Monkeys & miners

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A busy little town with not much to offer the passerby, other than its star attraction, the Golden Rock temple, perched on the side of the main road.  We take the walk from the roadside up the rock staircase to the summit buying the customary lotus flowers on the way to make an offering at the temple.  Not having bought our tickets from the office at the foot of the hill, we are refused entry, but feeling the pinch after our tour of Anuradhapura we're happy to sit to the side with a wonderful view and feed the lotus flowers to the temple monkeys.  Chased home by the pelt of rain and thunder, we catch an early night, to ready ourselves for some gem mining action the next day.

Lahl, our driver, assures us that he knows where some local mines are and on the way we make a few tentative stops at roti stands and seemingly random groups of men on the outskirts of unknown rural villages, who, on request, carefully unfold little paper sachets to reveal assortments of cut and polished stones.  Already feeling slightly out of our depth, we press on towards the mines.  Lahl catches sight of a rough lean figure twenty metres down a track walking away.  A whistle, a negotiation and three become four, making our way by tuk tuk down the shoddy jungle track.  The track worsens and then stops in a clearing near a mud hut.  We empty out into the baking sun and follow our newly appointed guide on foot.  He doesn't say much and seems to press on at pace, we follow suit, pausing only to look with trepidation at the sight of the huge elephant prints.  The mood lightens momentarily as we meet our first miners; it looks like grim work, with feelings of excitement and anticipation now making way for sympathy and perhaps a little guilt.  After visiting a few more pits and asking some questions, it seems obvious that the gem industry is far from glamorous, at least at this end.  

We find some rough natural garnet and Lahl takes us to a work shop/ home where we might have them polished.  The process is a lengthy one with five or six stages, but the results were impressive. The gentleman seemed happy to do the work for us, talking of his son in Germany, laughing heartily from time to time, possibly at our enthusiasm, or at the minute size of the semiprecious garnet he was labouring over.
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