Monday, December 21, 2015

New Worlds

On the train to Kandy 

Somehow I have been in Sri Lanka a month now. The little breakfast roti seller, who has told me every day which way to look before crossing the street, for the first time let me leave his shop unaided. I have officially passed the infancy stage. I'm just as enchanted with this country as when I arrived. Learning Sri Lanka is hydra-like: every mystery half solved opens up a dozen more questions Every new walk or exploration in the city brings something new and incredible. No longer an infant, I feel like a child just discovering a library for the first time.

New discoveries in Colombo - beautiful mosques and art 

We have become comfortable enough with Colombo to leave it. The past two weeks have contained two adventures – first to Kandy and then to Jaffna. Sri Lanka is small enough that a few hours on a bus or train can take you to a different world. That is what Kandy seems like: a town scooped out of the hills. The houses gather in the center of the valley like water in a bowl, sometimes wash up the sides of dark green hills. It a place for meandering. Families and lovers stroll around the lake – families in white from visiting the temple or lovers shyly holding hands. Time seems to calm like the surface of the lake. There is so much life – monkeys dashing along concrete walls and brilliant birds flash between the trees. Along the shoreline great monitor lizards smile in the sun and geese and herons pick for food in the mud. I feel it would be a haven for artists or writers – anyone for whom the interior of the mind holds more gravity than the exterior.

 The view from the train to Kandy

 Kandy from the hilltops 

By the lake 

There is a reason for Kandy's tranquility. It is a sacred space, one of the holiest in Sri Lanka, home to the temple of the tooth. The tooth itself fell victim to its own power – conquered and reconquered and eventually destroyed multiple times. But the metaphor remains holy – a memory contained in an ornate shrine carved with flowers and mandalas, and punctuated with clambering monkeys and lazy dogs escaping the sun in temple shade. Incense drifts around the temple with the chants of students praying before their exams.

Paintings on the inside of the Temple of the tooth and the outside 

We benefited from the enormity of Sri Lankan hospitality in Kandy as well. The father of a friend of a friend is an elephant veterinarian and took us to see elephant 'orphanages' around Kandy. I cannot recommend it to future visitors to Sri Lanka however, the elephants were mostly chained or caged in spaces far too small, clearly there for the benefit of their visitors not themselves. There was one beautiful moment though: when we got to wash an elephant. She loved it – sprawling in a stream while we scrubbed at her thick hide with coconut husks.

Galle was another world entirely, an old colonial town perched on the edge of of the ocean. A paradise woven in the past. We climbed to the top of the old fort – an imposing place softened by families playing in the grass and couples lounging in the sun. Like a stereotype sprung to life some men sat in the shadows with monkeys and cobras, hoping to tempt coins from tourists. Inside the fort is town of crumbling grandeur. Ornate churches and buildings that would look at home in the old city of Barcelona, the illusion broken only by the ferocity of the sun and the twisting flowery trees. Beautiful, the wide quiet stone streets surrounded by slowly fading plaster. Europe transported. We spent the afternoon sprawled on a beautiful beach enjoying a sunset over cheap juice and drinks. I have just begun to learn this new place –  I have only begun to love it.  

Galle Fort 

Sunset over Unawatuna beach 

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