Visit to Kataragama and day one in Newara Eliya

Trip Start Sep 21, 2005
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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Day 104 Mon 20th Feb 2006
Visit to Kataragama and day one in Newara Eliya
I got off to a very early start this morning, a sleepless night meant getting up at 5.30am was a mission to say the least. For some reason I thought having a COLD shower that early might not be that bad, boy was I wrong! I don't think I will ever get used to that, although I have managed to formulate a technique that means I experience a minimal amount of discomfort (it still makes me take a deep breath when I go under!). The tuk came to pick us up at 6am, it was cold outside and I had to get the driver to drop the cover on my side of the tuk so the cold wind didn't come in, George was fine with the cold, but he's a big strong German! We got to Kataragama at around 6.40am, the tuk driver dropped us outside the main entrance and waited for us there. We went into the park that surrounds the temple complex and walked up to the temple. I was told that people of all faiths worshipped the place, there were a lot of people there but it was hard to tell who was of what faith. We went into the first temple and it looked like it was for people of the Hindu faith, the next place was a Buddhist temple. Now that's cheating really, because people probably come to worship in there own temples, but I suppose the fact they are all in the same place is a step in the right direction. On the way back I got my first real look at Tissa, it's a lovely little place and I would love to have spent more time there, George had loads of good things to say about it so I'll have to put it on my list for a revisit.

We got back to the guesthouse for around 7.40am. I had just enough time to pack up my stuff (yeah that means throw it all in my backpack) and have a tiny bit of breakfast (yep, butter toast and jam, AGAIN) before my bus came along. I thought I would have to go to the stand for it, but auntie just stopped the bus outside the guesthouse, that was pretty cool. It was an express bus so it didn't stop at every wave of a hand and it was empty so I got a seat. I had to sit at the back because I had my backpack with me so I was in for a bumpy ride. About half an hour into the journey I was dying for a pee (the same thing happened yesterday, it reminded me of a girl I know who just wouldn't have been able to hold it in (yeah, you know who you are!)). The bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and the ticket guy started to load some stuff onto the bus, so I quickly nipped out to relieve myself (Laz, you wouldn't have been able to do that). The stuff he loaded on were pots of yogurt, they dropped them off at various shops in the mountains along the way. About an hour later this Lankan girl got onto the bus with a HUGE bag, she needed to put it under the back seat (my seat) so I gave her a hand with it, it was bl**dy heavy, how she had been carrying it I have no idea. Anyway she went and sat in the middle of the bus and this guy came and sat next to me (just my luck!). We got talking and as we did so the bus started its accent into the mountains. I was supposed to get off at Ella, but when this guy told me that the only thing to see there was the waterfall, and that we would pass it anyway whilst on the bus, it kind-of put me off. When we went past the waterfall it totally put me off because it was not all-that, so I decided to go straight on to the next destination on my list, Newara Eliya. The bus journey was long, over four hours in total, but the scenery was amazing. As bus goes further into the mountains, the temperature drops, there's a wonderful cool breeze and it's almost hard to believe your still in the same country.

We arrived in the Newara Eliya at around12.30, I hadn't booked anywhere to stay and the place that Uma recommended was around Rs1,500 so I wanted to find somewhere cheaper so I made my way to the tourist office. It was closed, and a guy outside told me it's always closed. He then started telling me he could get me a nice room for Rs1,500, when I told him I wanted to pay around Rs600, the look on his face told me that wasn't going to happen. He got a Tuk to take me to a hotel, this place was really nice but they wanted Rs1000, and that was the discounted price, the next place we went to settled for Rs700 so I just took the room. It wasn't a very nice room, it was dark and dingy and it smelled a bit too, but I was just stopping one night so it would do.

I dropped my bags there and went for a wonder into town. The town is in a very 'old english' style, there are some beautiful buildings around. I was hungry and went about trying to find a place to eat. It was a bit like Galle, in that I couldn't really find anywhere decent to eat. I went into a bakery and got this Veg pastry thing, it looked quite nice and innocent on the outside, but when you took a bite it had a killer hot curry mix inside it. I walked the whole length of town in the space of 20 minutes and found nothing. They have a chain of supermarkets here called Cargil's Food City, so as a last resort I thought I'd go in there, just to buy some biscuits or something. This was quite a big store and when I went in I saw that they had a little café there (sorted!), I just got a small pizza and it did the job. I then made my way to the lake as everyone I asked said that was the place to go, I got a Tuk to take me there and he charged me Rs200, that was a complete rip-off because it only took 5 minutes and the bus back cost Rs6 (lesson learned). The lake is beautiful, you get a wonderful view of Newara Eliya and the surrounding mountains (see pics). There were lots of people there, some people were fishing others were playing cricket and most were just chilling on the grass. There were also horses grazing on the grass nearby. I came across a group of young solders that had been on a day-trip to the top of Mount Pidurutalagala (the highest mountain in Lanka). They had gathered by the lake to finish their day-trip and have a bit of a session, some of the guys were playing drums and singing. I got talking to some of them and I soon realised that most of them were drunk, so I made a move before one of them flipped out on me. As I walked along the road to the bus stop I met the girl I had helped on the bus this morning (small world), she had just walked it from town and was on her way home. We talked for a while, she was really nice (like most Lankans are), after bringing the huge heavy bag home from Tissa, she had walked the 40 minutes to town for shopping and then was walking the 40 minutes back to her home in a small village on the outskirts of town. She must really like walking, the girl was on a mission! As we walked the bus came along so I jumped on it. You know the other day when I was on that bus that kept stopping for everyone, well all the local busses do that. It's a bit annoying when your sitting on the bus trying to go somewhere, but it's great if you want to get on because you don't need to get to the stop. Just flag a bus down anywhere and 99% of the time they will stop, how cool is that?

Back in town, I went to the Victoria park for a bit of a wonder, I'm not really one for parks so I just got out of there as soon as I could. I went over to the bus stand to see if I could find out about going to 'Worlds End' (a place that everyone said I should go to, I have no idea what is actually there). I ran into (well he came up to me really) a guy down there called Nimaal. He was a local guy and he had a taxi (or a friend of his had a taxi) and told me he could take me to Worlds End and Bakers Fall (I don't know what that is either). The usual problem though, because I'm on my own I would have to pay the full cost of the taxi, that was Rs 2,500, then another Rs 2,000 to get in to the place. What a rip-off!!! Anyway, I told him that there was no way I could afford that, so he said he could get me into the place for the local price of Rs30 instead of Rs 2,000 and would only charge Rs1,800 for the taxi plus throw in a free ride to the train station after. Now that sounded like a deal and despite his appearance (he looked like a junkie) he seamed to be an honest guy so I took him up on the offer and gave him Rs500 as a deposit. He was going to pick me up at 5.30am in the morning so I went back to my hotel to get an early night.

I had dinner at the hotel around 8pm, the guy who runs the place is called Fizzal, he is a nice guy but he really needs to sort out the hotel a bit! I went back to my room and tidied up the mess I had left there earlier in the day. I was in bed by 9.30pm, I was tired from the early start this morning and was looking forward to another one tomorrow so needed the rest. I heard a knock on the door around 10pm, it was Nimal. He said he would not be able to get me in for the Lankan price because some big inspector was going to be at the gate in the morning, so he had come to give my money back. I had already decided to stay one more night, so I arranged to meet with him in the morning to see if I could share with someone else the following day. What a long day! I know the travelogues are getting long but a lot is happening, If you can't be bothered reading it all just have a look at the pictures (I'm sure that's what most of you are doing anyway!!!).
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