Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Dec 15, 2007


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Where I stayed
Lake Side Inn

Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It felt very eerie to be the lone person eating breakfast at the Lake Side Inn, indeed I was reliably informed that only 5 tourists had stayed in Tissa overnight.  After two decades of the civil war, visitor confidence appears to be at an all-time low in the south-eastern region in particular. 
The history of Sri Lankan politics is incredibly complicated, and this certainly isn't the correct forum to go into much detail.  However, to provide some context, it's worth noting that the fires of ethnic and religious tension have been stoked since the 1950s, when the government instigated a huge programme of nationalisation.  Sinhala was made the sole official language, and state support was provided for the Buddhist faith and Sinhalese culture, both alienating the Tamils and outraging the small but influencial Christian community.  Tensions mounted in the following years, until the point of no return in 1983.  Following the ambush and massacre of an army patrol by a group of Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the northern Jaffna region, Sinhalese mobs indulged in an orgy of killing and looting against Tamils all over the country.  The government, police and army showed themselves unable - or unwilling to stop the violence.  Tens of thousands of Tamils fled to the north of the island, while many others left the country altogether.  Equally, Sinhalese started to move out of Jaffna and other Tamil areas.  By the end of 1985 fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE had spread across the north and down the east coast.  Despite various (semi-successful) attempts to bring peace, violence continues to the present day under (the seemingly inept and crooked) nationalist prime minister Mahinda Rajapakse.
Back to the travelling, I left the sweltering coastal lowlands behind as I headed northwards to the sublime green heights of the hill country.  The landscape here consists of mountainous green hills which either rise to surprisingly rugged and dramatic peaks, or are covered in carefully manicured tea bushes.  The mist and clouds which frequently blanket the hills add a further layer of mystery.   
Just south of Wellawaya, we came to the impressive rock carvings of Buduruwagala, located in a patch of beautifully unspoilt forest populated by abundant birds and butterflies.  The site is home to a series of seven figures carved into the face of a large rock outcrop.  Apparently, the figures are some of the largest in the island (the biggest is 16m tall), and are thought to date from the tenth century.  The large central standing Buddha in the abhaya ("have no fear") pose still bears traces of the stucco which would have originally covered his robes, as well as faint splashes of his original paint.
As we closed in on Ella, we took another brief stop at the Rawana Ella Falls which tumble 90-odd metres over the valley wall, another impressive sight when you're able to deflect the attentions of more hawkers trying to flog pretty (but worthless) coloured stones, and exchange various foreign coins into Sri Lankan rupees - a rare chance to rip off the locals which I didn't take!
Ella is thought to be the closest thing to an English country village found in Sri Lanka.  Whilst there's not much to Ella village itself, it enjoys one of the finest views in Sri Lanka, past the towering bulk of Ella Rock and through a cleft in the hills - the so-called Ella Gap - to the plains far below.  Fortunately, this was a view also enjoyed from my room at the Grand Ella Motel :-)
After a few hours enjoying the unusually high temperatures fot the region, I tackled the beautiful short walk up to the top of Little Adam's Peak, a pyramid-shaped rock which stands opposite the far larger Ella Rock.  It was my first walk through (soon to become familiar) carpet-like tea plantations.  Llines of female Tamil tea pickers were working their way carefully through fields of waist-high tea bushes, clad in colourful sari tops and with enormous baskets slung over their shoulders.
Team workers are amongst the poorest and most marginalised people in the country, looked down upon by both the Sinhalese majority and the longer-established Tamils of the north.  Many live in squalid conditions within tea estates bungalows without electricity, heating or running water, whilst earning just a pound (GBP) a day on average for a long hard day's graft in the fields.
The views became increasingly fine as I neared the top, particularly over towards the Newbourg Team Factory, though wading through waist-high grasses was a slight concern in a country which has the world's highest death rate from snakebite!
On the way back to the hotel, I visited a Ayurveda centre recommended by Karu.  Whilst this ancient system of healthcare (widely practised in India and Sri Lanka) traditionally consists of a programme of treatment based on each patient's individual constitution and state of health, this centre only offered the cosmetic herbal and steam baths, and various forms of massage which were quite disappointing.  Rather than walking away re-invigorated, I felt a painful twinge in my left calf muscle, which I hadn't felt upon entering!
To make up for the disappointing experience at the centre I decided to 'cleanse' myself by shaving my head for the first time.  Unfortunately, the result is more Michael Owen (i.e. still rather boyish-looking) than Brad Pitt/David Beckham!
At least the new haircut wasn't mean enough to stop a kindly Cornwall couple from chatting to me at dinner.  They have been to the island over ten times in consecutive years, even more frequently since the tsunami - their stories about the misuse of aid agency donations, and their personal crusade to directly assist those affected was both sickening and heart-warming respectively.
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