On Thursday morning, myself and Anne, CWW volunteer from the next town along from me Hambantota, headed up to Colombo to meet in with a couple of others.
The trip to Colombo up the coast road is about 6 hours at that time of day. Then it was off to Kandy which is the capital of the hill country situated about 3 hours North East of Colombo. Bancharada Bahawani
We headed down into the centre of Kandy for some dinner and the streets were packed out with a Hindu celebration going on - Bancharada Bahawani, which is a festival that happens once a year.
The big Hindu temple was all lit up and everyone was queuing up to go and pray, then big lit up processions floats were going through the streets with men in sarongs handing out baskets of fruit and incence to everyone.
Each of the floats represented something specific in Hindu beliefs and was very interesting to see because there was also a lot of dancing and people playing musical instruments etc.
We went into the temple which is one of the biggest in SL and was really beautiful inside. There is quite a large population of Tamil's in the hill country - a lot of them brought to SL from India by the British to work on the tea estates. However the Tamil culture in the Hill Country is very different to that in the North of the country and the Hinduism practiced here is not as strict with less support for LTTE. Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage
I know that there were elephants last weekend in the national park, but we couldn't resist going to the elephant orphanage at Pinnewala around an hour from Kandy. There are around 70 elephants and the youngest is 3 months old. The orphanage was set up in 1975 to look after orphaned and sick elephants and is now the world's largest collection of captive elephants. There is a 3 legged elephant Sama, who stood on a landmine up in the North of the country.
Although the elephants are in captivity, they seem to be very well looked after and we arrived at bath time where they are all taken down to the river for 2 hours to hang out, and they also spend 2 hours down there in the afternoon too. Felt very like a tourist there - the largest number of Westerner's I have seen so far. They had really nice gift shops and they also made a lot of products from elephant dung paper called pachyderm paper. They showed us the process of making the paper and due to the fibres in the elephants diet, it makes very strong paper - and the dung is treated 1st to remove the bugs!!
The dung is obviously quite readily available and environmentally friendly and the local people make cards and stationary, picture frames and photo albums etc and the money generated helps to buy medicine and food for the sick and orphaned elephants so is quite nice.Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic - Kandy
On Friday afternoon, we went to the temple of the tooth which is Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic, housing a tooth of the Buddha. The tooth is said to have been snatched from the flames of the Buddha's funeral pyre in 543 BC, and was smuggled into SL, hidden in the hair of a princess. It was passed from pillar to post by the army and royalty over the years and eventually ended up in Kandy.
Gradually over this period of time, the tooth became more and more important as a symbol of sovereignty and it was considered that whoever had custody of the tooth, had the right to rule the island. Most SL Buddhists believe that they must complete at least 1 pilgrimage to the temple in their life time and to worship at this temple is thought to improve one's karma immeasurably - hence my family wanted me to put in a coin for each of them.
The day we visited was Poya day which meant it was exceptionally busy and probably the best day to get the atmosphere.
We went to the Art centre to watch a Kandyan dance show which also involved lots of musical instruments, acrobatics and fire walking. Unfortunately, it was very dark in the centre and my camera takes rubbish pictures in dark light. We then headed back to the temple of the tooth because at 7 every night they do a ritual where you walk past the casket containing the tooth to the beat of drums.Nuwara Eliya and the Tea Country
On Saturday we headed to the Nuwara Eliya, which is the heart of the tea country. It is an old colonial town and has strong links to Britain from when a lot of British originally set up the tea plantations. We stayed in a hotel called the St Andrews (the 4 of us on our trip were Scottish) and they had a restaurant called the Old Course. We also came across a tea plantation called Inverness and one called Edinburgh. We were trying to get across the Scottish link of the hotel to the SL staff, but it was something they didn't really know much about. So we ended up having a bit of a Scottish/Sri Lankan evening with the staff with a bit of singing and dancing from both countries involved - so think they are a bit clearer now after our lesson!
They also promised to raise a St Andrew's cross at the front of the hotel if we post one to them. I do really like the hill country - the roads are really windy and because of the cooler temperature, it is just really nice to drive around because the scenery is really pretty. From a distance, the hills really probably could be Scotland, but then up close they look a bit too green and tropical. It is quite amusing because although it is cool in SL terms, it is still like a really warm day in the UK without the humidity of when you are at coastal SL, but all the SL's in the hill country wear jackets and wooly hats while it is really still what you would call shorts and t-shirt weather.
Much easier to sleep at nights as well because you didn't need to sleep under a mosquito net and it was generally cooler. We headed to Pedro's tea factory on Sunday, where you get shown around the factory and the plantation before having a sampling. We weren't allowed to take photos in the factory itself in case we stole the secrets (so they said).
Was interesting to see the process from the tea plants that are picked through the drying process and then refinement. I would like to go to the tea auctions at some point in Colombo which are held on a Wednesday because it is supposed to be quite interesting to see. We were told about the job of a tea-taster and how it is a very sought after job in SL, although you have to abstain from eating chilli or drinking alcohol while you do this job so that you can truly taste the tea. - no chilli would be really hard for a SL person because its in everything. I was very put off in my first couple of weeks because of the amount of sugar that is considered the norm here for a cup of tea, but I have to say I am now starting to aquire a taste for it - I think probably because the coffee here is rank and they just don't do lattes etc.
Ella is a quaint little village located in a valley looking straight through Ella Gap to the plain which is nearly 1000m below, so just at the edge of the hill country. You can apparently see the Great Basses lighthouse on the South coast on a clear day which is a good 3.5 hr drive away, but it was quite misty when we were there.
On the way to Ella and all round the hill country there are little stalls selling all sorts of things from fruit and vegetables, sweets, spices, toys and handicrafts so we had a potter at these en route. The place we stayed in Ella was the highest point at the top of the village to get a good view in the morning. I got up for the sun rise at 6, although was not the best sunrise, but still really pretty. We sat and ate breakfast on the balcony looking down on Ella Gap, which was really nice. Then it was time to head back down the coast to Tangalle.
Work this week has been really good. I have made some good progress with sorting out the proposal format and tying this in with my database. Have been helping with reformatting and translation of marketing material too which although a bit time consuming on the translation front is very positive steps on the internationalisation side of things.
I feel I am starting to get a better understanding of how they operate and what they are aiming to do so need to get cracking on the fund raising strategy so they can pull in some funds in the near future! Looks like I will have some more community workshops coming up nearer the end of April, which will be good because they tend to be in little interesting places that you otherwise probably wouldn't visit.
This weekend I am heading to Unawatuna which is a beach resort just South of Galle. There is a leaving do tonight for one of the CWW volunteers in the Happy Banana which sounds like it's going to be an interesting place! Looking forward to seeing some beaches - because have not really spent much time at any yet.
A lot of Sri Lankan's from the coast head to the hill country on their holidays because the climate and scenery are completely different. I had Thursday, Friday and Monday morning off work so was a perfect opportunity to head on my first trip to the hills.