regardless!


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